YARMOUTH, N.S. — A newcomer to Yarmouth County who is a retired avionics technician is buzzing over new territory with his cinematic drone.
Steve St. Clair and his wife Lesley Schwartz, a nurse, moved to Wedgeport in June after buying a house near the Tusket River.
“We came to Nova Scotia because we were looking for quiet, peace and dark skies,” says Schwartz.
The couple spent 2005 to 2009 in Greenwood, N.S. and fell in love with the province. From 2009 to 2020, St. Clair was posted to CFB Trenton, Ontario. It was the last posting before he retired after 31 years in the armed forces – 14 with the army and 17 with the air force. The couple began looking for a retirement property.
“Our realtor sold us on the weather here,” laughs Schwartz. “We looked at houses for a long time and finally found the right house on the right property. I couldn’t be happier. I just love it here.”
The couple are amazed at the internet access and refer to it as being “bizarrely fast.”
“We didn’t have the internet capability where we were in Ontario, just outside of town, that we do here. It rivals anything you could get in Toronto,” says Schwartz.
St. Clair, who possesses a Transport Canada Advanced Operations Certificate for drones, worked on C-17s for most of his time in the Air Force. He was also a member of the armed forces for 14 years before that. He’s been interested in radio-controlled devices since he was 19.
He started building planes with flight controllers and then transitioned into drones when he could actually hover in one spot.
“I started building them when the technology came out, in 2011,” he says.
He describes the video as being shaky in the beginning because the technology was all so new and the gimbals did not provide good stabilization.
This region of Nova Scotia is attractive for drone fliers, says St. Clair. His training, he says, stresses safe operation of drones.
“They can be dangerous, even the small ones. It makes complete sense why they’re regulated. People get carried away and they don’t know what they’re doing or they hit somebody or a car or worse,” he says.
Schwartz remembers when her husband was training. “He saw many graphic pictures of people being hit by propellers. That was where the need for safety was instilled,” she says.
He uses a visual observer when possible, who monitors the area for safety. “I’m convenient because we’re married,” says Schwartz, who is trained for the job.
In an official operation, the couple perform a briefing and follow a checklist. The observer makes sure everything is clear with no people or animals present and that no one is interrupting him at any time.
St. Clair has several drones, however his “go to” unit is an 8-lb. Inspire ll DGI cinematic drone, which is a popular unit for serious drone pilots.
It has two batteries so that if one fails, the other will bring the drone back to base.
Before flight, the drone pilot checks with air traffic control in Yarmouth (Nav Canada) when flying in controlled airspace.
Schwartz, the visual observer, has radio contact with the pilot and watches the sky in case something happens. Nav Canada will allow the flight to proceed or disallow it depending on the pilot’s qualifications.
There is a lot involved with flying drones and the regulatory guidance and rules can be found in the Canadian Aviation Regulations part IX, says St. Clair. “Most people are not aware of the laws.”
St. Clair is the pilot/owner of ROTOROPTIC which he established as a small aerial photo/video company as a side job/hobby while in the military. He plans on taking on more bookings now that he is retired.
He and Schwartz were the drone operators for photographing the Leons Trenton Operation Stand Proud event for the Largest Human Maple Leaf summer of 2019. The photo is in the Guiness Book.
More about flying drones from Transport Canada. To keep yourself and others safe, fly your drone:
• where you can see it at all times
• below 122 metres (400 feet) in the air
• away from bystanders, at a minimum horizontal distance of 30 metres for basic operations
• away from emergency operations and advertised events
• avoid forest fires, outdoor concerts and parades
• away from airports and heliports
• 5.6 kilometres (3 nautical miles) from airports
• 1.9 kilometres (1 nautical mile) from heliports
• outside controlled airspace (for basic operations only)
• far away from other aircraft
• don’t fly anywhere near airplanes, helicopters and other drones