BY GABE LICHT
DELANO, MN During more than 18 years of service with the Air Force, search and rescue was a secondary mission for Rob Pendleton, of Delano. Now in retirement, search and rescue is still a secondary mission for Pendleton, who volunteers with Legacy United to find missing persons.
“It’s just something I do because I want to help families,” Pendleton said. “The main goal is to help find somebody, hopefully alive.”
Pendleton first began volunteering with United Legacy in October, when he saw a Facebook post regarding the search for a missing man in Otsego.
He took his unmanned aerial vehicle, also known as an AEV or drone, and joined the search.
He has since gotten more involved with United Legacy, assisting with three other searches.
In one of those cases, United Legacy volunteers found the body of a missing person. In another case, Pendleton believes United Legacy’s presence encouraged law enforcement to continue a search that led them to a body in the Mississippi River.
“We met with police from Minnesota and Wisconsin because United Legacy doesn’t do anything unless police give us the OK,” Pendleton said. “After we had the meeting, the Pierce County (WI) sheriff called her people back and said, ‘These people are for real.’ They put the boat back in the water and found the car.”
In that case, Pendleton said he had flown his UAV right over that vehicle, but, because the river was so muddy, he couldn’t see it.
A strength for Legacy United is that the volunteers are not emotionally attached to those for whom they are searching.
“People are going crazy with emotion. People come in with hearsay and start fighting. We go in and shut that down,” Pendleton said. “We go strictly with facts, start at ground zero, and work our way out.”
His UAV can help with mapping out a location, and then scouring it.
“During a Bunker Hills Regional Park search, it was completely snow-covered. I was able to grid out the whole park in a matter of two hours,” Pendleton said.
He uses an iPad as a monitor to show what his UAV sees, but he can also connect it to a 42-inch TV or stream it to a private channel on YouTube to allow other searchers to monitor the footage.
Pendleton is in the process of raising funds for a thermal camera, which he calls “the best tool we can get.”
“If we get there quickly enough, a thermal camera can pick up on a temperature difference,” Pendleton said. “ . . . Going over trees, you can’t see, but the thermal camera will pick it up.”
The link to Pendleton’s gofundme page can be found at www.delanoheraldjournal.com.
On that page, he clarifies that the thermal camera would be used not only to help United Legacy, but also any other police or fire department. Pendleton offers to help them with his UAV at no charge.
He has even helped looked for neighbors’ dogs when they’ve gotten loose.
“Everyone in the neighborhood knows, if a drone is flying, it’s me,” Pendleton said.
His UAV is equipped with a 4k video camera capable of taking 12-megapixel still photos.
He has added technology to it to make it more efficient in searches.
“I have amplifiers on my antenna so trees don’t get in the way of the signal,” Pendleton said. “I can get a better signal so I can fly into different areas.”
Battery life limits UAV flights to 15 to 20 minutes.
When the battery gets low, it signals that it needs to return to the home point. If the remote control runs out of battery life or breaks, the drone will stop and hover. If it doesn’t get a reading for 20 to 30 seconds, it will fly itself back and land at the home point.
After losing an older model UAV, he isn’t taking any chances, and has added a GPS tracker to his new UAV.
Not only does he use his UAV for searches, but he also uses it recreationally to take photos and videos of places like Gooseberry Falls and other state parks.
“I got into photography and thought I’d like a different perspective,” Pendleton said. “That’s when I bought the UAV. It wasn’t hard to learn to fly it. I was doing videos. I put them to music and started posting them to YouTube for fun.”
Those videos may be found by searching for Rob Pendleton at www.youtube.com.
More information about United Legacy may be found on its Facebook page.