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Flying high with Eagle Eye
Sept. 7, 2015

BY GABE LICHT
Editor

DELANO, MN – Delano grad James Aarestad has taken his aerial photography business to new heights.

What started with a blimp now features a camera mounted to a Cesna 172.

Aarestad was first introduced to aerial photography at a trade show 10 years ago.

“I thought, ‘Man, that’s a great idea to combine flying and photography, which I both like. I’m going to start that,’” Aarestad said.

He went on to buy a blimp-based aerial photography company. It worked for low-altitude photography, but he found himself hopping in a plane to get a better view from a higher vantage point.

When he tried shooting video from inside a moving plane, he said the result was “horrible” due to the constant vibration, causing him to work toward a better solution.

“I found some technology, the stabilization gimbal system, and I thought I could mount it on an airplane,” said Aarestad, who is a commercial airline pilot.

Using the same technology Hollywood professionals use to shoot action scenes from moving vehicles, Aarestad believed it would work, but he had plenty of questions to answer first.

“The task was what kind of airplane do I mount it on, where do I mount it, and can I do it legally and safely?” Aarestad said.

He settled on a Cesna 172, but he still needed to work out the legality of it all.

“This is a certified airplane and the FAA (Federal Aviation Administration) doesn’t let you just strap things on airplanes without approval,” Aarestad said.

So, he started working with the FAA to get his device approved, which took about a year from conception to approval.

“When it was all built, then they wanted a whole bunch of stress tests, aerodynamic load calculations, and those types of things because they’re really careful and hesitant about letting people strap things like that on airplanes,” Aarestad said. “I had to go through this whole process of getting it certified, which took forever and tons of paperwork.”

Aarestad received approval in June.

Now, he’s looking for more jobs.

He has taken aerial video of commercial property, ethanol plants, corn storage facilities, and construction jobs.

His technology could also be used for movies, TV shows, commercials, patrolling pipelines and power lines, and more.

“I just bought an infrared, thermal-imaging camera,” Aarestad said. “I can fly over a field and take a thermal-imaging photo of the field to see where there are pest or drainage problems . . . I’m really looking forward to large-scale crop surveys.”

Aarestad can also provide a Midwest option for air-to-air videography.

“Right now, if you want to film video footage of another airplane, you either have to stick the camera out the window and it’s going to vibrate all over the place, or you have to go to California or New York and hire a multimillion-dollar helicopter system and spend a fortune to get a five-minute video clip of your new jet,” Aarestad said. “Well, now, I can do the same thing, formation flying while filming it and, if it’s bumpy, the video footage is perfectly smooth because the gimbal keeps it accurate to .01 degrees.”

He can also fly his plane in places drones can’t go, such as much of the air space over the Twin Cities.

The camera strapped to his plane is wirelessly controlled from the cockpit. One person flies the plane, while a camera operator has a small screen to see exactly what is being filmed and can control the pitch, roll, camera, and camera settings.

“The only requirement of the operator is that he doesn’t get motion sick,” Aarestad said. “And, you have to have good communication between the pilot and the camera operator because the operator will be giving instructions to the pilot and has to be very specific.”

So, does Aarestad fly or film?

“I switch back and forth,” he said. “They’re both so fun.”

In addition to filming from his Cessna, Aarestad can also film from a drone, as he recently received a commercial drone license.

But, he’s most proud of his invention that can do 80 percent of what a multimillion-dollar helicopter system can do for a fraction of the cost.

“I’m just a Delano dude that built this in his garage,” Aarestad said. “Most of this stuff, when it’s made, it’s made in a huge corporation with a million-dollar budget. It’s just me.”

For more information, go to http://blimpguy.com/

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