Stu Logan makes up one-half of Unmanned Air Veterans along with his business partner Tom Hubbard who met each other while serving in the British military. After being introduced to drones very early on when he was assigned the role of drone pilot, Stu says he hasn’t looked back since! But it hasn’t all been smooth sailing (or smooth flying). After being made redundant and suffering from PTSD and depression, Stu, with the help of friends, family and the many amazing charities set up to support our respected veterans, came out the other side a proud business owner.
When we say we’ve trained some of the best drone pilots in the world, we really mean it! Many of our 5000+ Coptrz Academy alumni go on to revolutionise the workflows of well-established companies or make waves within the industry by starting their very own drone businesses. Stu, a military veteran and co-founder of Unmanned Air Veterans, is one of those amazing alumni with an inspiring story to share.
In this blog, we asked Stu:
So where did it all begin?
“When I turned up drones were almost dead and buried, things weren’t happening. All drones were, were a little rocket that flew over a target, took pictures, came back and then they developed the pictures afterwards. They were still trialling what we know now as real-time imagery, but we didn’t know when it was going to become a reality. When it finally did come into service, I didn’t actually want to do that job! But because I wasn’t qualified in everything else they just said “Yeah, you are.” So I was thrown into the drone world in about 1998 and I’ve just never looked back on it since.”
How did you meet Tom, your business partner?
Going into business alone can be a daunting and stressful experience for some, so finding the right business partner from the outset is crucial. Stu and Tom were both serving in the military when their batteries were bought together. They went through similar life experiences around the same time and supported each other right up until Tom completed his full 22 years and Stu was sadly made redundant. But what they didn’t realise was how close they lived to each other on the outside. Stu says,
“We came out of the army within about 18 months of each other. I got made redundant after 17 years and he did his full 22 and he literally lives in the village adjacent to us. I’d heard that he was in the area, so I reached out on Facebook and one day he drove past me while I was walking the dog, so except for lockdown, we’ve pretty much seen each other every day since then for the last three, four, five years or something.
Typically, you tend not to stay in contact with that many people when you leave the army, especially when you leave the area where your regiment is. You go off to somewhere else where nobody is, or you think that nobody is. And then you bump into someone you know, it’s crazy!”
The turning point: When did you know drones were the way forward for you?
“I was on my last tour in Afghan in 2011 when we had a bit of downtime in the welfare tent, I was watching the British Open and I noticed the aerial footage of the course. I turned around and said to my mate, “We could do that with our drones!”. It could have been filmed with drones at the time but I just assumed back then it was all helicopters or blimps.”
Two short years later, Stu had his career cut short and was made redundant from his role in the military. He knew he didn’t want to waste his redundancy money and drones were very much still on his mind. Stu says,
“In 2013, there were loads of little training schools around that would qualify you with all these different qualifications, but the CAA weren’t necessarily singing on the same song sheet. I wasn’t going to pay £1,500 – £2,000 for a course for the CAA to then get involved and say, no, you’re going to have to do this course and you have to pay somebody else to do it to get this qualification. So I just waited until all that got sorted out.”
“But whilst I was waiting, I got diagnosed with PTSD. I was depressed.”
“I was struggling to find work because I only really wanted to find drone work. But all the drone work that I was looking at was off-shore or abroad in Ukraine or Africa and whatnot. The reason why I took the redundancy was to spend more time at home with my family.”
There are various charities available throughout the UK to help anyone struggling with life after the front line such as Combat Stress, Ex-Forces Enterprise, The Poppy Factory and Help for Hero’s just to name a few. All of these incredible organisations support veterans just like Stu by offering therapy, free business courses and help to secure a grant and a business loan.
Stu says, “Personally, I came out really, really well from the help that I got. It was whilst I was in my therapy I had that moment where I thought, yeah, drones are for me, drones are the future!”
What drones did you use to get started?
“Tom had the Phantom 4 plus which we practised with, I then got the grant through help for heroes, which went towards my first drone, the Mavic 2 Zoom.”
