The Maine Drone Society is a small group of open space technology UAV enthusiasts, advocates and entrepreneurs all dedicated to broadening our own experience with drones.  As Open Bench Project member Kris Kleva shares their story with us, we are excited to share their story here with you.

“Alone we can do so little; together we can do so much.” ― Helen Keller

If you watched the movie “Flight of the Navigator” when you were younger, you might remember feeling a little jealous of David as he zipped through the skies with a bird’s eye view.  The idea of flying a personalized, small craft through the air seemed very alien, indeed.  However, just thirty years later, it’s not such an out of this world idea after all and our friends from the Maine Drone Society are here to tell us more about their contribution to robotics and aviation.  No space creatures required!

The Back Story on Maine Drone Society

Kris K - Maine Drone SocietyKris Kleva, Maine Drone Society (MDS) member and evangelist shares that his family has a long history in the aerospace industry and Maine Drone Society has really been born from a strong desire to make an impact in the technology, education, and aviation community, and to provide our family the means to contribute to a meaningful public service.

Coming to Maine from Dayton, OH, Kris and his wife have very close family working in multiple areas on the military and government for manned and unmanned aircraft.  His wife’s grandfather is in his late eighties and still works every week at the Air Force Museum at Wright Patterson Air Force Base.  His father builds fire engines and prior to working in Maine, Kris worked for Bering Point on Wright Patterson Air Force base with the Air Force Material Command.   To give some perspective, during those times, the DJI phantom was basically a myth!  Phantom Drone

However, it wasn’t until Kris’ young daughter was learning about drones in her elementary class that drones made a grand entrance.  There was a moment that was truly a sign for them that the time ahead would be fundamentally different for her/their way of life.

“What!? Third graders are flying drones at school?”

When one student in her class crashed the drone, she was never given the opportunity to fly and was crushed.   Needless to say, a very short time later, Kris found himself at the local hobby store buying their first drone and MDS was born.

To grow the Maine Drone Society, Kris used the power of social networking, APIs, people, friendship, open space, planning and commerce to help put the community to work doing good things with drones.  Maine Drones, for him, “is an opportunity to learn for others far more experienced in the areas of Aviation, Electronics, Civil Service, and Manufacturing.”

Kris gives a lot of credit to his Mom, Dad, his wife’s parents, and their grandparents.  Thanks to their sacrifices, Kris has found himself in situations and with opportunities that have shaped everything they do, including the start of MDS.

Maine Drone SocietyUsing Open Space Technology and more traditional business models, MDS members offer whatever skills they may possess to help other members with their goals.   In turn, they help him by sharing their knowledge, experience, capital and friendship.  From a financial perspective, those businesses Kris supports fund, donate services, space, and time to ensure the community continues to grow and have a voice in what they may do.

And, just exactly what is that they do?  To start with, they answer lots of questions about drones, like “How do I make (or save) money using a drone?” or “Which one should I buy?” or “How do I become a better drone pilot?”.

The Maine Drone Society Community

Many folks who are most involved with the Maine Drone Society enjoy it as a hobby.  They also have a deep awareness of the social and economic potential in the industry.  Kris has never experienced a more competitive group and says most conversations revolve around strategies to moving their personal performance, business, and community forward in a meaningful way.

He goes on to explain that the community has been sponsored by few businesses that have contributed a significant Maine Drone Societyamount of time and resources to establishing the case for a group like MDS.   These businesses and entities have provided the capital and resources to evaluate the social and economic potential of the group.  They also do much of the behind the scenes heavy lifting required so Kris and his team can focus on improving their collective knowledge.

MDS also has a community of many very generous volunteers, as well.

For example, John Samellas, of Creative Management Tools, helps us build the MDS audiences and communities using a combination of social media platforms. They contribute heavily on the business management and marketing advisory aspects.  Joseph and Lisa Elichaa, of Adaptive Designs, Inc., contributes research, development, manufacturing and logistics resources to solve the problems necessary to bring unique and fun products to MDS members.

It’s a truly exciting time for MDS.  They’ve had over 35 meetups in the just since July 2016, so it’s easy to say that there have been many successes.  One of Kris’ favorite meetups was with Chris Sieracki and Joe Keeney in Edgecomb, Maine.  They met and flew many different types of drones in a huge, open field.  Joe’s children, family, friends, and neighbors all came out to watch and everyone enjoyed themselves immensely.   Despite the long drive, it was an incredible experience to come together in such a unique way.

