Mitchell's Derek Davis turns passion for flying drones into business, while discovering unique niches

From capturing aerial images of homes listed for sale to aiding deer hunters in finding a buck they shot, Davis has been using his drone in a myriad of ways

An aerial image of the $1.3 million property along the west edge of Mitchell that Derek Davis used his drone to help real estate agents list the home. The home sold for $1.3 million.
Photo courtesy of Derek Davis

MITCHELL — Flying remote control helicopters has always piqued Derek Davis’ interest.

As drone technology began evolving over the past decade, the Mitchell native transitioned from hobby remote control choppers to the world of drones. Little did he know, his love of flying Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAV) could develop into a full-fledged business.

“I’ve always liked flying RC helicopters and was pretty good at it. Drones are a whole other ball game, but it helped prepare me to know how to fly them well,” Davis said.

Roughly three years ago, Davis bought his first drone. But he learned there were several more obstacles ahead to use it.

The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) requires drone operators to obtain a remote pilot certificate to fly UAVs, which entails passing an exam at a designated location with FAA officials.


After securing his certificate, Davis began using his drone to take videos and photos of events for friends, including mud races and annual Fourth of July bashes hosted by Mitchell Roofing. The positive feedback of the footage and aerial photos of his first few events led to more inquiries from people seeking to have drone footage of events. Those inquiries helped Davis come up with a drone business model.

An aerial image Derek Davis took with his drone at the mud races in 2022 near Mitchell.
Photo courtesy of Derek Davis

“I started seeing how many different things drones can be used for, and I noticed there weren’t really any businesses in the area that offered aerial photos and video. I saw an opportunity there and started the business,” Davis said of his business called Precision Dronography.

While visiting family in Florida, Davis discovered a new area to put his drone to use. He learned from his step mother – who works in the real estate business – that drone shots of homes and land for sale is the norm in some Florida cities.

He took that concept with him back to Mitchell and began working with local real estate agents to capture aerial photos of properties for sale.

Among the recent Mitchell area homes on the market he took drone photos of was a large 3,494-square-foot home that sold for $1.3 million, located about a mile west of Lake Mitchell.

“That house is a good example of how drone shots can give you the best look at what the entire property looks like,” he said of the 27-acre property that sits along Firesteel Creek next to the former Kelley house. “When a house and property around it is that big, it’s hard to get all of the details without aerial imaging.”

According to the Multiple Listing Service (MLS), a national real estate database, homes and properties on the market with drone images are 68% more likely to sell than those without aerial photos.

While he’s been flying his drone for a wide variety of uses, he said he’s constantly discovering new uses. A recent use he learned about was aiding deer hunters in search of a buck they shot in tree-heavy or other difficult terrain.


“I’ve helped guys recover deer they lost in tough spots like sloughs. I can hover over spots that are tough to get to by foot and get real close to see any trails and other signs showing where the deer ended up,” he said.

Looking toward the future, Davis said he’s eyeing to upgrade his drone with a thermal imaging feature.

He said thermal imaging can be used to aid in search and rescue operations and roof inspections.

“I learned you can use thermal drones to find if a roof has areas where there is a lot of heat loss. That can then let you know what part of the roof needs more work,” he said.

Sam Fosness joined the Mitchell Republic in May 2018. He was raised in Mitchell, S.D., and graduated from Mitchell High School. He continued his education at the University of South Dakota in Vermillion, where he graduated in 2020 with a bachelor’s degree in journalism and a minor in English. During his time in college, Fosness worked as a news and sports reporter for The Volante newspaper.
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