PITTSBURG — From up above you hear a buzzing noise and thankfully it’s not bees.
More likely than not, it’s probably Troy Graham flying his drone.
During events such as parades, Festa Italiana and the Shrine Bowl people may have noticed something flying overhead, a drone, viewing Pittsburg and the surrounding area from a unique perspective.
A nearly lifelong hobby of flying radio controlled airplanes and helicopters has led Troy to begin flying drones.
He said drones have become an accessible hobby for many people over the years. People can purchase drones at their local stores or online, unlike 20 years ago where he had to build and practice with an air club to make sure he didn’t crash and damage property.
Even further back, in the 20th century, people took aerial shots using pigeons with cameras strapped on to them. People also captured aerial shots from balloons and blimps. Nowadays, images are taken by helicopter or a drone.
Federal Aviation Administration has rules and regulations in place for different types of drones which Troy follows as a commercial drone flier. He’s talked to area clubs to share general information about what drones can do and help with any worries.
Troy said he also contacts the Sheriff's Department and the police department before flying his drone and he has safety settings which stop him from flying the drone in restricted areas, such as within five miles of airports.
Now that drones are more popular, he has decided to take his hobby a step further these past two years. He now has a commercial license and volunteers with local organizations and emergency offices — including documenting community events and being a helping hand for emergency personnel reaching areas that may be unsafe for them to go.
“I’m trying to push the positives of it [drones] because every day on Facebook you’ll see ‘a drone almost hits a plane or helicopter,’ but I want to see the stuff that says 80-year-old man with dementia wanders off in a cornfield and drone finds them [alive and well] or a child wanders off and a drone finds him, or a drone delivers medication or medical supplies to a village somewhere … These are things I’d like to do in my life.”
Troy said many drones are improving “life safety” and it is cutting down costs because people are at a safe distance when flying drones.
He has already ran into a few occasions where his drone was helpful. Last spring, some areas of Crawford County were flooded. Working with the sheriff's department, he helped identify a car which was left in the water and he was able to check and see if anyone was inside and get a look at the car’s license plate.
“We can do all this without ever having to put someone in harms way to look at a car,” Troy said. “Anything I do for public services whether Pittsburg Police, Sheriff’s Department or anything like that it’s free.
“I don’t charge them anything because I know they are trying to help us out as well.”
Recently, cattle were stolen and Troy was able to find three of the missing animals with his drone.
Thermal imaging cameras on drones can also be helpful, Troy said. People or animals can be seen using the heat-sensing cameras.
Troy used his thermal imaging camera when a mother cow and her calf decided to wander off.
“She was pretty easy to find because it had cooled off that night, so it looked like a candle glowing over there [where the cow was],” he said. The cow and calf were found are fine and well.
Through his business, AV8 Droneworx, he does freelance work for construction businesses, providing them with a aerial photograph of the work zone. During the “daytime” he works for Crawford County in Planning and Zoning.
Flying drones is relaxing, Troy said. When he is not documenting an event or for an organization he can be found outside in his backyard viewing the wildlife from the sky. He said he enjoys seeing the perspective and what he can do creatively.
The next time you see a drone fly around, don’t forget to smile and wave.
— Stephanie Potter is a staff writer at the Morning Sun. She can be emailed at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow her on Twitter @PittStephP and Instagram @stephanie_morningsun.