Zenon Dragan (right) turned his hobby of flying remote-controlled aircraft into a profession. As president of Draganfly Innovations Inc., of Saskatoon, he's designed and built the airborne gadgets since 1998. Most of the company's products are miniature planes and helicopters that appeal to young techno-geek males like himself; the critical element is that they can be fitted with cameras. “We realized that people wanted not only remote-controlled flying machines, they also wanted aerial surveillance,” he says. “It was never really done before in mass quantities. To get a bird's-eye view, your only other option is to rent a full-size airplane or helicopter.” If you're nosy and want to know what your neighbours are up to, Dragan's your guy.
The Draganflyer V Ti, for example, is a four-rotor chopper measuring 30 inches across. Each rotor is powered by its own electric motor; it flies by adjusting rotor speeds. Its stabilization system uses three gyroscopes and four infrared sensors to keep the craft level, making it a steady platform from which to film video. It's been used to shoot music videos and film real estate. (Unfortunately, the whirring rotors make enough racket that some surveillance targets may take notice.) Outfitted with a wireless video system, it will set you back about US$1,000.
For those who require greater range and stealth, there's the four-wing Tango. It's kind of like having your own small Predator spy plane–minus, of course, the Hellfire missiles the U.S. military uses to blow up enemies. Powered by state-of-the-art lithium polymer batteries, it can remain aloft for up to five hours, at speeds of between 40 and 100 kilometers per hour. It can carry a still or video camera, too. And when equipped with an optional GPS, it can fly itself to specified waypoints, shooting film or video along the way. “You can throw it, walk away, and it should land, half an hour later, very close to where you threw it from,” says Dragan. A fully equipped Tango costs US$25,000.
Dragan claims his aircraft are among the easiest in the world to fly. “Generally, the younger the person, the quicker they'll pick it up,” he says. “And it helps if you're good at video games.” Some of Draganfly's products come with flight-simulator software, so you can build your airmanship on your personal computer before taking to the skies. A little training is probably a good idea, regardless: Dragan admits that his company does a brisk business in replacement parts.