Max Armstrong waited patiently for lights on his drone to start blinking. Once they did so, the little flying machine could take off into the sky over Sandy Springs.
“It takes a minute because it has to pick up a GPS signal,” his older brother, Sam, explained. “If it flies away and you lose it, you can flip a switch to make it come back to where it takes off from.”
Sam and Max, who live in Buckhead, first started flying the drone in February after their dad, Brent Armstrong, bought the device to photograph and videotape buildings for his commercial real estate company.
Max, who has flown the drone from the top of Colony Square in Midtown, above Atlantic Station, and around the IBM building, says their dad gets them up early on Saturday mornings so that there won’t be heavy traffic in their footage. Max typically controls the drone while Sam edits the resulting video footage.
Over the summer, the brothers have been flying their new drone at their school, Holy Innocents’ Episcopal School, which is undergoing $22.5 million in renovations and additions. Sam is in the 10th grade at Holy Innocents’ and his younger brother is an eighth grader.
One of HIES’ architects, who knows the teens’ father, asked if the boys could film the renovation. The school has used footage from the drone to show parents how to maneuver carpools around the construction.
Julie Fennell, a communication associate for Holy Innocents’, said the school likely wouldn’t have video footage of the renovations if it weren’t for the Armstrong brothers.
“It’s really good because our campus has gotten bigger and bigger over the years, and it’s really nice to be able to say, ‘This is Alumni Hall. This is our preschool. This is our upper school. This is what’s going to happen,’” she said.
“The main reason we got [the brothers] to help is because with the construction, we wanted to document that. It’s been very beneficial. We’re using them for a lot of things now.”
The brothers hope to turn their work with the drone into a money-making endeavor someday, but say that right now that’s not possible. The federal government, the brothers said, allows use of drones for fun, but not profit. “It’s illegal to do it commercially,” Sam said.
They also had to learn about fly zones – drones can’t be flown within five miles of places like airports or national parks.
“Everything is so new there are no official laws right now,” Max said. “It’s unclear what you can and can’t do.”
Max says he’s also learned a lot about photography, something he had not really been interested in before.
“I learned more about cameras and how to find different angles, and if I need a wide, medium or narrow lens,” he said.
The drone draws its share of onlookers, too.
One recent day, when Max was flying the drone over the HIES football field to prepare for filming a scrimmage, he said, “the security guard that let us in came down and asked us a bunch of questions. Everyone is very interested.”
Plus, “it’s really fun to fly,” Max said.