Tell us about your first ‘win’
“A guy I’ve known for nearly 30 years, is a director. He said to me come to Durham, we’re doing this movie and we want some aerial shots of a cottage, it’s a horror movie, so we want it to have an airy feel to it. They said we’re not paying you because everything’s out of our own pocket. There’s no production company behind it, it’s something that we’re self-funding.
We got inside the house and Tom had one of those moments. He nudged me as he realized that we were sat on a film set, we’re behind the scenes, we’re next door to people who are people acting!”
“Another one was Phoenix heroes based in Essex. They were creating video content around homeless veterans. We wanted the practice and we wanted to do something with veterans, so we got in touch with him and worked out a way that we could capture some footage for him to use in his. It was great practice and a good way to get a feel for how we’d set up, approach a job and all the paperwork, etc.”
He said “Every year we do the International Polo World Cup, which is down at the polo club in Berkshire. We do security for them, we also have a tent for the charity and there’d be some other veteran charities there, do you want to be involved? And at the same time, you can film the match.” And we were like, yeah, we’ll do that.
When we got there, we found out that another drone guy was going to be coming, and he was being paid by Argentinian TV because it was England vs. Argentina in the Polo cup. He got his big Inspire out of the box with the cable being fed back to a live stream for them.”
“We saw the legs come up for the first time and we both looked to each other like little kids and said, how cool’s that?!”
“The day was good, a little challenging with the weather and we were restricted to where we were allowed to fly, we had to speak to Heathrow Airport because it’s in the flight path. So it had all these little things to think about, nothing like being thrown in the deep end! It was so good to wrack somebody else’s brain that has been in the commercial industry for so long.”
You’ve mentioned a few different jobs already, how do you find work as a self-employed drone pilot?
“A bit of networking and a bit from people we already know. A good one is Findabiz, it’s a really nice group of people here in the Midlands. Throughout the lockdown we’ve all been there for each other online and it’s been fantastic. But yeah, I would say it’s been a mixture of who we know through the filming and networking, just seeing things on LinkedIn and dropping them a message. I just want to build relationships with people, teamwork makes the dream work and all that.”
How are you finding your brand new Mavic 2 Enterprise Advanced?
“I’m a bit jealous because Tom’s got it at his house and not in mine. I’m not going to lie, I was so impressed with the thermal camera compared to the Dual which we previously had. It was amazing. I can now understand why people didn’t like the dual.
We’ve just been sampling the Mavic 2 Enterprise Advanced at the moment, trying to find out what it can and can’t do. Taking the odd snap of a mates farm. He’s got bits of all sorts on there so you can pick up the readings of the animals, you can see the difference between what the water looks like in daytime verse nighttime and how the thermal signature stays on concrete slabs for example.”
The Mavic 2 Enterprise Advanced is the latest drone to join DJI’s Mavic series and it’s ready to purchase now! You can get yours here.
What does the future look like for Unmanned Air Veterans?
Being a veteran himself, supporting other veterans within the drone industry is an important goal for Stu. Whether they run their own business or want to join the team, Stu says, “It’s not necessarily about us taking the work all the time, it’s about collaboration and mutual support.”
“We’ve just been accepted as a recognized worker for the Coventry City Council off the back of a job that we did in between lockdowns just before Christmas. So we’re now a preferred contractor for them.
It’s our second year of business, and a year of that we’ve been struck by COVID. Last March, we had four jobs lined up four consecutive weekends in a row. On the Thursday before the first job, the announcement was there – everyone go home. So we just had to wait and see, a couple of those businesses are actually not there anymore, so we can’t work for them.”
“One of them was specialist weapons and firearms team that train actors on how to carry and handle weapons. They wanted us to film them doing a scenario in front of producers from Netflix, BBC, Sky, Channel Four.”
“They were going to be watching them do this demo, and we were going to be filming it. We wanted to build that relationship with them because they were veterans and ex coppers, and get the opportunity to do something bigger. So when you hear that news, everyone go home no one’s working, it was brutal.
We were lucky that we weren’t full time with the business at the time, we were both still with our other jobs. The target this year for me is to be part-time, at the very least, with the business.”