Drone Ranger

Two North Olmsted natives are flying high with amazing aerial photos of our city.

You've never seen Cleveland quite like this before.

From high above, Cleveland Aerial Media's photos of Public Square, Key Tower, Progressive Field and other landmarks offer unbelievable angles and beautiful vistas — all made possible by a 2 1/2-pound white, plastic drone.

"We were inspired by the bird's-eye view pictures," says Michael Hach, who co-founded the company with lifelong friend Matt Vilevac. "There's nothing in Cleveland like that right now."

While at Cleveland State University, the North Olmsted natives studied graphic and Web design, fiddling with photo technology, until they stumbled upon a cheaper way to do aerial photography.

"We want to get this new perspective on everything we can around here, to be able to give that to people," says Vilevac. "Making it into fine art would be nice."

Cleveland Aerial Media has taken off, fueled by the popularity of its @AerialCleveland Twitter account. Though winter weather has made flying difficult, the pair has still amassed more than 50 flights using two Phantom quadcopters. With four propellers for stability, an easy-to-use remote control and live video streaming to an iPhone, the drone allows Hach and Vilevac to snag incredible frames, all with their feet on the ground.

"There's always one person who comes up to us and is really intrigued by this little flying machine with a camera attached," says Hach. "They all think it's awesome."

Cleveland Aerial Media has booked shoots for everything from farms to weddings, and there's talk of film work on the horizon. "It's fun," says Hach. "It's addicting. You get this rush when you do it."

How It Works

a. Propellers: The Phantom 2 Vision has four propellers. To hover, each pair of rotors turns in opposite directions at equal speed. Turning and altitude control are achieved by similar variations of speed and direction. The small propellers allow it to even be used inside.

b. Sensors: The drone tracks telemetry in real time, and can return to home if it flies out of the controller's range. It can also be programmed with waypoints, taking all the guesswork out of flying by hand.

c. Camera: With 14 megapixels and a wide-angle lens, the built-in camera streams high-resolution video to the operator's smartphone almost 1,000 feet away on the ground. Recorded video and still shots are saved right to the phone and can be shared on social media instantly.

Flights of Fancy

So, Lakewood's city engineer wanted to use a drone to check on cliffside storm sewer discharges. But the Federal Aviation Administration grounded the plans. All non-hobbyist usages require a permit, but the FAA is researching how to make using drones easier. "The purpose is to look at every possible use of this technology and see how can we use it safely [and] how can we keep everyone safe," says FAA spokeswoman Elizabeth Cory. If the FAA really is looking at "every possible use," here are three harmless drones we'd love to see.

Tour Guide Drones: With the new convention center drawing additional visitors, it would be awesome to see flocks of tourists following these high-tech guides.

Reuben Drones: The Browns need a spark. How about an automated, flying running back to finally break through the Pittsburgh, Cincinnati and Baltimore defenses?

Horseshoe Cleveland Drones: Why should the skywalk be the only thing in the air at the casino? These little guys could bring drinks and poker chips. And don't worry about the loss of jobs — someone has to pilot them.

Share this story: