The Enid News and Eagle, Enid, OK

April 7, 2013

KJ Productions using hexacopter to take aerial photos

By Robert Barron, Staff Writer
Enid News & Eagle

ENID, Okla. — That mysterious aircraft you may see flying around Enid isn’t really a UFO or a drone. It’s a new radio-controlled machine called a hexacopter that Jack Quirk, president and CEO of KJ Productions, is using for special shots.

Quirk purchased the hexacopter for about $10,000. It is 30 inches across and 25 inches tall with six rotors and is operated by batteries. The average flight is seven to eight minutes in duration, Quirk said. It features an ultra high definition camera and will shoot both videos and still shots.

“We found it necessary to rent a helicopter from time to time, and the cost was getting exceedingly high,” Quirk said. The last time he rented a helicopter, it cost $2,000 an hour, including the time it took to come from and return to Oklahoma City, or wherever it was housed. The cost of an average job reached between $5,000 and $6,000. Two years ago, Quirk shot video for an oil company in North Dakota using a helicopter and had a $14,000 bill.

In Quirk’s hexacopter, the camera is in a gyro-stabilized mount, so no matter what the aircraft does, the camera will remain balanced. An antenna provides a live video feed on the ground.

“Until recently, this was an extremely high-dollar technology,” Quirk said. It also is difficult to fly and definitely not a hobby, he added.

Quirk needed two years of training to operate the hexacopter. He said it is operated in the same way as unmanned drone flights.

“The video feed is crossing the line into drones. As a commercial aircraft, I can’t fly where I can’t see. It’s limited to 400 yards in height. All of Enid is restricted and limited to 200 feet,” Quirk said.

However, the “sweet spot” where it works the best is about 100 feet, he said: “That’s where things look cool.”

The top of the structure is imported from Germany and the bottom from Japan.

“For every hour you fly, you spend two hours on maintenance and safety,” Quirk said.

Aircraft like the one Quirk now uses frequently are used in movies.

To purchase the hexacopter, Quirk had to go through three steps of learning to fly. He started with a small helicopter, graduated to a larger one, and, finally, the full-rotor, so he could learn to fly it. He practices flying in a workshop at his home, practicing hours every day.

“Hobbyists can fly them wherever they want, but commercial pilots and law enforcement are being pinched back,” Quirk said.

Whenever he uses it, Quirk notifies people in the area he is flying it and obeys the law. He consulted with the Enid police and fire departments about it and recently produced a video of the police department. Car dealerships frequently use the helicopter in the video for their ads.

A Seattle man has his equipped with heat imaging devices and works with law enforcement on search-and-rescue missions. Using radio control, the aircraft will fly about 600 yards, but it must be kept in sight, Quirk said. He controls it from the ground and can do panorama shots by rotating it. It will allow shooting of still photos and videos at the same time.

The GPS on the hexacopter contains a fail-safe system. If he loses the connection with the controller, the machine will return to the launch site and land. Quirk said the hexacopter could be dangerous if it is not flown right.

“It’s almost equal to flying full-size helicopters,” he said.

Quirk worked with Mason Dunn, pilot of Chopper 9 for KWTV in Oklahoma City. He said Dunn took the time to walk him through the flight system and show him how to fly the aircraft.

Since January, drone-related legislation has been introduced in 30 states, largely in response to privacy concerns. The challenge, he said, is because the helicopter is classified as an unmanned drone, there are places he cannot work. Aircraft like his, if not properly used, can be flown into areas without being detected and violate privacy. They also can crash into things and harm people and their property.

Quirk said the trick is “don’t do anything stupid.”