Look! Up in the sky! It’s a bird! It’s a plane! It’s … a drone!

Over the last decade, as drone technology has advanced and the airborne machines have come down in price, hobbyists like Oak Parker John Sheehan have become increasingly more common.

Over the last year, or so, the semi-retired videographer has shot dozens of videos with his drones, which he posts to his YouTube channel “Better with a Drone” offering breathtaking views of well-known local landmarks such as Frank Lloyd Wright buildings, Ascension Catholic Church and St. Edmund Catholic Church in Oak Park, Grace Lutheran Church and the campuses of Concordia and Dominican universities in River Forest, the Forest Park water tower and the new Eleven33 luxury apartment building under construction at the corner of Harlem Avenue and South Boulevard.

Sheehan has also posted drone videos of Chicago, Lyons, Riverside, Cicero and elsewhere.

He refers to himself as a hobbyist now, but he’s working to secure the necessary certifications to market and sell his drone videos to developers, real estate companies and others with a need for aerial views of their projects.

Sheehan said the Federal Aviation Administration now prohibits hobbyists from making money off drone photos and video, requiring them to obtain professional licensing.

But, flying drones professionally can be a time-consuming and involved undertaking, according to Sheehan.

“For a serious pilot flying in the public airspace, the drone has to be registered, and anyone can do that,” he said. “The FAA requires you to register your drone if it’s over half a pound and capable of flying in the open airspace.” 

A lot of hobbyists meet at Forest Park’s old Checkerboard Airfield at Miller Meadow South in the forest preserve across First Avenue from Loyola University Medical Center.

The airfield is at the site of one of the first aerodromes – open grassy fields that served as landing strips before the first official airports were built. Model airplane enthusiasts now use the field.

“[Famed American aviator] Charles Lindbergh used the field … as the anchor for the U.S. airmail route,” Sheehan explained.

Sheehan, a former videographer, got his start on YouTube, posting videos of political events and demonstrations around the Chicago area. The attention brought to the videos, and, more importantly, the clicks he received from people watching the videos, earned Sheehan an income stream in his retirement.

YouTube recently changed its rules, however, preventing users from making money off of clicks from political events, Sheehan said, so he began looking for another way to attract attention to his channel.

“There are a few people around here who are making money from YouTube, so I switched over to a hobby channel,” he said.

He said those interested in drones and drone videos can learn more through the Academy of Model Aeronautics.