Mike Raymond, a U.S. Army veteran, was at the controls, but only in case of emergency. He had programmed a pattern into the GPS for the vehicle before its launch to complete the job of inspecting the project.
Raymond’s new “toy” helped him to launch a new business, just getting started in Platte City. He serves as the chief UAV pilot for Aerial Logic Roof Inspections or SkyCam for short.
Using the vehicles more commonly known as drones, Raymond has seen his business grow from roof inspections to safety audits to weddings and other special events.
“The big thing is versatility,” Raymond said. “Big companies can absorb the cost of hiring a pilot and a photographer to go up, which would cost upwards of $1,000 per hour. I can come out and do it for about $200 an hour and get closer without having to get special clearances (from the Federal Aviation Administration).”
Raymond recently moved to Platte City after spending four years in North Carolina responding to catastrophes for an insurance company. His time in both aerial photography and the insurance business gave him the vision to bring drones into play.
Raymond said sometimes it is hard to get boots in to inspect damage following storms with debris blocking roads and bridges, and drones allow companies to access damage before previously possible.
Raymond flies an X8 octo-copter, which gives him the capability to fly at 400 feet in up to 40 mph winds. His copter also has a television transmitter equipped, which feeds back the images from the camera in real time.
The pictures can be streamed to either a television or a special pair of goggles that give a first person view.
“The view from 400 feet is spectacular,” Raymond said. “It’s something to look down and see.”
Raymond knows about the views from above.
Originally from Kansas City, he flew UH-1C Huey helicopters in the U.S. Army from the 1980s until the early ’90s. While in the service, Raymond started a commercial hot air balloon company in California and continued to serve as a pilot in that venture after he retired. He moved back to Platte City last year and began looking for another project to keep himself busy.
Although he no longer flies, Raymond’s immersion in the UAV world provides a good substitute.
In addition to his aerial inspections and photography, Raymond also teaches clients how to fly a drone. His process begins with a quad-copter smaller than a hockey puck and graduates as the pilot gains experience up to the large eight-motor model he uses for SkyCam.
Raymond purchased the copter, which retails for more than $5,000, in February — trying to occupy his time now that he is semi-retired. The copter can hold a payload of up to two pounds and can be flown up to 3 miles away, but an operator must have line of sight on the machine to comply with FAA regulations.
Raymond’s flying cameras can take still pictures, time-lapse videos and thermal and infrared images, allowing him to provide services for real estate, sports, roof and building inspections, archaeology, social events, farm and agriculture, wildlife and domestic animal management, golf courses, solar panel inspections, power and utility line surveys and search and rescue.
SkyCam started with Raymond doing roof inspections to identify problem areas in need of repair, and that remains the bulk of his business. He now looks for any way to expand to expand into other ventures.
Raymond said he recently completed surveying of cropland following the severe thunderstorms last week. The photos provided proof for the farmers to turn into their federal crop insurance programs. He also said there are instruments available that can monitor soil moisture to help farmers with irrigation plans.
When not being used for business, a simple flip on the controller puts the craft into acrobatic mode, allowing Raymond the freedom to experiment with the piloting. The drone can fly at up to 100 mph and do tight precision turns.
“There is nothing like going out to a football field or a wooded area and putting on the goggles to get that first-person immersion view,” Raymond said. “It really is a great hobby.”
Raymond runs the business out of his home and can be reached at (816) 919-1595 or on Facebook at www.facebook.com/PlatteCountySkyCam.