The Rural Drone Academy

The information sessions I run are unique and if you are a regional Australian interested in drones, then the workshops I run are of use to you.

Rural Drone Academy sessions are designed to:

  1. Inform & build confidence
  2. Inspire & make action easy.

Suitable for:

  • All ages
  • Al levels of experience & backgrounds

And the focus is:

  • rural/regional/agricultural

Murrumbidgee Irrigation District, NSW (drone photography). Learn how to get the best aerial photography results – Fiona Lake has 30 years of experience.

The Rural Drone Academy is ideal for you if:

1.  You’ve bought a drone and have a lot of unanswered questions.

And if you’ve crashed your drone I can help you avoid a reoccurrence!

2.  You have been considering buying a drone but don’t know where to start.

Would a drone would be useful for you? Are drones difficult to operate? Which model would suit your purpose best and where you can get reliable information? (The internet is drowning in drone misinformation.)

3.  You’ve taught yourself to fly a drone and want to take your ability to the next level and consider new options.

This training will fill in useful gaps and can lay the groundwork for obtaining CASA registration, if that’s what you are considering.

4.  You have children who fly drones or you’re considering buying one for them.

You need to know how to avoid accidents, what the laws are, and what career possibilities exist.

5.  You are interested in creating your own niche business.

Right now there are almost unheard of opportunities to get in on the ground floor of an emerging industry in rural Australia. But what are the realistic possibilities, how do you go about it, how do you stay profitable, long-term?

Introduction to drones in agriculture & drone flight demonstrations at ag industry events (AgForce day in Charleville, south west Qld.)  Hear practical, useful information based on hands-on ag drone experience.

Who am I?

I’m a professional ag/rural photographer with 30 years of aerial photography experience across Australia.  I grew up on a wheat/sheep farm and have lived on other grain and sheep properties as well as large cattle stations.

I’ve undertaken a variety of drone-related training courses in Australia (between Victoria & North Queensland); as well as in the US (Arizona, North Carolina & New York City), and have run drone workshops from southern to northern Australia.

CASA don’t publicise figures however in April 2018 CASA told me there were only 15 Australian women who were fully licenced – that is, they have a Remote Pilot Licence (RePL) + a Remote Operator’s Certificate (ReOC), issued by Australia’s Civil Aviation Safety Authority (CASA). I am one of these fully licenced drone pilots.  It’s easier to find an Australian woman who shears sheep than a fully licenced female drone pilot.

Fiona Lake attending the New York City Drone Film Festival with some American members of the Amelia Dronehart Facebook group – the world’s largest group for women who fly drones. In the US it’s estimated that around 5% of drone pilots are women (a lot higher percentage than in Australia).

Standard Rural Drone Academy topics include:

  • Drones: sorting fact from fiction
  • Drone limitations & an outline of alternative technologies
  • The differences between drone brands & models, and their uses in agriculture
  • CASA laws, safety & operator certification basics
  • Children & drones – what every parent should know
  • How to get started – what drone to buy, what to do first
  • Which accessories are worth buying?
  • Solving drone software headaches
  • Ag tech/drone predictions
  • Drone industry glossary
  • Sources of reliable drone information


A range of other topics as time allows & according to the particular interests of each group:

  • Professional-quality aerial photography tips
  • More detailed information on drone hardware & software applicable to specific ag industries; with specialist guest presenters, when feasible
  • Advice on setting up & successfully running a drone business in rural Australia – opportunities are waiting for you!

Mustering Herefords on Cordillo Downs Station, South Australia (drone photography). Learn about how drones can be used to muster livestock.

How long are the presentations & what is included in each option?


  • Introductory drone sessions for a general audience (IE casual observers) – ideally 1-2 hours long.
  • Sessions for existing or upcoming drone operators (IE keen) – ideally half to a full day.


