Bevin Lealand spent a year building himself a new life on his kitchen table.
In 2012 he was a paramedic working for Shell in the Philippines. Now the New Plymouth man is at the forefront of a burgeoning unmanned aerial vehicle boom (UAV), with 14 drones he has built himself.
These days he has a work shop “drone zone” full of radio controllers, electrical components and carbon fibre propellers but his first UAV was built at home when he lived in the Philippines.
Quad Cam Drones Ltd operations manager Bevin Lealand builds and modifies his own drones.
“That became the joke because the whole kitchen table was completely covered for a year. My wife, she just just gave up,” Lealand said.
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Space to create wasn’t the only challenge. The parts for the drone had to be smuggled in piece by piece by friends from New Zealand to avoid “customs” charges from corrupt officials. It was a slow and excruciating process.
“And I’m a really impatient person,” Lealand said.
The tinkering and research paid off. On moving back to New Plymouth, Lealand established Quadcam Drones Ltd and is finding himself and his flying machines increasingly in demand.
He uses his drones to carry out industrial inspections, agricultural work, capture thermal, 3D and 2D imagery and general photography and video.
Lealand’s enthusiasm for his drones is hard to contain. He’s negotiated with most of his neighbours to fly his vehicles over their property and he reminisces with glee about his free flying days in Philippines where New Zealand’s strict UAV rules are absent.
He’s even roped his 2-year-old grandson, Blake, into his passion – though Blake calls them “coptas”, not UAVs.
“When I was in the Philippines flying them at 500 metres the adrenalin is pumping. You are going ‘this is awesome’. You know you can only fly them 120m high in New Zealand,” Lealand said.
All Lealand’s drones are made with off-the-shelf componentry but they definitely could not be built by anyone.
Some of his collection of 14 UAVs have been built purely for research and development purposes and as his hobby has developed into a full time job, so too has the level of sophistication increased.
Newer drones have ever more specialised software, bespoke safety features, emergency parachutes and multiple cameras built in that make them unique and expensive.
His latest UAV, emblazoned with the jaws of a shark and known as “sharky” to Blake, is worth close to $20,000.
“I tell you what, there is going to be an explosion of UAVs. You have all the drama stuff about them but honestly I can see them dominating inspection work, horticulture, surveying work, auditing work. It’s a fantastic tool. You get to see something from a whole new perspective,” Lealand said.
Under Civil Aviation Authority rules UAVs are only to be flown in daylight, operators must always be able to see the aircraft and they can not fly them higher than 120 metres.
Operators must have consent from anyone they wish to fly above and not fly within four kilometres of an aerodrome.