An Eye in Northern Nevada’s Sky
Drone operator’s career takes flight after retirement
By Dianna Troyer
When a bird’s-eye view of a project or building is needed in Northern Nevada, Rick Anderson and his drone, Talon 1, whir into action.
The 64-year-old Carlin resident bought Talon 1 after retiring in 2016 and has used it to photograph potential mining sites, search for a lost pet, and provide aerial photos of property for real-estate agents, engineering firms and construction companies.
“It’s been fun and intense to learn how to fly it and pass a certification test,” Rick says.
When he earned his Remote Pilot Certificate from the Federal Aviation Administration in 2017, he was required to name and register his drone.
“I thought Talon 1 was a great name, considering what it does,” Rick says of his DJI Phantom 4 Pro Plus. The 12-inch square unmanned aerial aircraft is equipped with a state-of-the-art camera.
He says he picked the name because an eagle taking food with its talons reminds him of a drone capturing photos and video.
To bring Talon 1 to life, Rick taps a transmitter button on a control module. It whirs like a buzzing insect and awaits Rick’s instructions for its next mission. Maneuvering joy sticks while watching a screen attached to the module, Rick makes it hover before flying it to its destination. As Talon 1 flies, Rick soars vicariously, seeing from a bird’s perspective hundreds of feet aloft.
Rick says learning to fly was easier than studying for and passing the Remote Pilot Certificate exam—an FAA requirement if a drone pilot is paid for photos and videos.
“I was told some people have to take the test several times before passing,” Rick says of the hour-long exam. “I was relieved to pass the first time.”
The FAA certificate shows that pilots understand regulations, operating requirements and procedures for safely flying drones.
Pilots cannot fly above 400 feet, must maintain a line of sight with their drone, and are prohibited from flying in certain airspaces.
For drone pilots who want an FAA certificate, Rick recommends studying with Remote Pilot 101—an online training program with quiz questions similar to those on the FAA exam. He also studied materials in the FAA Airman Knowledge Testing Supplement.
After passing practice tests and studying a few months, Rick registered at the nearest test center—the Magic Valley Regional Airport in Twin Falls, Idaho, 185 miles from home.
“For me, learning to fly a drone was a completely different mindset from my previous work,” says Rick, who retired as a supervisor in the machining and fabrication shop for Newmont Mining north of Carlin. “I was used to welding and machining parts, and here I was in retirement learning some things a pilot would need to know.”
His wife, Kandi, is an award-winning photographer who specializes in industrial, newborn and maternity portraiture. She suggested he learn to fly a drone to offer more services to her diverse clients. She opened her business after retiring in 2012 as administrative assistant to the Carlin Combined School principal.
“With both of us being retired, we enjoy going on shoots together,” Kandi says.
Rick’s first client, a Canadian mining company, found his drone services through her website.
“They wanted an aerial viewpoint of test holes and survey boundaries of a potential mining site near Tuscarora,” he says of the unincorporated community about 50 miles north of Carlin.
On another assignment, he photographed the Elko Junction Shopping Center so a prospective renter could visualize the size of a building available for lease. The job was his first experience dealing with the complexities of flying near an airport. Although he was not near buildings at the adjacent Elko Regional Airport, he technically flew in its airspace.
“Before I could even start, I met with the airport manager to get permission,” Rick says. “Pilots were notified of the time I was scheduled to fly. On the flight day, I kept a required radio with me so I could listen for any pilots in the area.”
Despite following guidelines, his drone would not start.
“The software shuts it down when it’s in the vicinity of an airport,” he says. “I had to get online to learn how to override it.”
Another time he was asked to find a dog lost during a picnic.
“I flew but didn’t see it,” Rick says. “Several days later, it was found at someone’s house about 17 miles in the opposite direction of where they thought it would be.”
Rick says he has been impressed with Talon 1’s ability to handle diverse assignments and flying conditions.
“It’s stable in windy conditions and can fly 30 miles an hour,” he says. “I’ve never had a problem with it being carried away or losing sight of it. It’s programmed to return to its launch site.”
A battery lasts about 30 minutes, so Rick takes five with him and keeps one plugged into a charging system in his vehicle so he can stay onsite as long as necessary.
Rick says he is available for search-and-rescue missions and whatever a person needs.
“There are so many ways to use a drone,” he says. “It’s really enjoyable to fly one. “Since we’re both retired, we can set our schedule to fly whenever the weather cooperates. We’re doing what we like to do.”