Reporters swarmed around a house in Roseville last fall after authorities got a tip that the remains of legendary Teamsters boss Jimmy Hoffa might be buried under a shed.
Harry Arnold was there. But, thanks to a camera-equipped drone, his eyes were in the sky.
"I was flying over 50 reporters who had their cameras on the ground," the 51-year-old Detroiter said.
Arnold runs a company called Detroit Drone out of his home on the city's east side. With his hands gripping a radio controller and his gaze fixed upward on a device he calls a bird, Arnold is hired to take aerial images and videos of construction sites, businesses and houses for sale, and public events.
Arnold's work provides a snapshot of how drones, also known as unmanned aircraft systems, are becoming a common part of American life. He said business is brisk for his 2-year-old company.
"There are millions of photographers and filmmakers and videographers," he said. "You want to be able to have a perspective that not everyone has."
Arnold said the prices of drones and cameras have dropped in recent years, making it affordable to fly a safe, steady, reliable device that takes high-quality images.
His drone has an X-shaped frame and four propellers. It weighs 4 pounds, is about 3 feet across and cost more than $4,000. He built most of it with parts from a hobby shop and added a gyroscope and GPS, features he said enhance safety.
Construction and demolition companies make up the bulk of Arnold's clients. Every month, he flies his drone over the Gateway Marketplace shopping center being built at 8 Mile and Woodward in Detroit.
Arnold has taken aerial images of the Detroit Medical Center campus, New Year's Eve celebrations in Campus Martius Park and even a campaign rally in Ohio for former presidential candidate Mitt Romney.
At the rally, his video was live-fed onto a giant screen for the crowd to see.
A news outlet hired Arnold to fly over the property in Roseville where authorities investigated a possible lead about Hoffa. The footage from that shoot and others is on Arnold's YouTube channel, iTVDetroit.
Last fall, Arnold signed up to be an Angels' Night volunteer -- from above. He said he got the blessing of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security and local first responders to operate his drone in a half-mile radius around the Butzel Recreation Center in Detroit, checking for fires on the days up to and including Halloween.
"As a cameraperson, I fell in love with the freedom of movement you have with being able to fly the camera around in the sky," he said. "There's nothing to compare to it."
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