Lucas Weakley is the sort of repeat visitor to Flagler local politicians big on touristy spenders go gaga over. He’s also the sort of entrepreneurial free spirit educators and preachers of economic development should swoon over: he’s the future.
He’s from Ocala. He stays at the Hammock Beach resort with his family, having been there before with his grandfather, who was himself drawn to the Hammock resort by that annual doctors’ convention that gets advertising subsidies from the Tourist Development Council to do just that—draw more people. He spends some of his time in place like Flagler Beach. And beyond that, Weakley, who’s just 16, is giving Flagler County free, and visually spectacular, advertising.
Don’t be fooled by his age. This is a guy who spent his summer interning at Lockheed Martin’s Ocala plant—the plant that builds Hellfire missiles–, who builds his own remote-controlled aircraft, who runs his own TV channel (including interviews and how-to’s) and who’s preparing to launch his own business, providing aerial video to real estate or surveying or advertising companies, or to sports organizations and other interested parties: with the quick and little-regulated expansion of drones and remote-controlled videography, Weakley knows he’s on the cutting edge of a blooming industry. He also knows that he has skills others who might be interested in doing the same thing don’t: His video and editing skills are quite advanced. He builds and services his own aircraft. He is a nascent engineer, with experience on one hand and the benefit of a high school magnet program focused on engineering on the other (the EMIT program, or Engineering and Manufacturing Institute for Technology, through Forest High School in Ocala), and his eyes set on a career in aerospace engineering, if his fertile mind doesn’t take him in different directions before then.
Weakley takes soaring literally. When he was at the Hammock resort over the Labor Day weekend, he brought the tricopter he first built in 2010 with him. The small aircraft is on its third design. He’d rigged it with a $300 high-definition video camera, got the necessary permissions to fly over various spots—he’s very conscious of the legalities attaching to flying and prying eyes: “I’d never break any of the rules,” he says—and let it loose over Flagler, chiefly at the resort itself and along the Flagler shore, near the Flagler Beach pier. He then edited the footage, added a bouncy soundtrack—Imagine Dragons’ “On Top of the World”—and launched his latest FPV, or First Person View, on YouTube.
Lucas Weekley’s Palm Coast Adventure
The result is a bracing look at some of Flagler County’s more impressive vistas as you’ve likely never seen them before, at times at waves’ or dunes’ crests, at times from what literally is a bird’s eye view, all rendered in sharp, warmly lit images. (It certainly beats Palm Coast’s technically accomplished but, despite a couple of aerial shots of its own, atrociously rhymed marketing video.) Weakley has a sense of humor, too. He’d miscalculated the craft’s staying power—he’s held it aloft for a maximum of 12 minutes in one flight, but its electrical engine can run out of power in as little as three minutes, at full throttle—and nearly lost it in the ocean ion Flagler Beach. Instead, the final moments of the flight show it rapidly arcing high near the Flagler Beach pier, then descending rapidly toward the water, as if for a landing, but crashing instead in the surf. You can hear the water fry one of the motors.
“Unfortunately something happened, I don’t know, I didn’t have enough power I guess,” Weakley said by phone from his home in Ocala. But the camera was saved, unscathed. He’s made other videos from trips to Key West and Illinois. (See below.)
It all started when he was 10. That was after his Legos phase, which he credits for giving him an interest in building things. “I kind of dropped it for a while because it was too hard for my schedule, but then I picked it back up when electric planes and helicopters became easier to build,” he says.
He’s from a family of creative minds. His younger brother Max wants to be a professional photographer, like his father—Kent Weakley, who’s also a graphic design artist. His mother, Maggie, draws and paints animal portraits.
On flights and shoots, Lucas is at the controls, and his father is his spotter. The copter can go as far as a mile away from his controls, as long as it’s still within sight. It’s not allowed to go higher than 400 feet (though it could certainly climb higher). It’s not allowed to go over private property without the property owner’s permission. And Weakley says the camera is not so keen as to be able to catch snooping images through windows, even when the craft happens to hover over public property.
That, of course, is what is becoming a worry for privacy advocates—not because of what amateurs may do with their crafts, but because of what police and government are beginning to do with minuscule unmanned drones in American skies.
For Weekley, there’s no room for worry in a juggling act between his various brands: BusyBee TV, BusyBee Productions, BusyBee Extras. Lucky Ocala.
From BusyBee Productions: Key West
From BusyBee Productions: Illinois