  • 1 hour keynote presentations and 1-2 hour workshops are introductory sessions. These are run in conjunction with pre-existing events (ag industry events, rural women’s gatherings and government-run projects – local & state). Drone introductory sessions give a reliable and useful overview for a general audience. I sort fact from the copious fiction, foster inspiration which leads to action, and give pointers regarding where to head next. These are ideal for anyone with a casual interest plus others new to drones but who may be inspired to pursue drones in depth (EG via a longer session).
  • Half-day workshops are ideal for anyone who already has a drone or is about to purchase one, who has unanswered questions or who wants to take it to the next level. Topics are mentioned above and the extra time allows for entertaining stories and a lot more interactivity and the sharing of participant experiences, all of which helps the imparted information stick.
  • Full day sessions enable topics to be covered in detail plus in-depth discussions and a solid section on problem-solving drone software headaches. This extra time builds confidence and raises the level of action that results afterwards and reduces the risk of encountering difficult problems that lead to disenchantment.  The ability of full-day participants to form a solid ag drone user network amongst themselves should not be underestimated either, as it can be invaluable for future problem-solving and innovation.  Hands-on flight experience may also be feasible (depending on factors such as group size, location & weather).
  • 1-2 day drone camps in class G airspace.  More time means participants can proceed from just starting out to having the knowledge and confidence to put their own drone to work, solve software problems as they arise and commence setting up a drone business if desired. Staying together overnight is very valuable as it gives participants more time to learn from one another, tackle specific problems before the training is over, and build a support network.
  • One-on-one sessions also available. Streak ahead with your own personal drone training session, covering exactly what you want to know!  I roam around the countryside at odd intervals – if I happen to be passing by where you live, a one-on-one session is easily do-able.

One-on-one drone flight training is available (Fiona Lake standing with Adria Downs Station cook, Rhonda Heslin, in Far South Western Queensland. Drone photograph)

  • Longer workshops in farming regions can enable the addition of advanced specialist-knowledge segments to be presented by other experts, if relevant for the needs of the specific group of attendees. These expert presenters include researchers working for farming organisations, universities and scientific bodies, plus independent agronomists. A number are already presenting at ag-tech events in high-value cropping regions. These specialist sessions are not of relevance to everyone as they would cover precise topics such as using spray drones, multispectral sensors used to manage a particular type of crop or soil issue, and how to use certain software for analysis. Plus other forms of ag tech that can do some jobs quicker, cheaper and/or more safely than drones – improving satellite imagery services, ground robots to spray weeds, telemetry such as remote watering monitoring and automated livestock drafting, and virtual fencing. The ag tech industry is evolving at an exponential rate and there are increasing numbers of experts in these very precise fields, so it is sensible to engage their services when relevant, rather than attempting to reinvent the wheel. (And it’s not efficient to run specialist sessions without also providing detailed operation information such as included in my workshops. Both combined = productive action.)

Apple orchard, High Country, Victoria (drone photography). Learn about drone operation safety and laws.

Rural drone business opportunities:

Now is the perfect time for rural residents to start up niche drone businesses and grow the business as the fledgling drone industry evolves. Drone businesses can be set up with relatively little capital and worked on during flexible, part time hours from home. This is ideal for many rural women with other demands on their time, who are wanting to put skills to use, create an additional income stream and a business they can expand as their children become more independent. This is the basic model of my own business so my advice is based on sound experience.

Workshops can include a range of topics useful for prospective drone business owners. For example:

  • Choosing a good business name & registering it, setting up a website and effective website SEO (search engine optimisation)
  • Rural business marketing tips, including efficient & effective use of social media
  • Finding good drone insurance policies, calculating charges that must be passed on to customers – including travel
  • What is involved in obtaining a RePL & ReOC – for whom is it worthwhile; pros & cons
  • How to build a personal ag drone network and continue learning via global research, attending events, and teaching others.
  • How to run a business that survives changes and challenges over years, included increased competition.
  • Where to go for reliable information in the future.

A few of the uses drones are put to:

  • Aerial photography (for property owners, tourism authorities, event organisers, agricultural industry groups, property sales agents, etc)
  • Teaching others how to safely and efficiently use drones on their own properties, and teaching school children
  • Safety inspections (including for local government & utility providers)
  • Mapping soil and vegetation – not just for farming, also for livestock pasture management
  • Water-related mapping – irrigation & drainage planning
  • Improving stockyard design & siting fences in hilly & timbered country
  • Checking & mustering stock, in more closely settled areas

Drone operators typically begin with simple uses, such as basic photography, then some choose to progress to more sophisticated uses that require a higher level of expertise and command higher rates of pay.

