BROOKINGS – Seldom does a Christmas present lead to a blossoming small business. But for 18-year-old Nolan Hansen of Brookings, that is exactly the case.
Hansen owns and operates Elevate Drone Services LLC, a self-proclaimed hobby that he has now turned into a viable aerial photo and video business.
Drones, in terms of aviation, can have a broad range of applications. However, they are always unmanned aircraft systems, oftentimes very small.
Hansen uses a small, remote-controlled drone that can travel to moderately high altitudes. Drones have an extensive list of rules which include airspace regulations and Federal Aviation Administration compliance.
“I got a very basic drone in December 2019. It didn’t do much, just basically flew up in the air,” Hansen said. “I didn’t know any of the rules but was curious about the rumors (of drones).”
Once the pandemic hit in spring 2020, Hansen was left with quite a bit of free time – and an appetite to learn something new.
“I decided, I’m going to do this, I want to learn something new, so I upgraded drones and began learning some of the rules,” Hansen said. “I found out that state parks in South Dakota allow you to fly wherever you wanted, so I started traveling around and taking pictures.”
Drones, while seemingly complex, are actually quite simple, according to Hansen. The drone itself is controlled by two joysticks, one controlling altitude and the other movement.
Hansen uses a DJI MAVIC 2 Pro, which has a Hasselblad camera, a Swedish company whose camera shot the first moon landing. The camera, which is controlled from a tablet or smartphone, is attached to the drone and allows him to take high-quality pictures.
License to operate
Hansen, who attended Great Plains Lutheran High School in Watertown, was approached by the principal to take some construction progression shots of the school. Unfortunately, FAA rules say that because Hansen was no longer taking shots recreationally, he would need to get a commercial license to take photos of the school.
To get a commercial license, Hansen would need to take and pass an FAA test. To do so, Hansen enrolled in an online class which gave him a deep understanding of all the rules and regulations of remote aviation.
“I passed the test and decided to make a Facebook post, detailing that I was now a FAA certified remote pilot,” Hansen said. “This allowed me to work commercially.”
Hansen’s uncle reached out to him first, asking him to take shots of his railroad company in Sioux Falls.
“I decided that I wanted to go all out on this,” Hansen said.
Hansen went on to register his company through the state, and Elevate Drone Services was born.
A growing business
Hansen came up with a logo and created a Facebook profile for his business. The licensed drone pilot and photographer also registered his company as a Limited Liability Company (LLC) with the state.
“I got quite a bit of interest pretty quickly,” Hansen said. “By October (2020), people were calling left and right wanting fall shots.”
Hansen recalls a day in the fall when he realized this was “a real thing.”
“I got up at 6 and drove down to Alcester, then I went on to Mitchell to do two apartment complexes, then I had to stop in Chamberlain for a house, then on to Pierre for a commercial building and some condos, and then I came back,” Hansen said. “All in one day.”
Hansen provides a number of services including thermal imaging and remote structural inspection, but primarily does real estate photography.
“Drone shots are a really good asset, especially for real estate,” Hansen said.
Hansen also does 360-degree virtual tours, which allow people to see all areas of a house with interactive photos.
Selling his services
During the winter, business slowed down considerably, so much so that Hansen began doing some work for free, to show that winter didn’t matter when it came to drone shots.
“I operate winter, spring, summer and fall because there’s not a time of the year that drone shots don’t look good. People think, oh, snows going to ruin the shot. You’ll be amazed at the photos I’ve taken at the start of December when there’s no leaves on the trees and the subject still blares out,” Hansen said. “Drone shots look good year-round.”
On days that Hansen hasn’t had jobs lined up, he has been going to local businesses showing them his services with his iPad.
“It’s one thing to say, ‘I do aerial photography’ or ‘I do 360 virtual tours,’ but it’s another thing to actually show them what you do,” Hansen said. “It’s amazing what these (drones) can do, and I want to show people that.”
For now, Hansen considers Elevate Drone Services as primarily a hobby, as he doesn’t want to speculate too much into the future. In the fall, Hansen will attend Lake Area Tech in Watertown where he intends to study network and cyber security.
“As much as I hate COVID, I hated the masks, hated the shutdowns, hated missing the social life, this business that I now have is literally because of COVID,” Hansen said. “I had nothing to do, so I decided let’s learn something new.”
For drone services, contact Nolan Hansen at his email ([email protected]), phone (605-592-1308) or by visiting the Elevate Drone Services Facebook page.
Contact Addison DeHaven at [email protected]