What is Meetup? According to Wikipedia, “Meetup is a service used to organize online groups that host in-person events for people with similar interests. Meetup was founded in 2002 by CEO Scott Heiferman and four co-founders”. It was created to build communities that come together to experience IRL- In Real Life. It’s a perfect way for drone pilots to fly together and learn from each other.
I never set out to lead a Meetup group, and I fell into it almost by accident.
How I got involved: As a beginner UAV operator I was looking to improve my piloting skills and to befriend experts on drone programming and construction. I found Meetup and joined a drone Meetup group. They met at a local park designated by the city for RC flight. Their Meetup was clustered in with various fixed wing pilots and the vibe was cliquish overall and I wasn’t really sure I had even connected with the correct group. I continued flying on my own, and returned to this wide open field many times. What I longed for were peers who longed to meet, discuss and fly with other pilots. Flying drones is fun, but can be a lonely endeavor.
Then one day it all changed. I received a message from Meetup stating the leader of this drone group had stepped down and would I like to take it over? I was stunned, but only thought about it for a brief time before I pushed the YES button. I had a meeting with the founders of the group and they agreed I would be right for operating their Meetup I ran my first Meetup on my own two weeks later and have not stopped since.
How Meetup works: Meetup is a membership-based organization of groups. You join, post a picture and a bio, and can begin to search the groups for subjects that interests you. When you find a group, you ask to join. Some are automatic acceptance, mine is not. Joining our Meetup group requires you upload a clear photo of yourself, (not a pic of your dog, motorcycle or drone) your true name, and what you have been flying.
I do this for two reasons:
1) I print photo badges with names and pics for all pilot attendees to identify members who RSVP to attend. This separates them from the general public who may also fly in these public venues.
2) I believe it’s important to know all attendees by name and by sight for liability reasons. Those badges really open up the conversation between pilots. It’s like the old show “Cheers”, where “Everybody knows your name”.
When we Meetup: Our groups hold a Meetup monthly and sometimes more often. Most are Saturday mornings and last a few hours. I ask that members bring a snack or drinks to share. They sign a waiver, don a badge and attend a pilot meeting prior to taking to the air. Initially I charged 10.00 to attend but I no longer do this as a member has picked up my expenses for the year. I find that many members stay long after their batteries are exhausted and move from group to group in lively conversation and discussion.
Where we do it: I started out flying at the city sanctioned field where the initial group started. It’s great for beginners and for skill building (I sometimes set up a course with challenges). One problem-pilots are photographers and need a variety of scenery and conditions or they get bored and stop attending. So I added more venues in various locations around the SF bay area. This provides the variety that holds our members interest. We have also held special events.
What we do: Beyond the skill tests we have done an Aerial scavenger hunt, Photo contest with large format prints as prizes, and are always looking for new ideas. When one of the founding members passed away, we had a special memorial “Fly Out” in his honor. Over 40 drones were in the air for that, it was rather spectacular! At certain venues we fly in 2 or more locations, and some members continue the fun by joining each other for lunch at nearby restaurants. We’ve even offered discounted classes at a drone building school, and have flown with a drone class at a junior college campus. I invite drone companies to come and do demos for the group. Demos have included DJI, Yuneec, Skydio and more.
A problem that became an opportunity: After a few months I started to receive notifications from Meetup about “Orphan” drone Meetups that were about to be disbanded unless a new leader stepped up. I began to pick up these groups and now I operate five drone groups as one. Our Meetup groups have over 2700 members and the average Meetup has 45 attendees plus guests and spectators. Not to mention those who wander in to find out what we are up to.
We have very few problems between members and our rules are simple:
1)We adhere to all FAA rules and guidelines
2)Always launch and retrieve your UAVs at least 20 feet out from the flightline
3)No hand launch or catch. We share our launch pads
4)Any disputes are settled on the spot to the satisfaction of both parties
Contact– I email my member pilots regularly with drone news, information, FAA changes, and encouragement to attend the next Meetup.
How about you? If you enjoy flying and spending time with other UAV pilots, this is a great way to meet and make new friends. Why not start a Meetup group in your area?