Beal sees drone business taking off

INA, Ill. (April 1, 2019) – Robert Beal is on cloud nine. What started as post-retirement exploratory venture has morphed into an expansive and lucrative second career where the sky’s the limit.

“I spent 32 years in Atlanta. I was the general manager of a big company down there with a lot of experience in sales and marketing. I retired due to some hip issues. Long story short, I got up here and had my hips replaced. I all of the sudden had this newfound energy and could get around great. I was a pilot before, so the UAS (unmanned aircraft systems) stuff caught my attention. I wanted to try it out. I heard about the Rend Lake program on the radio. So, I got registered and took the class. It was pretty interesting.”

The courses Beal enrolled in went over the history of unmanned aircraft and legality of operating a UAS in addition to practical instruction on how to pilot a UAS. The course sequence culminated in prep work to complete the aeronautical knowledge test to become a certified operator.

“The test is pretty intense. It’s almost the same test a regular pilot takes. It’s 60 questions, and you’ve got to get 42 out of the 60 correct in order to pass. The test is pass/fail. It cost $150. But, you can take it again after 30 days if you fail. Of course, they will charge you again for it,” Beal said with a chuckle.

Armed with his newfound knowledge and his years of accumulated business acumen, he was ready to take off, launching Fly By Night Aviation Inc. Beal formulated a plan and channeled his former life identifying the best potential client base.

“The hardest thing about setting up the business like this is that there was nobody doing it then. So, I thought the best niche to get into would be shooting footage for real estate,” Beal explained.

Things were starting to take off, but Beal’s experience told him that in order to thrive, he needed to diversify and explore other markets for his skill set, especially with the feast or famine nature of real estate work.

Beal grew the business in stages, going from regular realty to commercial realty, identifying new clients and approaching them to initiate the conversation instead of waiting for new jobs to come in. Eventually, Beal’s skillset and customer service paid dividends, spreading the praises of Fly by Night Aviation Inc. to even hew heights.

“When I learned sales, networking is the most important part you can do. Talk to people. Everywhere you go, the gas station, the grocery store, tell them what you do. I did that. That’s why everyone calls me the 'drone guy.' Because, when they see me, they know that’s what I do for a living. So, we started making these connections and then they started talking to their associates, and we experienced a ton of growth just off word of mouth.”

The approach paid off. It wasn’t long before Beal found himself flying in some rarified air, hitting some of the biggest names in real estate, advertising, wedding photography and live athletic events.

Beal’s first test at live sports was a big one, St. Louis Blues vs the Chicago Blackhawks.

Robert BealRobert Beal stands with some of his equipment during the filming of a St. Louis Blues vs Chicago Blackhawks hockey game for Fox Sports Midwest. Submitted photo.

“Hockey game, I’m over there where the Greyhound Bus building is. I’ve got my headset on. Basically, the director told me what to do. He would tell me where to fly and what shots he wanted. But, the rest of the time, he told me to just fly around and shoot video. So, I flew for about five hours straight.”

So, how did a retiree take a three-course certificate program and turn it into a thriving business?

“Get the good equipment. Market yourself, and practice, practice, practice. Really develop that skillset. Don’t just learn how to photograph from the air. It’s different that standing on the ground with a good camera. Put it 400 feet in the air with the wind hitting you and lighting is all different, that’s a whole different animal. It’s a whole different world,” he said.

But, in the air skills are only half the battle. Future UAS pilots need to develop their tech skills as well. Beal stressed the importance of developing strong skills in Photoshop, Lightroom and Final Cut Pro.

“I’ll do work for these folks, and I’ll ask right when they are the happiest with my work. I’ll turn in the work; they look at it and think it’s great. ‘By the way, is there anyone else you can think of who could use my services?’ I always hit them with that. Usually, I get a referral. That’s really what’s propelled me. I really haven’t advertised one bit.”

According to statistics from the Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International, UASs will create approximately 100,000 new jobs by 2025 - a total economic impact of $82 billion.

RLC can help set you on your way. To find out more about the Unmanned Aircraft Systems certificate call 437-5321, email or visit rlc.edu/drones.

To check out more of Beal’s work check out https://www.flybynightaviation.com or call 618-599-8839.

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