While trekking through a beautiful natural vista, it can unnerving to hear a buzzing overhead that’s all too reminiscent of a gathering swarm of bees, but before you dash off along a wooded escape route, give a glance.
It may just be one of Chad Lemmens’ drones.
Before founding Lemmens Creative Design LLC in Kronenwetter, he began flying drones in 2016. That included a lot of nature shots; sunsets, the picturesque hiking trails of Eau Claire Dells, and more. Not long after he began shooting photos and videos with his new machine, friends and acquaintances began asking Lemmens if he would get some airborne footage for them. Just like that, as with so many main and side businesses that began as a hobby, his enterprise had taken off.
“Drones are a cool niche,” said Lemmens, who works in data management in the healthcare field full time. He is up to eight units, which range in price from $1,200 to $3,000, but prices can soar well beyond that. Those used for major motion pictures can be $60,000 and require a ground-based crew to handle each detail of the flight. That’s to say nothing of the $100 million fixed-wing drones utilized by the military. But lest one assume Lemmens is simply some kind of collector, he can run down the list of the capabilities of each of his units.
“I have one that hauls my 360-degree camera,” he recounts like a devoted photographer with multiple lenses. “I have one that can fly at night, one I use indoors, one for maps ...”
Drones have two types of operators: hobbyists/recreational, and those with a commercial license who are permitted to do business with the machines. As Lemmens was clear in pointing out, it’s the former who often appear on the news for invading people’s privacy in their yards and straying into flight paths over airports.
“If you’re selling and doing business using a drone, you need a part 107 certification,” he said. “It covers things like air space and different behaviors ... You study weather and air, lift and draw; you have to stay under a 400-foot ceiling.”
Lemmens demonstrated his drones’ capabilities by photographing a Concert on the Square at downtown Wausau’s 400 Block. The block was packed with concert-goers, and Wausau Area Events had asked Lemmens to shoot some promotional footage.
The machine was unpacked and airborne in a matter of minutes.
“You have to maintain a direct line of sight the whole time,” he said, adding that commercial flyers are not allowed to fly directly over people or traffic, for safety purposes.
The drone hung motionless and virtually silent except for the light whir of four copter blades. All the while, it sent images to Lemmens’ iPhone, through which he could see what the drone was seeing. And while previous photographic efforts of the 400 Block involved standing on surrounding rooftops, the drone was able to offer heights and angles — and change to different heights and angles more quickly — than was ever available before.
“Before, to get these kind of shots, you’d have to hire a pilot,” Lemmens said. “They have restrictions to where they can fly and how low they can go.”
Lemmens Creative Design produced a video of Rib Mountain Drive for the Town of Rib Mountain, a promotional piece highlighting existing and available parcels of land for curious business entities. He’s also done progression shots at construction sites — theDudley tower being one — and aerial inspections for insurance companies — rooftops and chimneys, for example. Church Mutual Insurance in Merrill has been using drones since the spring of 2016 to make infrared inspections of the structural integrity of high, steeply pitched roofs such as church steeples.
“I know people who have used drones for agriculture, to evaluate crops,” Lemmens said. “You can plug in a map, and it can fly the whole perimeter of a piece of land and come right back.”
Police have called on drones for search and-rescue missions. Lemmens even got a call regarding a pursuit near Marshfield, but the incident was resolved before he could assist.
Lemmens has seen and heard promising potential for future drone usage. Technologically, a simple increase in battery life could open up possibilities that could even be life saving.
“I read about one,” he said, “that transported a kidney through New York.”