Steamboat man hopes aerial photography business takes off
May 2, 2010
Steamboat Springs — On a windy Thursday afternoon last week, a helicopter, glider and new "octo-copter" were strewn across Cedar Beauregard's kitchen counter, along with hefty remote controls, expensive cameras and modified goggles that looked like something out of "Back to the Future."
"I brought out all my toys," he quipped.
But Beauregard, who worked in construction for 25 years and is a member of the Steamboat Springs Planning Commission, was quick to state that the remote-controlled aircraft and related materials are not toys at all — they're tools. He's using the gear to try to make Steamboat Aerials, his budding aerial photography and video business, take off.
"I just love that aerial perspective," he said. "I'm one of those guys who can get on Google Earth and surf around for hours."
Beauregard started the business in 2005 but set it aside for a couple of years while construction boomed in Steamboat. With that industry slowed to nearly a standstill, he has returned to the remote controls in an effort to make it a full-time job.
He's landed contracts in Vail and Aspen, Beauregard said, to take aerial photos for real estate sellers. The state of Wyoming has hired him to shoot aerial photos and video of events such as Cheyenne Frontier Days, he said, to boost the state's tourism marketing efforts.
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He's shot aerial photos of Lincoln Avenue and Old Town during the downtown repaving project; of a recent controlled burn near Elk Mountain, known as Sleeping Giant; and of 360-degree views from locations including the giant boulders that give Rabbit Ears Pass its name.
He created his unmanned aircrafts by modifying pre-packaged kits. The camera attached beneath the yellow helicopter can swivel while taking rapid-fire pictures. Beauregard said his new octo-copter — named for its eight blades — has a GPS system and other features that allow it to hover at a fixed point.
"There's about 4 grand sitting on the counter there," he said, referring to the octo-copter.
Federal Aviation Administration officials said in November that new proposed regulations for "unmanned aircraft systems" could be published in spring 2011, with final regulations in place by early 2012.
"Interest is growing in a broad range of uses such as aerial photography, surveying land and crops, monitoring forest fires and environmental conditions, and protecting borders and ports against intruders," the FAA statement said. "UAS numbers and mission uses are growing dramatically. In the United States alone, approximately 50 companies, universities and government organizations are developing and producing some 155 unmanned aircraft designs."
Longtime pilot Bob Maddox, owner of Mountain Flight Services, also said regulations still are evolving for unmanned aircraft such as Beauregard's.
"Those things are operating at such a low altitude that they've never been an issue," Maddox said. "It's such a new phenomena that there's really no standard body of thought on it."
Beauregard acknowledged that the use of unmanned aircraft for commercial purposes presents legal issues, but he said the laws are directed at crafts much larger than his. He said he has a $1 million liability insurance policy related to his aircraft, which he is legally allowed to fly to an altitude of 400 feet in his line of sight.
He intends to keep pursuing commercial contracts while the regulations take shape. Beauregard said he networks with about 50 people across the country who use aircraft similar to his.
"What we're doing isn't being policed in any way," he said. "We're just in limbo … as with anything that evolves quickly, the laws take a long time to evolve with it."
He speculated that aerial photography one day could benefit Routt County Search and Rescue or other emergency responders.
For Beauregard, the appeal is undeniable. The goggles allow him to see the view from the nose of the glider while he is guiding it through the sky.
"It's a lot of fun to do because you're literally flying around up there," he said.
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