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November 19, 2020

Celebrating Drone Safety Awareness Week - Why I Fly

  • , drones
  • , Employees
  • , Tech
  • , The Crew at Wing
  • , Wing

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This week is the FAA’s Drone Safety Awareness Week, and we’d like to honor all of the aviation enthusiasts, hobbyists, pilots, and tinkerers who share a passion for drones and the potential for them to transform the world around us for the better.

As Wing has worked to advance new technologies to use drones to benefit people and communities, doing so safely has always been the top priority. Safety is integral to establishing trust with the communities and regulators where Wing operates, building a sustainable business, and setting a solid foundation for a future in which drones are widespread.

This week - we’re highlighting some Wing team members, their journey in aviation, why they fly, and how they do so safely. 


André Prager


André Prager has aviation in his blood. With a pilot for a dad, André spent his childhood at the airfield, wowed by the variety of airplane designs on display. He got airborne faster than most, doing Zero G maneuvers with his dad before his tenth birthday. That early start set him on a flight path that landed him at Wing, where he now leads the mechanical engineering team that develops airframes, payload systems, packages, and ground infrastructure for Wing’s fleet of drones.

“My passion is for aviation and creating physical things,” says André. “I've been a tinkerer, hands-on builder, and warranty voider for as long as I can remember.” André designed, built, and flew his first RC planes as a kid. Today he still builds RC planes with his young son, and is part of a group of enthusiasts who race a highly modified Lancair Super Legacy, which just recently hit the 400mph mark at the annual Reno Air Races. That experience especially taught him the paramount importance of safety in the skies. “As you can imagine, wrenching on something that is piloted by one of your best friends instills a level of responsibility that's hard to describe,” he says. 

For André, building a culture of safety, whether in his hobby flying or work at Wing, means everything. Safety needs to be top-of-mind for every team member, and communication is key. “We work hard to create an environment where everybody on the team feels responsible and empowered to speak up when they see or hear something that could be a safety concern,” he says.

As part of his racing team, André has spent some magical moments in the sky, flying in close formation to observe and test airflow around the fuselage of the team’s modified aircraft. Watching pilots conduct this testing with the highest level of precision and skill isn’t something many people get to experience. André looks forward to a future where the proliferation of drones will make this appreciation of aviation more widely accessible. “It's a future where drones are a valued part of the community; a future where drones are so friendly, quiet, quick, unintrusive, and helpful that they automatically create a smile on your face whenever you see one fly by,” he says. 

Jessica Palmer




Jessica Palmer has made a career and a hobby of pushing drones to their limits — whether as a mechanical test engineer at Wing, where she puts drones through rigorous safety testing, or as a drone racer in her spare time. Jessica studied mechanical engineering in college and spent a lot of time playing with drones in the mechatronics lab. She also takes an artistic approach to her engineering; she gives a lot of thought to aesthetics, and looks at drone design from all angles. While Jessica’s work largely focuses on optimizing drone safety and performance, she also just loves the aircraft. “There is a sense of wonder and joy to seeing them fly that just never goes away,” she says.
 
Jessica also approaches drone design and testing with safety as a paramount consideration. “Drone safety is incredibly important because we are flying in a very real world with very real consequences,” she says. Thankfully, there are tools for professionals and hobbyists alike to keep everything and everyone safe. 
 
The tool that Jessica recommends using is an open source flight safety system that can accommodate both novice and commercial drone traffic. “Airspace regulations can be intimidating but apps like OpenSky and AirMAP make the process really easy and it's a good way to make sure you have a safe space to fly.” 
 
Jessica sees a future in which widespread drone use can have a positive impact on how we live our lives. “The delivery drones do not put a pilot or driver at risk, they have no emissions, and could even reduce road traffic,” she says. But it’s not just the potential for drones on Earth that excites Jessica; she’s energized by future space-based applications that will enable humans to explore areas that are inaccessible with current technology. “We've used rovers to explore the surface of Mars, mini-subs to navigate underwater caves, and now we have drones! They are fast, cheap, and are unimpeded by rough terrain,” she says.

Tara Rezvani


Tara Rezvani loves being outside — hiking, kayaking, or paddle boarding — and drones provide her a way to bottle up those memories. “My drone is able to capture the grandness of natural landscapes like mountains and oceans in a way that can't be captured while standing on the ground pointing a camera from eye level,” she says. “With my drone, I’m able to look at the world from a new perspective.” 
 
For Tara, safety is about keeping the skies open and accessible to everyone, and as a software lead on OpenSky, her job is to help build the tools that give drone flyers the information they need to make safe decisions. From capturing beautiful images to providing crucial services during a natural disaster, drones have the potential to revolutionize the way we interact with aviation. But that future will only be realized if safety is the top priority. “Drone safety is fundamental for everyone to collaboratively enjoy the airspace,” she says. 
 
Tara doesn’t just preach safety; she lives it. Every time she flies in her free time, Tara runs through a checklist that includes her drone’s equipment, any airspace restrictions or notifications, setting a maximum ceiling on her drone, and requesting LAANC authorization when necessary.  
 
Tara sees the potential for drones to extend beyond simply capturing the beauty of the outdoors; she sees the proliferation of unmanned flight as fundamental to preserving that beauty. With every delivery completed by drone rather than a three ton truck, Tara sees a future where cars are taken off the road, CO2 emissions are reduced, and we take meaningful steps toward preserving our planet for generations to come. 

