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Drone Operator Launches Local Business

on April 20, 2017 - 8:23am
Co-owner Michael Grimler of Desert Wind Aeronautical (DWA), a professional drone services company in Los Alamos. Courtesy photo
Los Alamos Daily Post

How many people wake up one morning and decide to get into the drone business? Michael and Kathleen Grimler of Los Alamos did just that last year when they started Desert Wind Aeronautical (DWA), a professional drone services company. Kathleen handles the business development side of things and has a background in marketing. Michael believes the business will be a perfect way to keep him busy when he retires.

Drones, which are more formally known as Unmanned Aerial Systems or UASs, are small fixed-wing or rotary propeller driven aircraft that have cameras mounted on them. They are piloted by a remote operator to accomplish a variety of tasks. A longtime “techie,” Grimler first got interested in drones when Los Alamos National Laboratory decided to acquire UASs for security and emergency use. He and two others were invited to take some initial drone training about five years ago for a Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) remote pilot’s license, a recently authorized pilot’s license designation.

Flying drones for LANL is a voluntary duty and Los Alamos is the only Department of Energy site with an operational unmanned aerial vehicle program where drones are used for security and emergency operations. Other sites also use drones but only for research, development and testing purposes.

At LANL, the first step in UAS training is a Class 3 FAA private pilot medical examination. Grimler explained that if you get the thumbs up from the FAA doctor, you advance to FAA pilot 40-hour ground school and then move on to take the FAA private pilot written test, which is the same stringent examination taken by regular private pilots prior to formal certification. Then pilot candidates must take and pass pilot operations training from each UAS manufacturer per their formal training requirements for operators of their individual platforms.

Grimler said at the inception of the LANL program he had no background in flying manned or unmanned aircraft and that if he can do it, anyone can do it. His regular LANL job is with the security directorate, which he says is a good fit because he can speak about protective force issues as a pilot.

DWA offers aerial photographic services across a wide variety of businesses and industries, including still or video images for insurance damage claims, film and television projects, documentaries, commercial events, real estate, advertising and marketing, tourism, construction, bridge, rail and pipeline inspections.

“Anything a manned helicopter can do in terms of surveillance, we can do with a drone,” Grimler said. “And it costs next to nothing in comparison.”

DWA performs emergency services such as search and rescue at no charge for police departments and fire departments as well as federal and state law enforcement agencies.

Grimler says that in optimal conditions, a typical UAS flight lasts about 15 to 20 minutes on one battery. Under FAA rules, UASs must be kept in “line of sight”.

“We are not able to use binoculars to extend out line of sight,” he said. “On a bright day in flat terrain, line of sight is usually a little over a mile. All things considered, it’s usually best for the pilot and support element to be closely co-located in the area of interest.”

Grimler has received professional and formal training on the AeroVironment Puma fixed-wing UAS, the Leptron Avenger rotary platform UAS and the Aeryon SkyRanger rotary UAS. He is also experienced flying other small UAS platforms for which there is no formal training program. DWA deploys the DJI Inspire 1 Pro quadcopter as an initial UAS platform.

“The Inspire 1 Pro is a professional-grade, battery-powered rotary engine platform with amazing flight and photographic capabilities. The Ultra High Definition (4K) video camera is highly regarded and provides a wide range of flexibility for still and video photography,” Grimler said.

For more information, call 505.886.1868 or visit