Interview With Sally French, The Drone Girl
We MyDroneChoice.com had the pleasure to interview Sally French, affectionately called the “Drone Girl.” Sally French is the creator of The Drone Girl, among the drone industry’s favorite blogs. Let us get this started!
To start, What got you curious about drones initially? What motivated you to create The Drone Girl blog, in the first place?
I was a student at the University of Missouri and needed one more credit to graduate. My last semester the school offered a “drone journalism” course. I had no idea what a drone was at the time, but I signed up and was instantly hooked. While the course ended, I wanted to continue learning about drones, which is why I created Drone Girl.
What is your favorite aspect of drones? Since you run a website about them, in that case, it means you love them greatly. If that’s so, the reason?
The community is what keeps me in it. I love going to drone events and seeing old friends (and making new ones). It’s so awesome to watch my friends grow their businesses, apply for patents or be in the news for the work they’re doing in the industry.
What does it sense to be women in a niche/industry with an overpowering male presence? What might be your suggestions for other girls who would want to have a go at drones?
Definitely the drone industry is male-dominated, and there are a lot of things people (usually unknowingly) do to make women feel like outsiders. It’s little things. I was once at an RC flying field with two drone cases in my hands. I went up to the sign-in sheet and said, “Hi, I’m here to fly drones today.” The man at the desk said, “you don’t look like you’re here to fly drones.” I thought to myself, ‘Really?’ What made it look like I’m not here to fly drones, since I had two drones in my hands? I’m guessing it probably had to do with the fact that I was wearing a dress, makeup and had long hair. Little comments like that probably aren’t intended to be offensive, but they are a reminder that as a woman, you don’t 100% belong. That doesn’t mean it’s a terrible industry to be in. In fact, it’s great! It’s a growing industry. Everything is so new, that there is no right way or set way of doing our work. Since the industry is so new, we all have the ability to shape the conversations, the leadership, the way we do things. Many other aspects of technology are male-dominated, but drones don’t have to be that way. While the industry is still forming itself, it’s important that we make it a priority to have women keynote speeches at conferences, to be sitting in on policy discussions at the FAA or to be leading companies. There are very few established leaders in the industry only because it’s such a new interesting, which means that women have so much potential to take on those positions.
Sally French has been a part of a vast number of drone events. What happens to be some especially notable events you have involved with? What have you taken away from that event experience?
This year was a lot of travel for me. I went everywhere from teaching middle and high school girls how to fly drones at EAA AirVenture, the largest airshow in the world, to being the chairwoman of the Drones Middle East Conference in Abu Dhabi. It’s really interesting to see the things people care about at the different venues. A lot of the traditional drone conferences in the U.S. tend to be very serious and focused on what the FAA is or isn’t doing. People in the United Arab Emirates have completely different rules and issues they care about, and so does a group of 80 high school girls. Having been to dozens of drone events, my advice for future drone event organizers is to just have fun with it! It’s important to have serious discussions about law and policy, but ultimately we need to remember why we’re here and what we love. Admire the stunning aerial photos. Fly some drones! Race some drones!
Have you ever crashed a quadcopter? If so, could you share us how it happened?
Oh my gosh, so many times. The first time I flew a drone was in early 2013 — a DJI Flame Wheel. There was no stabilization, and I crashed it within about 10 seconds of getting the transmitter in my hands.
I then had some cheap toy drones to practice on. I crashed the first one on the roof of a building, but since it was just about $15, I didn’t bother to get it. I crashed the second one into a tree, and one of my classmates actually climbed up and got it for me.
I always advise people now to start on the cheap drones like these, because they are significantly harder to fly than the $1,000 Mavic, so mastering that makes you a better pilot. And when you inevitably crash, they are so light and cheap that it’s not a big deal if you lose it. I would way rather crash a $15 toy drone into the pool than my $1,000 Mavic.
What is your viewpoint about the future (way forward) of drones?
It’s only getting bigger! Every conference I go to has more attendees than the last. Drone sales are rising. Drone registration is growing. More people ask me for drone gift recommendations. More and more businesses are integrating drones into their workflow. Obviously there is tons of work to do in terms of UTM, safety, education, etc. but if there is enough economic incentive, then those issues can be overcome.
What do you believe the greatest misunderstandings (myths) is of quadcopter drones?
I think a lot of people who haven’t been exposed to drones other than via news reports of drones crashing assume that drones are scary and unsafe. A lot of people who honestly don’t know anything about drones make comments about wanting to “shoot them down” or “ban them,” and those comments are rooted in ignorance.
I hope the public is made aware of the numerous safety features, like GEO that DJI has pioneered, or the new Part 107 ruling so they realize that drones are actually really safe. My goal with Drone Girl is to share news in an accessible manner so that the general public won’t have those misconceptions.
What is your say on the future of drone racing?
There is a lot of potential there. You look at the massive growth of E-Sports, despite being a relatively niche hobby. There are a lot of kinks that need to be worked out in drone racing still. I’ve gone to tons of drone races, and I’ve felt there is too much lag time between races to keep audiences entertained. Drone racing is tricky because it’s relatively difficult for people to get into. With most sports, say soccer, you can just go into Target, pick up a soccer ball from the shelf, and immediately start using it as soon as you walk out of the store. There’s a lot more to drone racing. You have to put more work into finding where you can buy the products. You still have to do a lot of labor to set up the transmitter, FPV goggles and drone, and you have to make sure everything is charged. I’m optimistic, but there’s a long way to go.
And to conclude: What drone do you presently own and fly?
I go in an out of drones so quickly since I’m constantly reviewing products. Lately I haven’t been able to say enough good things about the DJI Mavic. It solves one of my biggest issues with drones, which is portability. Previously, I only had my drone with me if I intended to get a specific photo. With the Mavic, I can just leave it in my purse and take it out when the opportunity for a great photo arises.