Olive Vale Station, Cape York Peninsula, Qld (drone photography). Learn about great uses for drones on cattle stations and how drones can quickly pay for themselves through simple jobs.

Why Rural Drone ‘Academy’?

This training is practical information interwoven with personal examples – aimed at fostering high quality, ethical standards of drone and small business operation in rural & regional Australia. I don’t just talk about drones in isolation – depending on the audience, other forms of ag tech, different ag industries and small business management can be included.  This is a holistic project that utilises skills I’ve learned while running my own niche business, which began when I lived more than 100km from the nearest (very small) town.  It is designed to provide a solid foundation for rural residents to build on – whether they choose to use the knowledge on their own farm or set up a business providing a drone-related service for others.

Questions and participant contributions are welcomed throughout and without fail, we always have a good laugh while we’re learning.

Drone flight demonstration at Kooroorinya Ladies Day, North Queensland (drone photography). Only 1-2% of Australia’s drone pilots are women. Be a role model for other potential drone pilots – sons as well as daughters, and others.

Hosting a Rural Drone Academy session:

My time to organise events is limited, especially from a distance – but in any case workshops always work best when there’s a core group of locals who are keen from the outset.

Local councils, primary producer groups, rural womens and other organisations may be interested in hosting a drone workshop – it’s worth asking them.

If you are interested in attending and know of others in your area who’d like to also, please do let me know.


Atherton Tablelands, Far North Queensland (drone photography). Learn about simple jobs for drones on farms, as well as sophisticated data capture and analysis, and other ag tech that is better for some purposes.

Cost of attending a Rural Drone Academy session:

Fees are calculated taking into account:

  • Direct travel costs (vehicle mileage or airfares and accommodation if required)
  • Plus per-day rates (which include preparation, additional research plus presentation). A flat rate for organisations, or varied according to the number of participants and time involved when arranged by me.

I charge cost-price for travel to & from workshops however it can be a significant cost. Longer workshops offer better value for participants/organisers, and allow me to pass on a more substantial amount of useful information and respond to queries more thoroughly (thus reducing the risk that participants will confront unanswered queries and problems they find challenging, when they put new knowledge into practice).

If you’d like a drone workshop in your area, you might like to contact surrounding towns as a string of workshops helps spread travel costs over a larger number of participants.

Don’t hesitate to contact me if you have any queries.

Fiona Lake has participated in a lot of drone operation training in Australia and at several US locations – including New York City and North Carolina, plus Night Flight training with Sundance Media Group at Las Vegas (pictured above).


  • Most people living on farms and stations are innovative; by nature or necessity. Many find uses for a good quality consumer drone that have paid it off in a short time – sometimes on the first day of use.
  • Ignore messengers at either end of the spectrum – the snake-oil sellers promoting the hype, and the naysayers.


  • Due to exponential growth almost no journalists know anything about drones, including safety and laws. So the media is full of stories with factual errors.
  • Facebook is a festering swamp of misinformation on drones. The best policy is to believe nothing you read about drones online, unless it comes from CASA.
  • The tech industry has attracted vast amounts of funding from governments and venture capitalists. Opportunists with vested self-interest have talked up what drones can do – in order to receive grant funding, sell services or equipment and/or satisfy investors. Consequently drone expectations have been far ahead of reality. Some people have bought drones mistakenly thinking they could relax on their verandah & never have to open another bore run gate.
  • Drones should only be used for what they do best. There’s a whole array of other ag tech being developed which does some things more safely, more cheaply and/or easily. I don’t sell drones, apps or on-farm services. I love aerial photography but I’ve been taking aerial images for 3 decades – if drones disappeared tomorrow I’d be in a chopper again. And I’m only interested in what technology can deliver, not new tech for new tech’s sake. This means I give you objective views and information that is relevant to your specific circumstances, sessions aren’t rushed just to tick boxes and gimmicks and fads aren’t included.




More information:

PLEASE NOTE: As applies to the rest of this website – the content on this page is protected by copyright.

Tags: ,