View from above

Flying robot snaps rare photos of Yampa Valley

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Cedar Beauregard's aircraft allow him to see the Yampa Valley in ways few of us ever do. Yet, his feet never leave the ground.

Beauregard has found a way to balance his professional life as a building contractor with an outlet for his aptitude for physics and engineering. He anticipates area businesses and homeowners will provide a demand for his new service, which involves a fleet of remote-controlled aircraft used to take aerial photographs.

Beauregard, who grew up in Steamboat Springs, is the owner of Cedar Beauregard Construction. He has joined a growing number of enthusiasts worldwide who are using radio-controlled scaled aircraft as a platform for aerial photography. Whether he uses his fixed-wing airplane or one of two helicopters, Beauregard can put a high-quality digital camera in position to photograph building lots, homes and remote canyons. He can take images from altitudes of 50 to 400 feet, the maximum allowable by the FAA.

"It's nuts. What you're pulling off is basically a flying robot," Beauregard said.

The business applications are numerous. Beauregard can supply the subdivison developers with sharp images of individual lots. And by using an image-editing program such as Adobe Photoshop, he can superimpose the appropriate portion of the plat map over the photograph. Realtors will find that Beauregard can get images that show off remote mountain estates in ways that can't be photographed from the ground.

"Homeowners love seeing aerial photos of their houses," Beauregard said. "I took one for a neighbor, and he was so excited, he acted like I'd given him a $500 gift."

Beauregard anticipates photographing outdoor weddings and special events in the Yampa Valley this summer.

His business is one of many applications for cameras mounted in remote-controlled aircraft.

Some newspapers keep operators of radio-controlled aircraft on retainer to

get news photos of emergency scenes that couldn't be obtained even with a photographer in a full-size aircraft.

Cameras mounted on radio-controlled aircraft can even be a lifesaver -- search and rescue organizations across the country have begun to work with infrared cameras on the small helicopters to look for missing people, Beauregard said. They've proven especially useful when a child is missing in a large Midwestern corn field, he added.

Beauregard studied physics and engineering in college but left school as a senior before he finished his degree. He had grown up around his father's construction job sites, knew he wanted to live in Steamboat, and that's the direction his career took.

He began learning to fly a radio-controlled airplane because it satisfied the science and technical side of his personality. A motor called a "servo" controls his GWS Slowstick airplane.

"This is the plane of choice," he said. "It's really simple to fly."

The airframe itself cost just $35, but the necessary electronics bring the price closer to $400.

Beauregard's grandfather is a geologist and always urged his grandson to find a way to take aerial photos of Rocky Mountain land forms from his scale model aircraft.

Beauregard grew bored with flying the plane and began investigating Internet forums that dealt with aerial photography using the radio-controlled planes as a platform.

"You can only fly your plane around so much before the buzz is over," Beauregard said.

After successfully taking photographs with a small Sony digital camera mounted beneath the airplane's landing struts, Beauregard became intrigued by the advantages a radio-controlled helicopter could offer. He taught himself the intricacies of flying a chopper on a computer flight simulator. The software afforded him the luxury of "crashing" his make-believe aircraft many times as he polished his piloting skills.

"The helicopter is the ultimate as a photo platform because you can hover," he said.

Beauregard started in November 2004 with a chopper called a Hawk Sport that is powered by a small gasoline engine. When Jeff Scholl visited from Whitefish, Mont., recently with his German-made Joker Mini-Copter, Beauregard knew he had to acquire one of the $3,000 machines. The electrically powered Joker's blade is 5.5 feet long, and though it weighs 25 pounds, it generates significant lift.

It's quieter than the Hawk Sport, so it would be less intrusive at special events. But the real advantage for aerial photography is that it produces far less vibration than a gas engine.

Beauregard is fitting the Joker with a movable mount for the digital camera and a separate set of controls. He will enlist the help of Joe Rife of Joe Rife Photography to operate the camera while he flies the chopper. The Joker will be fitted with a small video surveillance camera and a video downlink that will allow Rife to track on a small video monitor what the camera sees in flight.

Beauregard doesn't harbor illusions of making his living with his aerial photography -- rather, it's an outlet for his interest in technical gadgetry.

"It gives me something I don't get from my construction business," he said.

If you see a pint-sized yellow chopper hovering silently over the Yampa Valley this spring, you'll know the pilot's feet are planted firmly on the ground.

-- To reach Tom Ross call 871-4205

or e-mail tross@steamboatpilot.com

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