Lifestyle

Eye in the sky

  • Ready for take-off: Othneil Haynes, left, Scott Stallard, Brandon Morrison and Llewellyn Simons of the Bermuda Aerial Drone Flyers Club (Photograph by Blaire Simmons)
  • Othneil Haynes, left, Scott Stallard, Brandon Morrison and Llewellyn Simons of the Bermuda Aerial Drone Flyers Club (Photograph by Blaire Simmons)
  • Scott Stallard, left, receiving tips on flying a drone from Brandon Morrison (Photograph by Blaire Simmons)
  • Llewellyn Simons preparing for takeoff with the Bermuda Aerial Drone Flyers Club (Photograph by Blaire Simmons)
  • Othneil Haynes enjoying a day out with the Bermuda Aerial Drone Flyers Club (Photograph by Blaire Simmons)

Flying a drone looks easy, until you actually try it. Llewellyn Simons likes to say he has seven of the aerial vehicles — plus a submarine.

The “submarine” is actually a $1,500 drone he lost a few months ago while using it to film from a boat in the Great Sound.

Out of nowhere, he received an error message: “Aircraft disconnected”. Under normal circumstances, all would have been fine; in an emergency, the drone had a feature, which returned it to its starting point.

But in this case the drone had taken off from the boat, which was no longer in the same spot.

“While I was out looking for it, it decided to come back and it became a submarine,” said Mr Simons, a professional photographer and police constable. “I was more upset about losing the footage then the drone.”

To share tips and tricks — and make the hobby a little less lonely — he started the Bermuda Aerial Drone Flyers Club last May with his friend, Brandon Morrison.

In the months since, the club has grown, and grown. Membership is now around 70, the pair expect it will reach 100 before the year is out.

“I remember one day we were out and picked up eight new members just by talking to people,” said 28-year-old Mr Morrison, a web developer.

Club members come from all walks of life, but there are many photographers involved.

“As a photographer, I am taking it to the next level,” Mr Simons said. “It is a flying tripod. Bermuda is just a beautiful place and it’s great to be able to send your drone up 150ft and capture a lot of stuff you can’t get on the ground.”

Scott Stallard is one of their newest members. He used to photograph Bermuda from a helicopter, but there’s no longer one here for him to use. He was introduced to drone photography while on a trip to Russia last year.

“I was with a guy who was doing work with a lot of drones,” the 63-year-old said. “It suddenly turned me right on to it because it meant I could be the helicopter pilot and the photographer in one.

“Then I accidentally ran into the Bermuda Aerial Drone Flyers Club guys and they got me out here and gave me lessons. It is so much fun. They taught me how to not panic when you see your drone going out to sea. It has been a great introduction.”

The club has a serious side. One of their aims is to work closely with the Bermuda Civil Aviation Authority to educate the public about the rules of drone flying.

People often do not know that the City of Hamilton is a restricted fly zone, or that St David’s and St George’s are out of bounds because of LF Wade International Airport unless you are given special permission.

The worry is that an accident — a drone landing on someone or flying in the wrong place — might bring flying in Bermuda to an end.

“Everyone is getting a drone for Christmas,” Mr Simons said. “But drones are not toys. They can be dangerous in the wrong hands.”

As such, he grew worried last December when rogue drones held up more than a thousand flights at Gatwick and Heathrow airports in England.

“It was one of those ‘Oh cr*p moments’,” he said. “These things tend to trickle down to us here. One little incident, especially happening here, can halt everything for us until they can get a grasp on it.”

Should a member of the public see a drone doing something wrong, they can contact the club who will try to make sure it is not one of their own.

“We are holding each other accountable,” Mr Simons said. “We want the hobby to last for a long time.”

Retired police officer Othneil Haynes, 62, added: “We train each other and make sure that everyone is following the rules.”

With even young children getting drones, the club is open to all ages. At the moment, there are only seven females in the group; they would like to see more join in.

“We have a friendly environment that welcomes everyone to join us. We welcome people if they are looking to drone, if they have a drone or are just interested in getting one.”

For more information: info@bermudaaerialdrone.com, 516-3759 or bermudaaerialdrone.com. Look for Bermuda Aerial Drone Flyers on Facebook and on Instagram, @b.a.d.flyers