The Rural Drone Academy

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

Rural Drone Academy training is designed to:

  1. Inform – and build confidence
  2. Inspire –  and make action easy
  3. Take your drone operation to the next level

Suitable for:

  • Two age groups: (1) late secondary school and (2) school leavers upwards (some of the most enthusiastic participants are in their 80s. Age is no barrier.)
  • All levels of experience & all backgrounds (from people who have never touched a drone to experienced drone pilots; capital city to remote area residents)

The training focus is determined by the organising host, but segments usually cover:

1. Drone fundamentals – the A to Z of what every pilot needs to know, whether flying for recreational or commercial purposes. (Includes a multitude of experienced-based tips not discussed anywhere else.)

Longer sessions also include one of the following specialties:

2.  General business use (including job opportunities and small business tips for succeeding long-term)

3. Agricultural purposes (simple ROI uses and other agtech, to an introduction to vegetation mapping and spray drones)

4. Aerial photography masterclass (based on 30+ years of award-winning, professional experience)

The training offered by the Rural Drone Academy is unique for two reasons. Firstly because it is holistic – practical information provided by a fully licenced and experienced pilot, for business or recreational pilots to fly safely, productively and enjoyably. Secondly because Fiona Lake travels all over Australia, including to rural and remote regions, where no other drone trainers are operating. This experience across Australia and at conferences in other countries adds a wealth of content to training sessions.

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 re-occurrence!

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? I cut through the noise on the internet and answer all your questions with the facts you need.

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. If you are wanting information on drone mapping or precision spray drone use, or other business purposes, I can help you get started.

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

Drones are fantastic for children, there are multiple benefits. But they should not be considered as toys – for the safety of the children and others you need to implement a set of rules. I provide a simple checklist and explain everything a parent needs to know – including what drones are most suitable, how to avoid accidents, relevant laws, 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 and how do you stay profitable, long-term?

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

Who am I?

  • Drone presentations delivered to more than 3000 people – invited to present at drone conferences held on 4 continents, and workshops in some of Australia’s most remote regions, from Innamincka and Pooncarie north to Quilpie and Laura.
  • A professional photographer with 30 years of aerial and agricultural 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.
  • Experienced – flying drones since 2016, and flights in every Australian state.
  • Fully licenced – less than 3% of Australia’s fully licenced drone pilots (with a CASA-issued RePL and ReOC) are women, and I am one of them. It’s easier to find an Australian woman who shears sheep than a fully licenced female drone pilot and I put effort into increasing diversity, as multiple benefits are involved.

Fiona Lake attending the 2018 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 6% of drone pilots are women (more than double the number in Australia).

Standard Rural Drone Academy workshop topics include:

  • What every drone pilot must know – laws, licencing, apps & how to fly safely (including myth-busting)
  • How to get started: drone anatomy, vital considerations plus what to buy & where, useful accessories, insurance, safe battery management
  • Pre-flight, planning & what skills to practice, plus travelling information
  • Updating software, problem solving & how to avoid issues
  • Information sources – where to find reliable operational information plus which online groups to join and which to avoid
  • Image and flight data administration plus record keeping (for commercial operators)
  • Managing young pilots – what every parent needs to know; safe, legal flying plus drone experience benefits
  • Regional drone-related employment & small business opportunities, plus predictions
  • Glossary – drone industry terms & acronyms (longer training sessions)


Drones for agricultural uses:

  • CASA’s laws re rural landholders
  • Simple but good return-on-investment drone uses and myth-busting; exactly what can and can’t be done with drones on farms & stations in Australia
  • Advanced uses on farms and stations; mapping and spray drones – an introduction, the 3 most common spray drones in use, best-practice operator examples and where to source specific information.
  • More detailed information on drone hardware & software for specific tasks; with specialist guest presenters (if arranged in conjunction with event organisers, to meet participant aims)
  • Other agricultural technology which is easier, cheaper or safer than drones for some purposes
  • Drone & ag tech predictions, business opportunities, D.I.Y. use vs engaging a contractor.

Aerial (drone) photography:

  • Photography & camera fundamentals (level of detail varied according to participant’s prior knowledge)
  • Aerial camera settings, using filters & creating stand-out aerial images
  • Disciplined selection & professional standard attributes
  • Considerations when posting images online: copyright protection, watermarking, subject permission & ethics
  • Social media – best practice use for photographers & the fundamental differences between platforms; plus pitfalls to avoid
  • Ideas for maintaining variety in a specific location, over time (rural residents)
  • Cinematography – summary or in detail (depending on event length and participant interest/experience)

Mustering Herefords on Cordillo Downs Station, South Australia (drone photography). Learn about how drones can be used to muster livestock; best practice and pitfalls to avoid. Based on many hours of helicopter mustering experience, dating back to 1988. (This topic is not covered by any other drone presenters.)

How long are Rural Drone Academy presentations & what is included in each option?


  • Introductory drone presentations for a general audience (IE casual observers) – usually 1-2 hours long.
  • Sessions for existing or upcoming drone operators (IE keen) – ideally half to a full day workshops.
  • Aerial photographers or agricultural drone operators seeking detailed mapping and spray drone information with longer hands-on opportunities – two day workshops.


  • 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 (IE proceed to undertaking longer, more detailed training).
  • 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 further, 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, ideally 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 are 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, government agricultural departments, 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 cover precise topics such as using spray drones, multi-spectral sensors used to manage a particular type of vegetation or soil issue, and how to use software for data analysis. Plus more detailed information on other forms of agtech that completes some jobs more quickly, cheaply and/or safely than drones. For example: improved satellite imagery and data analysis 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 or leave advanced training participants with more questions than they arrived with.
  • In summary: There is so much involved in these advanced drone usage topics – it is not possible for one person to be fully conversant and current, in detail, across the broad spectrum. Hence the addition of specific experts for specialist segments.

