DroneUp Callsign: aerialuav
Badges:Responsible Community Pilot, Aerial Mapping, Aerial Inspection
In the rugged, arid valleys between the great plateaus in Utah, a drone pilot drives carefully over the unpaved roads with a truckload of equipment. An hour’s foray into the desert wilderness promised breathtaking views and unique challenges for Ron Knox, who was about to fly a DroneUp job surveying an enormous mesa for development.
“This was definitely a larger mission, but it didn’t bother me,” Knox said. “I was excited to be able to fly something this massive. When you’re out there flying in the middle of nowhere, you really have to keep your eyes on things.”
For Ron, who has been flying drones professionally with his business Aerial UAV Services since 2012, surveying the mesa was familiar work with interesting new challenges. Based out of Colorado, he’s bounced all around the southwestern U.S. flying everything from Pacific Gas & Electric powerlines in California to solar facilities in Wyoming and farms in Nebraska.
For 18 years, Ron worked as an IT Manager—a desk-jockey with a passion for remote-controlled anything, especially aircraft. Getting up into the air was just an off-the-clock pastime. Eventually, it became a side-hustle in addition to his “real” job. Finally, he took the business full-time last year and he hasn’t looked back.
“I just love being in the air, I love flying,” he said. “The different things you can do and the different things you see when you get vertical are just endless. If you get the right people and go to the right places, you’re set.”
Ron came into the industry during its inception. He’s been along for the industry’s ride as the Part 107 Certificate came to be, and has done what he can to keep up with its rapidly changing technologies, regulations, and standards. Whether or not he predicted the growth the industry is experiencing today, he’s seeing it explode now and recognizes the significance.
That foresight is what placed him out in the desert, an hour away from the closest civilization with no backup drone and hardly any cell signal, collecting topographic data from high up in a bright blue sky. Technical hiccups were suddenly extreme hazards—no pilot wants to see their equipment crash hundreds of feet down the side of a cliff.
“Then, one of the major challenges was maintaining line-of-sight,” Knox said. “You couldn’t just ‘Walk off the path.’ On every side, you’ve got yucca trees and sagebrush. It worked out because I had positioned myself in the middle of each flight.”
Despite all the challenges, Ron successfully captured the mesa in its entirety. DroneUp’s satisfied customer used the data to help planning for a major real estate development project. Ron was satisfied, as well, in part because of the unique advantages pilots enjoy while working with DroneUp.
“The different services I’ve worked for, hands down (DroneUp) is the best,” Knox said. “The flight team and logistics are awesome. To be able to drive seven hours from the Denver area and pretty much drive straight up to the site in Utah and start flying is pretty phenomenal.”
Regarding the future of the industry, Ron predicts that artificial intelligence is going to be integrated into sUAS more and more with each innovation. He points to advancements in self-driving vehicles as evidence that the “reactive intelligence” of computers will eventually surpass human capabilities. Within the next few years, he believes the cultural shift of working drone pilots coupled with game-changing technology innovations will make for a very different industry.
His years in IT lent him an inside view of the adoption of the Internet. Some draw parallels with the generational gap of those technologies and drones today, but he’s not so optimistic. He hopes that future the next generation of pilots doesn’t rely too heavily on the technology and can apply common sense and knowledge for safe flying.
Stay tuned for more installments of our Drone Jobs series, as we highlight some of our best pilots and the missions they fly.