My name is Cameron Gill and I am 39 years old. Before I started working with drones, I was a ballroom dance instructor in Phoenix, AZ. I moved from The Valley of the Sun when I was 21.
How did you get started in the drone industry?
Distraught because I’d be leaving my treasured desert, I picked up a camera for the first time and started documenting some of the beauty around me. I held a desire to learn to fly from an early age, so working with drones seemed like the perfect marriage of my two interests. I ended up in southeast Georgia, by way of Chicago, living with family and strongly wishing I was back in Arizona with my friends. I had sold my car before moving to The Windy City, knowing that I wouldn’t need it there and to have enough cash on hand to at least afford my first month of rent. So, by the time I arrived in rural Georgia, I was out of money, out of options and had no transportation to even begin to look for work. I made a very hard decision. I decided to join The Army.
I tested very well, and was offered many military occupational specialties. I chose to fly drones because it would take me back to AZ for training and I had hoped that I would stay there after my training was over. That is not what ended up happening. Initially, I was trained to be a Hunter, MQ-5A operator. When I started working with the Hunter Legacy System, the aircraft was flown using actual buttons and dials. The display was a monochrome orange and black screen. It looked like something from the TV show, M.A.S.H. After I arrived at my first duty station, I was told that my knowledge as a Hunter pilot wasn’t needed; The Army was buying a brand-new fleet of Shadow UAS. So, within one year, I learned two of The Army’s UAS platforms. I graduated from the second ever Shadow class as the first junior enlisted female in The Army to fly the Shadow 200 TUAV.
Since then, I have been deployed overseas for a total of 48 months; I have earned a B.S. in Aeronautics from Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University and I have worked as a ScanEagle UAS pilot and maintainer.
Tell us about your organization
Currently, I am the owner and operator of a small business called Icarus Media Productions. I operate a DJI Phantom 4 Pro and I am reconnecting with my love of the lens. I do all my own image gathering as well as all the post-production editing. And I love my job.
What do you like most about being in the UAS industry?
I like the genuine sense of accomplishment I feel as a pioneer in this industry. I have seen so much good come of the work that I have done and I know that there is more do. So, my favorite part of being in the UAS industry is knowing that there are always new challenges and frontiers on the horizon.
What’s your favorite type of project and why?
Right now, I’m just enjoying getting my small business going and having fun with the process of learning. However, I’m really looking forward to some of the philanthropic projects which will be coming in the future. Once a year, I would like to choose someone from my community, like an up and coming artist or charitable organization, who might benefit from the media I can provide for them.
Above photo: Cameron Gill on a walk with a military HUNTER MQ-5A. Hunter is a joint tactical unmanned aerial system in service with the US Army. The Hunter system is capable of carrying out the following missions: real-time imagery intelligence, artillery adjustment, battle damage assessment, reconnaissance and surveillance, target acquisition and battlefield observation.
What excites you most about the potential for women in the industry?
I have met so many gifted women in this field. Women have every bit as much intellect and skill as men in every arena, and I’m excited most by the fact that because this is such a new industry the playing field is leveled. Women aren’t entering an already male dominant career path, like when I first entered this industry. It really gives men and women the chance to work together to create a brighter future with broader possibilities.
What challenges have you faced in the UAS industry?
Oh my gosh, where do I begin? When I started in this field, it couldn’t even be called an industry. Clearly there were a lot of engineers, developers and manufacturers. But when I first started flying, I was told that there were only 200 UAS operators in the entire Army! Only 12 of them were women. I have been faced with a lot of challenges concerning my gender. Except for training class, my very first, I have been the only woman in the training class for each of the large aircraft systems I’ve learned. I’ll be honest, I have had to work harder and learn faster than most of my male counterparts. But I think it’s that diligence which has lead me to where I am now. I have had the honor and privilege of working with so many gifted women, since then.
What’s your current favorite drone to fly?
Currently, my favorite drone to fly is the ScanEagle (X200). I deployed twice to Afghanistan with that system. I was invited to be not only an operator, but also a maintainer. I really enjoyed learning to fly it, because it’s just a fun system to work with.
What You’ve Learned:
What has been your most significant “lightbulb” moment since you entered the industry?
After working in the industry for seven years, or so, I finally realized that it wasn’t just a job. It took me that long to realize that it was my career. When the lightbulb went on, I realized that I had better start applying myself. Now, I’m working on my 17th year in the field. I no longer feel that it’s just a career. This is my passion and what I love. It has been the only constant in my life and I can’t imagine doing anything else.
What have you learned you wish you had known when you got started?
I have learned that I am a lot better at this than I thought I would be. I wish I had known that from the very beginning. It would have been nice to start off with the level of confidence I currently enjoy. That’s not to say that I’m immune from mistakes, nobody is. But now, I’m not afraid to make them.
Is there a tip you learned you would like to share with other women in the industry?
There is no secret to this job. Just keep moving forward.
What’s the best way for W&D readers to connect with you?
The Final Word:
Is there anything else you would like to share with the Women and Drones Community?
YES! Do not give up! If you create an error, learn from it. Only surround yourself with people who encourage and challenge you to be your best. And, always try to be a little better today than you were yesterday! That’s all very existential, but the essential point is that you are already doing something the women before you haven’t. Keep going.