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Pilot Spotlight: Saunders Staley in Phoenix

Considering that DroneBase has the world's largest network of professional drone operators, we have no shortage of very talented, experienced individuals in the DroneBase Pilot Network. So when one of our Operations Managers calls one of them out by name saying they would be a great candidate to spotlight on our blog, you know this must be a top-notch pilot with a congenial disposition.

Pilot Saunders Staley is based out of Phoenix, Arizona and has been flying with DroneBase since October 2016. Saunders is a full-time drone pilot, making a living doing what he loves. We asked Saunders some questions about his drone pilot career, tips for fellow pilots, and more:

What drone do you primarily fly with?

DJI Phantom 4 Pro, a DJI Inspire 2 with the either the Zenmuse X5s or X7 gimbals/lenses, occasionally we break out the DJI M600 heavy lifter and fly the Matrice. Drones are getting smaller and their technology is getting better so in my book, if the quality of a smaller drone works for what your project, no reason to hassle with the larger gear equipment.

What is your favorite type of DroneBase Mission? Why?

Ongoing construction projects. You know the landscape of the flight area every time you return for another shoot, airspace restrictions and get to see a project buildout over the course of your time on site. Skyscraper projects can be a little more tricky though. Directionals, Orbits, Trucking Shots, basically anything that requires a property wrap around, is fairly standard procedure in the beginning but once the building gets to a certain height, reception issues become a major problem, dodging moving cranes :-), etc. The shoot becomes a lot more technical once the project is in full swing.

What helpful tips can you give to other pilots for these Missions?

With these Missions and any Mission, before I even arrive on site I review the location on Google Earth to see where the best operating area would be to setup shop and fly.setup shop and fly. Of course once you get on site this could change in a moment but it will give you a good idea for a starting point. Having a safe place to land and takeoff without being bothered and being able to follow Part 107 guidelines, is always a number 1 priority.

What are your favorite things to shoot?

I have shot for a diverse array of clientele regionally and nationally, some of these include NBC, Spotify, Discovery Channel and a multitude of events around the Phoenix area. I think just having the opportunity to be a drone pilot and love what I do is a win, win. Working with Law Enforcement, DP's, Producers and all types of film crews, there is always a huge interest when the aerial team shows up and starts great conversation.

What is your favorite aspect about being a drone pilot?

There are so many and love working with all the amazing clients we have, as well as piloting for DroneBase. However, I will have to say shooting for myself. I get so caught up and busy shooting for everyone else, it is hard to make time to shoot for myself. I try to plan a few weeks a year to just go out on my own and get super creative.

I had one of the 1st approved US Citizen SFOC's (Special Flight Operation Certificates) for Canada (took ages to get) and was able to shoot footage around the Vancouver and the British Columbia province, which is such a pristine and beautiful place. Probably my favorite spot in the Pacific Northwest.

What was your worst piloting experience?

I was shooting a rafting operation outside of Telluride about 3-4 years ago with a Phantom 3 Pro and the drone lost connection. Hopped in my car with the transmitter still on and tried to drive down the road around the bend to re-connect and it had already made its Return to Home route back straight into the mountain. Camera was still on, could see it on the ground but just had to get across some class 4 rapids, HAHA. I had a buddy who worked ski patrol that put me in touch with search and rescue and they made the river attempt and brought it back alive. It wasn't really about the drone, it was more about the SD card with the footage that I needed.

Describe your "dream drone"

Super Compact, 120FPS in 4k, Full Frame Sensor (No Crop) 40 minute flight time, waterproof, H.264/Apple Pro Res codec (without $900 SSD cards). NO GEO FENCING would be a plus!

Anything else you'd like to share?

Keep on following what you are passionate about whether it be for a hobby or your career. I have built my business on my failures, turning them into success stories, trying to maintain a work life balance and loving what I do everyday.

Take a look at some shots from Saunders and his showreel below. Check him out on Social @FRaerials and his website



Saunders 3

Saunders 1

Saunders 2

Interested in pursuing a career that you're passionate about? Sign up to be a DroneBase Pilot today!

Tags: Drone Pilots Drone Tips Pilot Spotlight
Erik Till
Erik Till

Erik Till is the Head of Marketing of DroneBase and is responsible for the communications and brand of the company, as well as strategy, content, and acquisition of drone pilots and new customer leads. He has worked in startups ranging from eCommerce to design & manufacturing, building marketing and sales programs for both B2C and B2B companies. Erik holds a B.S. in Business Management and Psychology from San Diego State University.


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