Ben Jacobs


Ben Jacobs has wanted to be an aviator for as long as he can remember. In high school he took his first flying lesson, and he has been hooked ever since. A trained commercial pilot, Ben’s first drone experience was during his military service when he flew the Shadow UAV — a U.S. Army drone with a 20-foot wingspan. “Back then I was pretty skeptical that small electric drones could be useful,” Ben recalls. “Needless to say, I turned out to be pretty wrong.”

Ben has seen firsthand the impact that small drones can have on our world. While in Australia to support Wing’s operations in Canberra, Ben was able to get a glimpse of the future when his lunch was delivered by drone. “What an awesome experience” he says.

Ben’s military service instilled in him a sense of professionalism and personal responsibility, which he believes are fundamental to aviation safety.  "Professionals do the right thing when no one is watching,” he says. Beyond personal accountability, Ben is a big believer in another military adage, the 7 Ps: “Proper Prior Planning Prevents Piss Poor Performance.” Whether flying a small hobby drone or a military UAV with a 20-foot wingspan, Ben takes every flight seriously. “I personally find a lot of fun and satisfaction in keeping a high bar for my flights,” he says. 

A pilot for over 15 years and a drone pilot for over ten, Ben has spent a good portion of his life exploring aviation technology. From taking a solo cross country flight in a Cessna 172 to seeing new drone prototypes advance from rough idea to a production system, Ben is full of optimism about a future with drones in it. He likens the promise of widespread drone adoption to the everyday miracles we all take for granted, such as instant access to information via a smartphone. “One day soon drone technology could be another everyday miracle that we all get to experience,” he says.

Thorsten Schilling




Thorsten Schilling is another aviation lifer. He started building model planes at 10, taking gliding lessons at 14, and he got his pilot's license at 17. Before he was 20 he was flying anything that would leave the ground, and enjoying every minute of it.
 
It wasn’t until Thorsten started at Wing, however, that he began flying drones. “It amazed me how extremely a drone can be maneuvered and what great use it can be,” he says. For the last four years, Thorsten has been focusing on manufacturing and coordinating the production of Wing’s drones in his role as a Technical Program Manager. 
 
For Thorsten, safety hits close to home. He lives near an airport in a dense urban space, so he understands the level of precision and responsibility that aviation requires. When flying his Mavic Pro drone, he always travels out of town to an area where he can fly his drone safely. “I treat my drone as a real aircraft,” he says. To make sure the aircraft is airworthy before taking off, he always starts his flight with a thorough preflight check. While the drone is in the air, he will constantly monitor the flight to keep the drone in line of sight and stay under 400ft AGL (above the ground) and manage the battery level to ensure the drone can come back without running out of power. Above all, safety means respecting the airspace and other operators around you.  

Phil Swinsburg





Phil Swinsburg knows a thing or two about drones. Over a 24 year career in the Australian Army, he was responsible for the creation of the Unmanned Aircraft System (UAS) capabilities for the country’s armed forces. He led the project management and rapid acquisition of drones for operational deployment, raised a new Army unit focused on drones, and oversaw the development of new procedures and training for a workforce of hundreds.

So when Wing approached him in 2013 to help get commercial drone delivery off the ground in Australia, it was a perfect fit. Phil takes a lot of pride in helping to develop the capabilities that led to the world’s first commercial drone delivery, and the foundation that first delivery set for what Wing has gone on to accomplish. “While the aircraft, software, and some personnel have changed, the foundation we laid set Wing up for the successes we are now experiencing,” he says.

Over his long career working with drones, Phil has seen drone safety come a long way. His first expedition into the remotely piloted world was in the early 1990s. This was pre-internet, and these early drones were programmed using an analogue computer to direct every action, including all turns and altitude changes. “We would launch the aircraft, and then wait for it to return,” he recalls. “If you made an error, there was a long walk to recover the pieces left behind.”

Nowadays, things are more automated and process-driven. Planning a safe flight starts before the drone even leaves the ground and touches every aspect of operations: how the aircraft is designed, how it is tested and validated, and how staff is trained. For Phil, this culture of safety extends beyond the operators to the community in which operations occur. “The community is allowing us to deliver goods to their backyard, and to do that reliably and safely every single time,” he says. “We have a duty to make sure that we respect that and make our efforts as safe as possible.”

Mark Stratton



Mark Stratton loves being on the cutting edge of transformational technologies, and he’s had a hand in some pretty cool ideas, including self-driving cars and stratospheric internet balloons. But aviation is what really captures his imagination, which makes his current position as Wing’s Safety Lead a great fit. 

“I’ve always been fascinated with aviation,” says Mark. Growing up going to airshows with his grandfather and dad, Mark was launched on a trajectory that saw him attend the Naval Academy and serve for over 20 years supporting the U.S. Department of Defense as an active duty pilot and civilian lead test engineer. Over his career, Mark estimates he’s flown over 30 different types of aircraft. 

For Mark, safety is personal. “As a Marine pilot, I have lost friends in combat, in training, and in flight tests,” he says.  As a test pilot, Mark saw his job as making sure the next version of a given aircraft was better, more capable, and safer than the one that came before it.  At Wing, he approaches his work the same way. “My work at Wing is driven by my desire to make delivery and drone operations safer for everyone,” he says. 

When it comes to drones and safety, Mark sees broader societal impact. “By using drones we can take cars off the street while getting what we want delivered when we want it; we can make neighborhoods safe from wildfires by taking pilots out of cockpits for dangerous forest inspection flights; and we can offer easy drone technology to let people and industries determine how best to use it to solve their problems safely.”

To find out more about what it’s like to work at Wing, or to see our open roles, go to wing.com/careers. And to get the  latest from Wing on technology and policies that enable drone operators, sign up at wing.com/dronenews.