Flying high for a living
In what seems like another lifetime, Kade Stallard spent his days crisscrossing the US producing music videos and taking pictures of underground punk, rock and grunge bands.
When the pandemic hit, his career came to a halt.
“Everything just shut down,” said Mr Stallard, who was then living in Houston, Texas. “There were no venues, tours, or anything. Everyone lost their jobs.”
A friend told him about a position opening up at Landscapes Unlimited, a company that uses drones to survey and map large properties, across America.
The 28-year-old “jumped ship and moved to Augusta, Georgia within a week”. He was very familiar with drones thanks to his father, the photographer Scott Stallard.
“He got me my first drone and got me set up learning the controlling of them and things like that. I was always interested in them because it offers such a new fresh way to take pictures and videos.”
In the last year he has toured some of America’s most exclusive golf and country clubs.
“I am living around the corner from the Augusta National Golf Course. That is an incredible property. It’s where they do the Masters Tournament. It’s gorgeous. They put so much work into it.”
The Vintage Club in Indian Wells, California also impressed him. Bill Gates is a member of the 712-acre property.
“[It] blew me away,” Mr Stallard said. “That is this lush oasis in the desert. It is fantastic. All around you is this orange mountain. Everything within reach is green, and they have made small rivers. It is beautiful.”
The constant travel that the job demands can get a little tiring, he admitted.
In the last ten months Mr Stallard has visited Colorado, California, Texas, North Carolina, South Carolina and Alabama – multiple times.
“I am thinking of moving to Dallas because that would be more central. From Dallas, it is three hours to either coast.”
Back home in Bermuda for a few days last week, he spent most of the time catching up on sleep.
“A lot of the clubs I work with, whenever I bring up the fact that I am from Bermuda, they will say, ‘Oh, I know about Port Royal and places like that,’” he said. “They always have the highest regards for those properties. Bermuda definitely has its place in that industry for sure.”
What once took photographers weeks to do on foot can now be done in a couple of hours.
“A few weeks ago, I was in Texas and did six properties in four days,” Mr Stallard said. “Some were smaller and some were very large. There is this one in Puerto Rico that was 7,000 acres – just one part of this development – that took us about two days. There was another place in Texas that was about 2,000 acres and that took us two days as well.
“It depends on the shape and elevation of the course. It also depends on how much time you have. If you are flying in the winter you have fewer hours of sunshine, and it is very dependent on the perfect hours of sunlight. High noon, when there is much less shadow, is ideal.”
The drones fly at 25 to 30 knots, about 300ft above ground level. They take thousands of pictures and collect millions of data points, to create a model of a piece of property.
They are all expensive pieces of equipment. Mr Stallard relies on a large, fixed-wing drone; if something smaller is required he usually picks up a Phantom 4 or Autel Evo 2.
“The fixed wing has a styrofoam body so it can take some wear and tear. On some of the courses you can get very close to hanging branches. You try to keep an eye on it and make sure you are not getting to any dangerous points. And the drones have safety features where they start flashing when they get too close to something.
“They are worth more than my life,” he laughed. “You work out of fear and adrenalin.”
The challenging part is taking all the data and transforming it into the final product before it is sent off to designers, architects and any other construction industry-related fields.
“Lidar is becoming a big thing,” Mr Stallard said. “Lidar uses light to reflect back surfaces. It can go through trees. A lot of these courses have tree canopy and vegetation, particularly the undeveloped properties that they are planning to create something new with. That can be very hard to use regular drones for. You are taking pictures and that can distort the data with the shadows. Lidar shoots lasers back and forth to take measurements.”
As a millennial, he is happy to have found a career that he enjoys.
“I think that is something my entire generation is really struggling to do,” Mr Stallard said. “For a lot of people of my age, there is no real goal other than to keep food on the table, pay our rent and hope to retire one day. It is really hard to exist off of one form of income today – rent is doubling, everything is going up in price, I think it is a universal thing. I think everyone is having a hard time these days.”
Despite his relative good fortune, he misses Bermuda.
“You don’t know how great it is, until you go away and come back to it,” Mr Stallard said.