Apple orchard, High Country, Victoria (drone photograph). 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 education/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 small business-related topics useful for prospective drone business owners. For example:

  • Considerations when 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 overheads and direct costs that must be passed on to customers – including travel
  • What is involved in obtaining a RePL & ReOC – for whom is it worthwhile; pros & cons; and the cost
  • 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 and conservation purposes
  • 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, commitment in return for higher ROI or payment.

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.  These presentations are holistic – utilising 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 drone operators 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 photograph). Less than 3% of Australia’s fully  licenced drone pilots are women. Be a role model for other potential drone pilots – sons as well as daughters, and others.

Hosting Rural Drone Academy training:

My time to organise events is limited, especially from a distance. But in any case workshops always work best when organised and managed by a local individual or group; familiar with the ideal timing, local demand and specific interests, and with a pre-existing network to market to.

Agricultural organisations and government departments, local councils, arts industry bodies, and rural women’s 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 photograph). Learn about simple jobs for drones on farms, as well as sophisticated data capture and analysis, spray drone pros and cons, 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, travel and 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).  Sometimes bodies arrange a series of 3-4 shorter drone workshops in different towns, with several hours drive inbetween, to maximise return on investment.  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 twice, with Sundance Media Group at Las Vegas (pictured above).

Why undertake drone training:

  • Learning as you go, without any training, is exceedingly inefficient and potentially fraught. It’s how I started, before I could locate some training (in another state, and overseas).
  • Comprehensive, reliable information is not online – everyone who attends these workshops, regardless of their level of experience, says they’ve learned a lot of useful information. It’s all the fundamentals I wish I’d known from the outset plus a myriad of extra tips I’ve learned via many hours of flying and training across Australia and in other countries, mixing with some of the best drone operators on the planet.
  • Agriculture – 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.
  • Photography – ground photographers are now as thick as fleas on a dog’s back. Aerial photographers, reliably producing quality images, are still surprisingly scarce, yet client demand has increased.
  • Recreational drone flying & children – there are multiple unexpected benefits of flying drones that are useful generally; EG confidence building and enhanced problem-solving abilities.

Finding reliable, detailed drone information is difficult, because:

  • There are very few journalists who fly drones for commercial purposes so almost no journalists know anything about drones, particularly regarding safety and laws, but they are expected to by editors. So unfortunately, the media is full of interviews with factual errors and media releases full of inflated claims, printed verbatim.
  • Facebook is a festering swamp of drone misinformation. The best policy is to take everything you read about drones online with a grain of salt, unless written by the manufacturer, a national government aviation authority, or an experienced and fully licenced commercial operator. There are less than a dozen of the latter putting this kind of information online and none comprehensively as they’re either too busy making a living using drones or they provide training services for a living.  Like every industry, there’s little benefit in the best drone operators sharing everything they know, online.
  • YouTube has a plethora of drone how-to videos. Unfortunately many are missing vital information, contain errors, or full of subjective views rather than facts.  Many reviews are not independent. It is impossible for anyone new to the drone industry to discern quality.
  • 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. Via the media,  online and at conferences and other events. 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. This has led to a lot of disillusionment in some rural areas.
  • Drones should only be used for what they do best. There’s a whole array of other ag tech being developed which does some tasks more easily, cheaply or safely. But it will not be mentioned by sellers of 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/fads aren’t included.  I point you in the direction of Australia’s best-practice specialists for specific high-end information. It is this forthright approach that has led to repeat invitations to speak at drone conferences, in Australia and other countries.




Drone information blog posts

  • I’ve written a number of posts containing information I wish I could have found at the outset. The drone topics below are either not covered by anyone else at all, incompletely or inaccurately.
  • All the information in these posts is included in Rural Drone Academy training, to some degree, but with the addition of many other useful topics, entertaining examples, participant Q & A’s and networking.
  1. Rural Drone Academy workshops & training – want to lift your flying up to another level, solve some drone issues, or you need a hand to gets started? These workshops are useful for all skill levels, ages and backgrounds. (Information on this page.)
  2. Next workshops plus previous events – upcoming events you can attend. Previous events are also listed, which will give you an idea of the regions covered, themes and the diversity organisations hosting them.
  3. Comments from participants – forthright opinions from people who have attended drone sessions held in four states.
  4. The principles of drone safety & laws – essential reading for every drone pilot. Accompanied by impressive ‘fail’ stories, during Rural Drone Academy training.
  5. How to set up a drone business – how to steam ahead – use time, energy & money to maximum effect – and avoid pitfalls. Included in drone workshops in detail, if applicable to participant interests.
  6. What is the best drone to buy for a beginner?  Objective information to help you decide. The internet is full of drones that have hardly been flown because they didn’t suit the buyer’s purpose. Don’t join them!
  7. What is the best drone to buy? Comprehensive information on the most common consumer models to help drone pilots upgrading or seeking a drone for a specific task.
  8. Is a Crystal Sky screen worth buying?  The pros and cons compared to using phones and tablets as screens, from an objective point of view.

If you are interested in attending Rural Drone Academy training don’t hesitate to contact me by email or ring the business-hours phone number listed below.

PLEASE NOTE: As applies to the rest of this website – the content on this page is protected by copyright.  This post was originally written in 2018 and last updated May 2020.

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