Steamboat Living: Airborne Antics
Remote-controlled helicopter offers bird’s-eye video
March 15, 2012
— While a helicopter chased the peloton at last year's USA Pro Cycling Challenge, a miniature version created just as big of a buzz locally.
Launched from the top of the Old Town Pub building and carrying a Panasonic GH2 digital video camera, the diminutive version captured footage of the finish that might be used to promote this year's tour. At the controls on the rooftop was Cedar Beauregard, owner of Steamboat Aerials, enjoying a burgeoning business providing clients with bird's-eye images thanks to his remote-controlled helicopter.
"It's just a side business until I get enough work," he says, adding that his main clients are real estate and development projects. "It's a labor of love, but it's pretty fun."
Residents and visitors saw that high-flying fun again at this year's Winter Carnival, when Beauregard used his bird to capture the street events. Spooked horses aside, business is starting to take off, just like his chopper. Last year, Beauregard shot for Vail Resorts — including the Dew Tour in Breckenridge, footage of which was featured in commercials during the NFL playoffs — and the Ritz-Carlton, a photo of which made it onto an Interstate 70 billboard. Locally, he's shot for One Steamboat Place, Red Bell Ranch and others, including aerial footage of the flooded valley floor last summer. "Most of the work is hovering around vacant buildings," he says, adding that video footage sells better than stills. "But it has a lot of different applications."
Capable of taking images from as high as 400 feet, the maximum allowable by the Federal Aviation Administration, Beauregard has used his mini-heli to provide developers with images of lots, complete with plat maps superimposed over the photographs, and Realtors with images showing off remote mountain estates. He's also using it for events like outdoor weddings, the Dew Tour and Pro Cycling Challenge. It even can be used to help search and rescue locate missing people, he says.
The high-flying footage owes itself to a sixth-generation model helicopter that operates on six rotors and a battery offering 10 minutes of flight time (he usually shows up to a project with four batteries, meaning his craft can be airborne for 40 minutes). "I went from one rotor to eight to now six," he says. "It has less surface area than eight, so there's less jostling and requires less maintenance."
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Still, it's not all smooth sailing. Beauregard has been at it for six years, logging hundreds of hours of flight time. He recounts one time when he was testing his new octo-copter at Howelsen and it crashed into the outrun of the 90-meter jump, resulting in the total loss of the bird and two cameras. From there, it was back to the drawing board.
"People trying to get into this business usually don't continue after the first crash," says Beauregard, who earned his stripes practicing on a computerized flight-control simulator. "I've built a few helicopters for other people around the country, but they usually come back broken within two weeks."
Beauregard's background and passion help him get through his hobby's turbulence. His dad, he says, instilled a passion in him for building model airplanes and to stick with it even after they came crashing down.
As for potential copter crashes today, he says they're rare, but he carries a $2 million liability policy just in case his airborne antics go awry.
And it's all worth it for the doors it has opened for him as a videographer. "It's more of a video production business than a remote helicopter business," he says, adding that a recent job saw his helicopter flying up to the front door of a $10 million house for sale and then meshing that with interior footage. "But it's gotten my foot in the door of the production business. The ultimate product is the footage — the helicopter is just a floating tripod."
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