On the flip side, drones don’t always offer daring adventure and exciting times.  There was one time when Kris had an FAA 107 meetup at Handy Andy’s in Yarmouth that wasn’t quite as exciting.  Just a few days earlier, Kris had an epic event in North Yarmouth during a thunderstorm, so he had to switch gears quickly and accept he still has a lot of learning ahead regarding all the regulations of becoming a pilot.  There is a lot one needs to know!    

The Future

DroneIn the next 5 to 10 years, Kris sees the ownership of small to large scale autonomous controlled vehicles becoming a key driver to social and economic growth in Maine.  Drones will be used to photograph, farm, transport, explore, rescue, secure, entertain and educate.  He expects the MDS community will continue to grow along with it at a rate loosely tided to the growth of the global economic sector expected to hit roughly 120 billion by 2020.

Five years ago, folks didn’t think the drones we have today would be feasible, but Kris doesn’t think drones will likely start with pizza and packages in Maine.  He thinks the near future of drones in Maine, specifically, will take shape as slow moving communication and photography satellite drones.  He also thinks in the short term, we will see companies using drones to move loads of high value packages between small airports.  These won’t be those Amazon prime kind of drones you may be thinking of.  Think more of the size of a UPS truck that can get from Auburn to Boston in around 30 minutes.  That’s the future he thinks will eventually be created among the members of the Maine Drone Society.

Learn More

Interested in learning more?  Just show up to a meetup – they include a variety of individuals with a wide range of skill levels.  However, Kris suggests that if you truly want to get involved in the drone industry, consider putting some serious time into formal/social/self-help education on UAVs.  There are numerous “drone universities”, such as a 7-week class and the University of Maine Augusta.  There are also countless hours of YouTube and podcast trainings available for free.

Kris also recommends getting some real stick time and not just with a Phantom 4.  Being a good drone pilot takes expert level hand-eye coordination.  Kris flies drones nearly every day and has built approximately five different models.  He has another four under construction.  With all this, he’s still a newbie by many of the most involved members’ standards!  Those who are most involved in Maine Drone Society are putting in real effort and time into honing their craft, regardless if it’s for pleasure or business.

“As I’ve learned from you Jason Ryan… To be a leader in the community, one must immerse his or herself into understanding and meeting the needs of the community.   Just show up and put the time in and things seem to naturally evolve.”

If you join one of the meetups, Kris would be happy to tell you more about the first drone built, rebuilt, crashed, rebuilt, drowned and rebuilt.  It was a Yuneec Q500 4k that he enjoyed dearly, despite describing it as the “worst/best/first $1000 investment.”  By all accounts, it was a love / hate relationship that produced actual scars.  Again, you’ll have to ask Kris about it the next time you see him!

“Drones are good, so you be good.”

Speaking of scars, Kris shares some excellent advice about safety around drones.  Lots of us enjoy using drones for fun, business, etc.  Some people all over the world use drones for serious tasks like search and rescue, protection, and security.  Drones have saved many lives, helped feed families and kept us safe.  While there are drones designed for kids and drones designed for adults, Kris advises that kids and adults should never “play” with drones.Drone

That seems a little counter-intuitive, but as Kris explains, it takes people to plug in batteries, press the launch button and work the controls.  People can be bad.  People can have accidents.  People can also do things for silly, selfish and illogical reasons.  To them it may feel like fun, a right as a U.S. citizen under the regulation of the FAA.  However, just as one wouldn’t advocate anyone to play with a gun, Kris would never advocate a person “play” with a drone.  But, it is okay to have fun using them.  The balance is all about being good and safe.

“Just as we teach our children, and our parents taught us, it’s okay to make mistakes and accidents will happen.  However, we must be held accountable and it’s our responsibility to prevent accidents from happening.  We can’t evaporate all risks or we wouldn’t leave our beds.  Don’t play with your drone, but it’s okay to have fun with your drone.  Either way if you make a mistake or are involved with an accident be prepared to be held accountable.  Expect that just as you may not be allowed to drive a car, fly a plane or captain a boat if you are bad.  Being bad while flying a drone will likely result in the same amount or greater accountability likely somewhere greater than a car, but less than a full-sized aircraft.”

Thanks to Kris for sharing his story and providing an insightful look into the Maine Drone Society.  You can get involved by joining a meetup or learning more here.

And then some,

Your Friends @ OBP