An AscTec Hummingbird soars through the air during a demonstration for the Daily Pilot, by Revolution Aviation located at John Wayne Airport, on Tuesday at Bonita Creek Park in Newport Beach. (KEVIN CHANG, Daily Pilot / May 20, 2014)

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The Specs

For the drone flight portion of the course, Robinson suggests clients bring their own machines if they have them.

Otherwise, students can try out the company's $6,000 German model, which is called a "quadcopter" because it has four rotors with spinning blades.

The device is about 2 feet long and weighs about 2 pounds. The body is made of carbon fiber, on which a compass, GPS, battery and speed controls have been mounted. A white antenna resembling a coffee straw sticks out of the top.

Named Justin, who was the first student to take a drone lesson at Revolution Aviation, it can fly so high that the operator might not be able to see it.

For new students, though, Robinson suggests they stick to flying it about 10 feet off the ground.

First, the remote must be turned on, then the drone switch clicked over. The throttle is shoved sideways, the blades begin to whir, and then up the drone goes.

In a perfect world — i.e. a world without wind, in which the battery is brand new and fully charged — the drone can fly for 22 minutes, Robinson said. After that, the battery must be replaced, or recharged in a car.

Dressed for work in a green jumpsuit and aviators, Robinson comes armed for drone flight practice with spare bolts and blades, in addition to a spare battery.

If it suffers a major crash? Well, he will just have to pay the price to fix it.


Waiting for Demand

So far, the devices seem popular with journalists and real estate agents — people Robinson believes he can help. Even police departments have been known to use them.

But the lessons haven't quite caught on as Robinson imagined. Flights and training with helicopters generate the bulk of the fledgling company's revenue, while there have only been a handful of people interested in the smaller-scale drone flying.

Plenty of yachtsmen will pay large sums for their boats, but drones imply spying, crashing and questions of responsibility, Robinson said — not exactly what conservative Newport Beach residents are seeking.

"I think it's a technology that's up and coming. They might be ahead of their time, I don't know," said Steve Rosansky, president of the Newport Beach Chamber of Commerce.

Rosansky noted that privacy issues remain to be worked out — maybe some people like to tan nude in their backyards and don't want drone-mounted cameras flying overhead, he said — but he imagined that as the devices get cheaper, more people will be interested in using them for different things.

Then, when the demand starts to occur, Revolution Aviation will be there as the established company, the first local business, to help provide instruction.


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