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Retired RCAF combat instructor returns to Sarnia, swaps wings for drones

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Pam Wright

David Cooke’s latest venture is ready for take off.

The former RCAF pilot is the founder of Canda, which provides high definition video using the latest drone technology.

“I just want to have fun and make a little money on the side,” Cooke explained of his new business.

The Sarnia native, who travelled the world during a storied 20-year military career, is using a Chinese Phantom 4 that came on the market just three months ago.

It’s operated with a touch screen iPad and features automatic sensors that direct it around objects. Its camera can capture 4K video at 30 frames per second.

“There’s nothing else like it,” Cooke said.

Prior to buying the Phantom, Cooke spent six month researching and another six months assembling his own drone.

“Building that taught me about the technology,” he said. “It was a big, steep learning curve. The first day I flew it I crashed it.”

A combat flight instructor who logged 3,000 hours in low-flying helicopters, Cooke said drones are a way to keep his hand in the game.

“I built the first drone because I don’t want to own an airplane,” he joked.

Cooke grew up on North Christina Street and caught the flight bug early. At age 10 he watched the Golden Hawks airshow roar overhead, the pilots keeping their F-86 Sabre fighter jets in tight formation.

“I knew I had to do that,” he said.

He earned his pilot license at 17 and joined the air force the next year. Realizing he couldn’t rise through the ranks without a degree, he studied mathematics and physics.

He and Chris Hadfield attended the Royal Military College of Canada at the same time but, ironically, the two Sarnians never met.

Cooke’s career was a busy one. He flew Sabre fighter jets in Germany with the 444 Squadron, was part of the military’s first satellite tracking program and worked in space operations six years. He was even picked as a candidate for astronaut training but lost out to Marc Garneau.

Cooke flew with the Canadian Snowbirds and had hoped to continue with fighter jets, but budget restraints intervened. He was destined to fly helicopters and achieved the rank of Major in the RCAF.

After leaving the military he worked in the private sector and retired to Sarnia with wife Vanda several years ago. They met at Northern Collegiate and have been married 45 years.

“Sarnia is home,” he said.

As Cooke masters the art of aerial photography he’s preparing to offer training courses to the public.

Transport Canada tightly regulates where and when drones can be flown, and not understanding the rules can cost operators up to $25,000 in fines and jail time.

Though the business has only been open several weeks Cooke has already completed some commercial work. And recently he provided The Journal with drone shots of a shipwreck lying just offshore from his old stomping ground at Canatara Beach.

For more on David Cooke and Canda visit www.inskyphoto.com

David Cooke holds a drone he built before launching his own aerial photo and video business. Glenn Ogilvie
David Cooke holds a drone he built before launching his own aerial photo and video business.
Glenn Ogilvie
David Cooke with his state-of-the-art Phantom 4 in Centennial Park. Glenn Ogilvie
David Cooke with his state-of-the-art Phantom 4 in Centennial Park.
Glenn Ogilvie

 

 

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