VFR chart of the area around Fort Erie


I took a call last week from a friend. He didn’t beat about the bush. “Have you still got your Drone Pilot certification?” “Yes.” “What are you doing the day of the eclipse?” I grinned. “I scheduled the day off. Nikki and I will be sitting on a hill somewhere holding hands and watching the world go dark.”

“Want to make some money?”

So began a hectic 48 hours. After clearing the idea first with Nikki I discussed the project details and realised I had some study to do.

I brushed up on VFR charts and CFS, METAR and NOTAM. Filing flight plans and contacting air traffic control. I relearned runway numbering and headings, airport elevations, aviation theory, and meterological factors. I can read this weather forecast and understand that map below. I have regional air traffic control numbers on speed dial, just in case. Every Canadian airport is now just a fingertip away and I have site survey, flight plan, and emergency procedure checklists on my phone, in my car, and metaphorically tattooed behind my eyelids. That was day one. To complete day one, I took an exam. And failed. Bugger.

METAR CNQ3 161755Z 02012G22KT 10SM RA FEW025 BKN045 OVC080 15/12 A2985 RMK AO2 RAB15

My friend Jim, a pilot, will appreciate this example weather report


I persevered. Went back and reviewed everything. Well into the sleepless night that followed I was still cramming stuff into this thick head of mine. Day two, after almost zero sleep, I continued cramming. Around lunch time I was ready. Took the exam again. Persevered, even when my Internet connection dropped for 15 minutes somewhere in the middle of the one hour time allowed. I spent the time running around the house rebooting routers and modems, shouting a lot and kicking things, none of which fixed anything. I resigned myself to another fail, through no fault of my own.

When the Internet came back I saw I had only 10 minutes to complete and had half the test still ahead of me. Why not, I thought. Nothing to lose. I persevered. And I passed. I’m rather proud of that.

Phase one complete, I could proceed to phase two: Flight review. An aerial driving test, in effect. To make sure I can walk the walk, or in this case, fly the fly. Still wired from a dozen overnight cups of tea I took to the skies and from 300 feet up and 200 feet distance performed the prescribed manouvres while answering more questions. Landed. Upshot? I passed the driving test, too. We filled out the forms there and then, submitted them to Transport Canada, and it was done. I’m now a fully licensed Advanced RPAS pilot.

Why Now?

I’ve been happy holding the Basic pilot license for four years, because that filled my needs. There are some restrictions to that license which no longer apply. I needed to do this eventually, albeit I did it at a highly accelerated pace. No sweat. I perform best under pressure. And why, I hear you ask, did I jump voluntarily through all those hoops in a brief 48 hours? Well, several reasons. I like a challenge. Also, stepping up my game opens many doors, and flying opportunities. For example as an Advanced RPAS pilot I can legally fly almost anywhere, including over Niagara Falls if I want to. Just need to file a flight plan. But also (and this is the main reason for the unseemly rush…)

Because we’re filming the eclipse.


The Niagara region expects up to a million visitors to descend on April 8th, as tourists flock along the path of totality. Many will cross the bridges connecting Canada and the USA, which will remain open. Local municipalities along the entire path of the eclipse have declared states of emergency for the event. Some have locked down for the day: No visitors in, none out. Which aims to prevent those places being swamped due to the massive influx of vehicles. But of course, those vehicles will still fill up the highways and arterial roads like Hwy 3 and the QEW. We’re talking potential gridlock.

That’s where we come in.

Eclipse or not, emergency services still have to contend with daily life. Ambulances, fire trucks, police. All need to get through. If roads are blocked, they need to know.

I am now part of a drone team engaged to monitor major highways and traffic centres in the Fort Erie area during the eclipse. Our team members will be strategically placed. I will be based at the Stevensville fire station, and my task is to monitor that stretch of the QEW. The others each have designated areas. Together we aim to ensure complete coverage. Our drones will live stream visual feeds in real-time direct to emergency response teams and control rooms. Our data will allow dispatchers to quickly determine the best and fastest routes, and identify traffic hot spots and bottlenecks. We will fly to hot spots if needed, also in real-time, providing additional data and information about causes – accidents or breakdowns. Tow trucks can be sent to remove vehicles. You get the idea.

We have multiple batteries which we will rotate, charging them as we go. Throughout the day our drones will land only long enough to change the battery before launching right back into the sky. It will be a long day. And a story for the grandkids.

I’m giving up our day for this, not just for the money but because it’s the right thing to do. Our efforts could actually make a difference. Keep some roads clear. Get emergency vehicles where they need to be, faster. Maybe even help save a few lives. Which is a good feeling, if I’m honest.


Once the eclipse is over the team will continue to monitor traffic into the evening, until levels return to normalcy. The team will later have a debrief to analyze how things went. See what we can improve, refine, change. Because when we pull this off we are hoping to be engaged for other events. This will be proof of concept and execution. Quite a feat.

Depending how the day goes, maybe a celebration will be in order. Though I suspect we’ll be too weary for that on the day itself. Maybe, next week sometime, though, we can grab coffee and compare notes. We will have a few stories to share, no doubt. And maybe… hey, maybe next week I will file that flight plan. And go over the Falls.

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