Eldon Dunnet is a pretty cool guy with the best grown-up job ever. He’s a professional drone pilot whose enthusiasm for his work is infectious.
Based in Calgary, Alberta, he travels where needed for drone work and also as a specialized NDE/API inspector but, if he ruled the world, he’d fly every day. Sometimes his work is routine, and sometimes his expertise is crucial to ensuring safety.
He recalls being able to assist during a major industrial incident in Northern Alberta. A large area had been rendered unsafe to approach due to possible dangerous air quality levels as well as other mitigating factors that made it too hazardous for humans. After air monitoring equipment was set up, Eldon was able to approach to a distance of around 400 feet to deploy his drone.
He piloted the Infinite Jib Y6 Surveyor aerial drone with a four foot diameter, a weight of around 20 lbs, travel speed up to 45 miles an hour, and a 7” monitor to view the scene through the onboard camera. He was assisted by ground control who directed him in the survey of the area, and together they conducted a thorough search by capturing still images in a grid pattern.
During his involvement in the critical incident, Eldon’s skill was instrumental in assessing the safety of the scene, and in gathering photographic information. This information was later employed to recreate the entire scene as a 3D model using photogrammetry. The biggest issue in this case was the time-sensitive nature. The scene needed to be assessed as quickly as possible to ensure safety and to assist in the investigation. Eldon’s expertise with the professional drone was crucial. That makes him a hero in my opinion.
Besides possibly dangerous air quality issues, another mitigating factor in that investigation was that the entire site was a “very metallic environment” which posed extra risk for flight navigation, as it can affect the compass and disable automated flight capability and GPS systems.
(NOTE: Readers might be interested that in my book, Fatal Intuition, Allie flies a smaller drone, similar to the white one pictured above, near electrical towers. This factors into her ability to maintain control. Eldon, also a helicopter pilot, is well aware of the hazards of power lines to navigational equipment. He says that although it is possible to fly near electrical towers, it is extremely dangerous and a very specialized skill. Helicopters are in fact sometimes used in tower maintenance and an excellent pilot can hover with skids touching the power lines. A technician clad in chain mail or other protective gear can then exit the craft onto the live electrical lines to complete work. The electricity will flow through the metal instead of through the technician’s body. This entire process is truly hazardous work and is tremendously expensive.)
Eldon’s expertise doesn’t end with flying commercially available machines. He’s so fired up about flying that he’s even built his own drone from scratch, complete with onboard camera, navigational system and a viewing monitor he wears as goggles. “It’s a much more aggressive drone,” he says. Although not as stable as his commercial drones, he has the freedom to reprogram the computerized navigation system and turn off the gyro stabilizer to do what he wants. Now it will do flips and other aerial maneuvers not possible on the larger drones.
After watching Eldon fly one day, I decided that my latest novel Fatal Intuition would feature a boy with a drone who allows one of the main characters (Allie) to use it for a difficult search.
I’m proud to acknowledge that Eldon Dunnet is my nephew, and that he works for my brother Jared Fisk’s company Ironhide Inspection Inc.
You can read more about my books on my website
Murder | Mystery | Thriller
Author of the Intuition Series