BROOKLYN – The basic storyline of Brooklyn Drones NYC is as old as the immigrant experience and the Greek-American dream: Roger Kapsalis worked hard and exceled for years, but others signed his paycheck and told him how high and where he could fly. Now the FAA and various government agencies set limits on the drones he sells, but he’s the boss and the entrepreneurial sky is the limit in a fledgling industry.
On any given day people of all ages and backgrounds and levels of interest march into his shop on 4th Avenue in Brooklyn’s Park Slope neighborhood and leave with the latest and greatest in the devices that are the heart of the latest hobby craze and/or new business vehicles.
He has an investor, but it’s his “magazi” – store.
Watching one hover produced an eerie feeling for TNH staff. It seemed alive.
“That’s nothing. You gotta see the way this one hovers,” Kapsalis said of a nearby model. “It has vision positioning underneath…you can go up to 30 feet and be completely stable because it uses the ground for positioning,” he said.
“You can spend $30, $50 to buy a toy drone, but that’s what it is.” His store begins with hobby grade drones up to professional grade.
Of the high end models, Kapsalis told TNH, “There is a difference. They are 10 times easier to fly.”
He pointed to virtual reality goggles for planes that can fly 50-80 mph on closed courses. “There are $1million in prizes this year – a 15 year-old kid won a quarter million bucks.”
Kids love the racing, but the photography tugged hardest of Kapsalis’ fancy.
“You see things from a brand new perspective. From even 20 feet high everything looks different.” He noted a picture from 200 feet and said “but I don’t like it there. I like it at 80. Higher than that it’s just Google Earth.”
Kapsalis was a stockbroker for 13 years and after working in the mortgage business until the financial crash he did commercial real estate. “But about a year ago I picked up a drone and that was it. I fell in love and now it’s an obsession. Before that he had no hobbies. Asked what he did as a kid he said “work.” His parents who owned a luncheonette near Sheepshead Bay.
Born Herodotos and raised as Roger in Bay Ridge by George and Maria Kapsalis from Peloponnesos, he worked and he studied at Sts. Constantine and Helen’s A. Fantis School. “We played sports and rode our bikes,” and as he got older, the family migrated to Holy Cross, closer to home.
“I learned how to solder at 44 years old. I would crash my drones” – everybody does at first – “and fixed them. Now I build my own…I dropped everything and opened a drone store and plan on doing aerial photography.”
Everything began when he ordered a drone for his girlfriend’s nephew and at $75 he couldn’t resist buying one for himself.
He had a knack from the start, successfully troubleshooting a factor error: he figured out the propellers were on backwards.
“It took about a month of flying and crashing to learn” to fly them well he said.
“That one went on the roof next door, so I bought another one. I wanted to go higher and it flew away.”
But he was hooked. “Then I got into the real ones, the ones with GPS for $250, then I spent $1000.”
He was already taking them apart and putting them back together, adding cameras, etc.
Fun and some profit can be had along a wide range. A DJI Phantom III standard sells for $499.
Kapsalis recommends that for serious beginners, but said “you are going to like it and outgrow it in three months. “
He now guides planes through New York airspace and clients through the regulatory process, the maze of rules and the laws that are changing every day.
The Federal Aviation Administration’s rule are clear: You can’t fly over 400 feet, or over populations of people and you cannot fly within five miles of an airport without getting permission from the airport, control must be line of sight and you can’t fly at night.
He said New York City is working on its own regulations for commercial and hobby use and the Parks Department has allocated five parks for drones.
“We need more fields,” he said, but he supports the regulations.
“There are so many good practical uses,” Kapsalis said, and told of drones carrying ropes to save flood victims in Mississippi, a 16 year-old kid flying his drone on a nice day at the beach in Florida and spotting sharks no one else saw, and saving a man about to freeze to death after being lost in a forest for two days.
Firemen now put up drones before going into buildings and on movie sets they are replacing helicopters that than taken many cameramen’s lives through the years.
Whether it’s photographers doing aerial photography, or public and private sector inspections of bridges and all kinds of structure, drones are fun and contribute to the public good.