February 20, 2019

By K. Daniel Glover

When you’re fighting cancer, it helps to know your friends are there for you. Leo Zambori has a whole host of them who showed their support in a creative way. They retained a volunteer drone pilot.

More than two years later, Zambori still cherishes the memory, according to his mother. “The photo was an amazing pick-me-up for Leo,” Natalie Zambori said after drone pilot Jeremy Lewis re-posted the image on Facebook in January for Leo’s birthday. “He loved and still loves to look at this photo. I remember him saying ‘Wow, all those people did that for me?’”

Lewis, the owner of Flying Dream Aerial Imaging Services in Martins Ferry, Ohio, captured the memory for the Zamboris not long after he started flying unmanned aircraft systems. He gained early experience on the grounds of Martins Ferry City Schools and put together a video.

When Leo Zambori was diagnosed with leukemia at age 5, school officials and students wanted to let him know he wasn’t alone in the fight. Middle school principal Mike Delatore remembered Lewis’ drone work and reached out to him with an idea – an aerial photo of the student body spelling out Zambori’s name on the football field.

Lewis did the shoot solo, and it took about 20 minutes. “They all assembled on the field in the middle of the track that morning and spelled out Leo’s name along with a heart,” he recalled. “That pretty much says it all. They all came together as one to support this little boy and his family. I was blessed to be allowed to be a part of it.”

Zambori is now in second grade. He loves sports in general and baseball in particular, and he’s a loyal fan of all Pittsburgh sports teams. He has four months left in his three-year, five-month chemotherapy protocol.

The emergence of unmanned aircraft systems rekindled a love of aviation that dated to Lewis’ youth. He took flying lessons when he was about 10 years old, and only a vision test kept him from pursuing a career as a Navy pilot.

Lewis has worked at a materials testing laboratory for more than 20 years, but he never stopped dreaming about seeing the world from the air, including from his son’s remote-control airplane. “I remember trying to figure out how I could possibly get a small camera attached to it. … Unfortunately, technology wasn’t quite there yet,” he said.

A chance encounter at a local high school football game a few years ago opened Lewis’ eyes to the possibilities. A pilot who had been flying a drone during halftime sat right next to Lewis in the stands, with his DJI Phantom 3 Professional drone still in the original box.

“I spoke to my wife and within a month I had ordered my first drone and found a whole new passion,” Lewis said. After about a year of flying, he earned his Part 107 certificate first thing in the morning of the first day that the Federal Aviation Administration offered the airman knowledge test to drone pilots.

Lewis’ primary focus is aerial imagery, including for real-estate agents. He also has conducted aerial roof inspections and completed mapping projects. His work for Wheelhouse Creative, a local advertising agency, has resulted in his imagery being used in television and Internet ads.

“I tend to lean toward the artistic side of aerial work,” Lewis said, sometimes for clients and other times to highlight the beauty of the Ohio Valley he calls home.

He sells prints and products like clothing, home décor and coffee mugs with his photos on them. He upgraded rigs from the Phantom 3 Professional to DJI’s Inspire 2 with an X5S camera in order to get better picture quality for large prints.

Lewis only flies in his spare time but already has an “expert” rating in the aerial photography community SkyPixel. “I believe there are approximately 175 or so experts out of over 10 million registered users,” he said. “I never would have imagined that when I started this journey.”

All imagery in this “Mission Report” was provided by Flying Dreams Aerial Imaging Services. If you have a story to tell about an interesting drone project, please email your suggestions to the publisher.