Drone Interest in Wheeling Area Taking Off

When he first began researching the purchase of a drone, Travis Broadwater couldn’t exactly predict how his wife, Jenna, would react to the proposal.

He practiced reciting his reasons before approaching her with a belief that because the drone would add a new dimension to his real estate business, she would agree with making the investment. The only doubt to linger a little was, well, boys do love their toys, and it was months before Christmas, too.

“I will tell you that my wife is a great lady who has supported me in a lot of different things in the past 10 years or so, but when I first told her about wanting a drone, I’m sure she was a little shocked, but she didn’t show it much,” Broadwater admitted. “Now, that’s not to say that it didn’t take a few days, but she allowed it to happen, thankfully, because it’s become very popular.”

The broker and owner of Broadwater Properties, Travis first became registered as a licensed drone pilot by attending the required training with Federal Aviation Administration, and he has since utilized the unmanned flying machine to video and photograph several properties he has had listed within the local real estate markets. Broadwater also has been successful with photographing the lush and lavish areas during the region’s annual foliage season.

Broadwater snapped this shot high above the campus of Wheeling Jesuit University.
Broadwater snapped this shot high above the campus of Wheeling Jesuit University.

“I have always been an enthusiast of RC helicopters and photography, and I have been watching this industry for a few years now,” he explained. “My primary business right now is real estate, and using a drone for photography complements that work very well because of the images I’m able to get using the drone.

“Those images allow me to market properties in a very unique way here in the Upper Ohio Valley, especially the properties that have a lot of acreage included,” Broadwater said. “Those kinds of properties are much easier to show from the sky, and the images give a potential buyer a very good idea about everything included.”

Now Broadwater did not initially purchase the seven-pound drone he currently operates, and he offers others the same advice.

“The first thing someone should do it if they are interested is to buy something on the lower end so they can make sure it’s really something that they want to do,” he explained. “Once you do that, you’ll be able to play with it a little bit to see what is possible and to make sure it is something you want to do, and then a store like Best Buy at The Highlands usually has a very large selection of drones that you can take a look at.

“As far as what an individual buys from that point is really up to their budget and the kind of quality you are hoping for. The more expensive the drone, the better quality of the photographs and the video,” Broadwater continued. “Plus, the more expensive drones have the ability to travel farther than the cheaper ones do, so that is something to take into consideration when you are shopping for one.”

The history of the Mount Wood Overlook was uncovered on Weelunk recently by Wheeling historian Joe Roxby.
The history of the Mount Wood Overlook was uncovered on Weelunk recently by Wheeling historian Joe Roxby.

Learning how to operate a drone may seem a daunting task for even those interested in purchasing one, but Broadwater took the process one step at a time.

“I will tell you that I did a lot of research before I made the decision to invest in my own drone, and that was because the last thing I wanted to do was purchase one without knowing how to handle it,” Broadwater said. “There are simulators that a person can use, but the real key is finding a real open area for the first few flights so you come to know how the remote and the drone work together.

“Once you do that, you do want to make sure you are flying it as often as you can because there’s a lot of muscle memory that is involved with flying a drone. Once you get that down, you really do know how to fly your drone,” he said. “Once that happens, you can really do some very cool things with taking the photos and the videos.”

While Broadwater advises beginning a career as a drone pilot with a low-end piece of equipment, he, himself, has continued to review models far more expensive than the unmanned vehicle he’s guided for the past few months. He has since ordered updated software for his drone because technology is always changing.

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“The pricing for drones ranges from around $50 all the way up to $10,000, and it all depends on how advanced you want to be as far as what you want to do with it,” he said. “Of course photography is one of the uses, but there are also many agricultural uses like seeding fields and using them for the advanced radar capabilities in order to protect property. They can also be used for rooftop inspections for home inspectors.

Broadwater navigated his drone to this position west of the Bethlehem water tower.
Broadwater navigated his drone to this position west of the Bethlehem water tower.

“I have also seen drones used for large-group photos taken from a new perspective, and by that I mean from 20 or 30 feet up in the air,” Broadwater explained. “I really didn’t expect it to take off the way that it has during the past few months, and that goes for my use of my drone, too. Ohio Valley Drone has been in business for about 90 days, and a lot of different businesses and organizations have reached out to me with a lot of different requests.”

Most Americans are familiar with the use of drones by the American military during combat operations in the Middle East, and in some U.S. cities the aircraft has been used by law enforcement to monitor traffic, criminal, and emergency situations. Broadwater, though, says private-sector business in the continental United States will employ the remote-controlled vessels once the FAA approves high-volume commercial use.

“A quad-copter is what I have been using, and similar models range in weight from about a half-pound all the way up to a commercial one that weighs 55 pounds, and that’s a big drone,” he said. “I can tell you that I recently read an article that Domino’s Pizza successfully started delivering pizza by using a drone in New Zealand, and apparently they plan to bring that delivery method to the United States in the future.

“I also can tell you that the Association of Unmanned Vehicle Systems has stated that the drone industry will create around 100,000 jobs in the United States as well as $82 billion for the economy over the next 10 years,” Broadwater explained. “So my hope is that the industry creates more jobs than it takes away.”

The Good Lake located near the middle of Wheeling Park.
The Good Lake located near the middle of Wheeling Park.

Ohio Valley Drone does have a Facebook presence and a website that is still under development. It is Broadwater’s hope to procure something of a club similar to what enthusiasts of remote-control planes and helicopters have formed in years past.

“And if people like that page on Facebook, they will see that we are offering a lot of updates on the different uses of drones as well as videos and photos that we release on that page,” he said. “I have met about 10 or 15 local folks who have expressed a lot of interest, and I would happy to meet with as many as I can with a hope that by the spring we’ll be able to get a bunch of us together.”

And he believes such a goal is very possible, and one of the biggest reasons for this is that there are many commercial and private uses for such technology, especially in this valley region where scenic beauty surrounds it most of the time of each year. But there are usage limitations, Broadwater warned, as set forth by the FAA in order to protect passenger planes that own the right-of-way in the sky.

“Personally I do like to fly away from anywhere really metropolitan, and that’s because, quite frankly, it’s easier and without as much risk when you are practicing certain maneuvers. In those areas it’s easier to learn the place at which the drone flies and things like that,” he said. “Around here, though, you can fly your drone anywhere as long as you are not within five miles of the Ohio County Airport, and Oglebay is within that five-mile circle. If you do want to fly there, you have to contact air traffic control at the airport because those folks have to approve it.

“But Oglebay is just one place to fly your drone with the goal of getting some great photos or videos, and to be honest, this past fall I found the Dallas Pike area to be a great place when the leaves were changing because it was just really beautiful, especially from up above it all,” Broadwater added. “Plus, we have the Ohio River and our rolling hills, so our area really lends itself to some very attractive opportunities. There are unlimited possibilities, in my opinion, and I believe it’s only a matter of time until hundreds, if not thousands, of drones will be in our skies on both sides of that river.”

(Photos provided by Travis Broadwater)