Part of the Girls Can’t Drone weekly series. Kim and Makayla Wheeler, otherwise known as the 2Drone_Gals on Instagram and Facebook, are a unique mother/daughter drone team. Based on the Space Coast of Florida, the professional photography and cinematography team is flying for fun and building an enviable portfolio of stunning aerial work.
At 18, daughter Makayla is already an accomplished filmmaker; she won her first photography contest at age 10, when a 4H nature photo series landed in a national nature publication. She bought her first drone – a Phantom 1 – about 3 years ago, when one of her projects, a Public Service Announcement, won a national video contest; Makayla sold the Grand Prize to purchase the drone. “It was all about what I could use to get the most epic shots,” she says. Flying the Phantom 1 -with no gimble or FPV- quickly honed her flight skills. “You had to imagine all of the possible angles, because you couldn’t see anything, which really made me a good pilot,” she laughs.
Kim, a former Aerospace Engineer now retired from the Atlas Rocket program, began flying more recently – after acting as spotter and maintenance engineer for Makayla. The team now has a fleet of drones; Makayla shoots predominantly video and Kim shoots photos. With a growing Instagram following, they now get sent gear: “People have been very generous and have given us drones and accessories to try out because they like our work,” says Kim, pointing out that there is more to creating the gorgeous material they produce than just flying drones and taking pictures. “It’s really more than that – there’s a whole other level of drone piloting and editing to get good shots. We draw heavily on our experience of doing regular ground filmmaking.”
The team is currently flying only recreationally, but they hope to add a full set of drone services to their portfolio as regulations allow. In the meantime, they’re building a fan base and acting as ambassadors for the drone community, volunteering to demonstrate drones for environmental purposes and promoting safe and beneficial drone use. Makayla, who is also a scuba diver and excels in underwater videography, is looking forward to being able to offer a truly comprehensive service in nature and travel filmmaking: “I’d like to be able to say we film above, below and beyond,” she says.
The 2 Drone Gals say that being women drone operators cuts both ways. They’ve sometimes been harassed by male drone operators who don’t know them and assume they don’t know how to fly safely; but they’ve also been able to stand out as one of the few female pilot teams, being asked to participate in the first international drone photography book and being allowed to fly in places where other operators may be refused permission.
“We have such an interesting experience every time we fly. It’s an adrenaline rush as you just never know what to expect,” says Kim. She points out that the team gets a lot of comments and questions from spectators now. In addition to a pilot and a spotter, she comments, “You really need a third person to deal with public relations.”
But the 2 Drone Gals tell girls who want to get into the drone community to collaborate with other people on projects at every opportunity, to keep learning, and to “let your skills, flight record and portfolio speak for itself… When people see you can fly responsibly, competently and accomplish your flight mission successfully, you will earn their respect over time. Let your photography and cinematography do the talking for you.” Good advice from the drone team who has set a high bar in capturing phenomenal aerial footage.
Miriam McNabb is the Editor-in-Chief of DRONELIFE and CEO of JobForDrones, a professional drone services marketplace, and a fascinated observer of the emerging drone industry and the regulatory environment for drones. Miriam has a degree from the University of Chicago and over 20 years of experience in high tech sales and marketing for new technologies.
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