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Drone operator assists 500 flood victims

Maj. Steven Bogert, 45th Reconnaissance Squadron, helped more than 500 flood victims see their property using drone footage. (U.S. Air Force graphic by Josh Plueger)

Maj. Steven Bogert, 45th Reconnaissance Squadron, helped more than 500 flood victims see their property using drone footage. (U.S. Air Force graphic by Josh Plueger)

OFFUTT AIR FORCE BASE, Neb. --

There are often wingmen, behind the scenes, that go unrecognized for their selfless contributions.

It is the devastating occurrences, such as natural disasters, that bring out these heroes and Maj. Steven Bogert, 45th Reconnaissance Squadron, is among them.

Thinking outside the box, he harnessed technology and a new-found skill set to aid others within his community.

During the recent flooding in Iowa and Nebraska, many evacuated from their homes. Initially, Bogert offered his truck to help people haul their property, but he quickly realized he could do more.

He decided to fly his personally-owned drone over the community, with the permission of his neighbors, so he could show them what was happening. Bogert thought it would be helpful for people to understand the magnitude of the flooding.

He posted his first video to the small town’s social media page. The post quickly generated hundreds of requests from the flood victims.

Using Google maps and drone software, he began mapping out his flights to include as many requests as he could being careful to avoid the Federal Aviation Administration flight zones around Offutt and nearby airports.

“I remember asking property owners on the first day to fly from their property, a few days later, they were asking me to fly over that same property only to see the water up to the eaves of their roof,” Bogert said. “The entire town of Pacific Junction was under water up to the rooftops. That’s an entire community displaced.”

Bogert drove his vehicle as close as possible into the affected areas. He started flying several hours every evening after work for approximately two weeks.

On days with high wind warnings, he could only average eighteen-minute flights even though the drone is rated for 27 minutes. During the worst of the flooding, many access points became limited due to road closures.

“This is the first time I had a true objective and I really pushed my skills and equipment to the limit,” said Bogert. “Often times, with the high winds and number of requests, I thought I may not get the drone back on its battery charge, but the risk was worth what I was able to provide to people.”

Bogert uploaded images to social media within five minutes of landing. He later initiated the live broadcasting function of his drone so that flood victims could view the footage in real time in addition to uploading still photos upon landing.   

Bogert was first interested in flying drones while on a temporary duty assignment to Anchorage, Alaska. He was amazed with the technology and enjoyed the flying and video aspects. It wasn’t long before he purchased his own drone.

While he was first learning the drone technology, he only flew it at his house. After crashing into a tree and replacing the propellers, he knew he needed better training.

Bogert watched social media videos in order to learn smarter and safer methods of flying his drone.

The training paid off - Bogert helped approximately 500 flood victims to include business owners, homeowners, farmers and ranchers.