/News 14.03.23


Working with drones is an exciting line of work, although it’s not a field that many females typically choose to pursue. Meet Allie Bardes, Production Coordinator at Heliguy, who shares her journey in this Q&A. She’s worked her way up from an Office Assistant to Production Coordinator and Drone Operator. Allie proves that being a young mum doesn’t prevent the pursuit of an exciting and rewarding career.

Can you tell us a little bit about your journey at Heliguy so far:
How did you become a Production Coordinator and long have you been in your role? 

Two years ago, I applied for an Office/Production Assistant role at a drone company. “Drones,” I thought to myself – sure, ok. This should be entirely different from every other job I had thus far.

My previous experience with drones was with an X-Wing Star Wars drone I was given for Christmas a few years past, I played with it a handful of times and just loved it. When I stepped into the Heliguy office, it felt like I was walking into a Starship station, with massive multi-rotor aircraft hanging from the ceiling, along the walls, and displayed on the tables. The intricately laid out workshop was filled with so many bits and bolts I didn’t know where to look, but I was in awe. I had met my challenge but was ready to dive in. I didn’t realise at the time just how much of this world I would consume.

I started as an Office Assistant, supporting Guy with the daily production/admin responsibilities, after quickly getting the hang of things, I moved into more of a Production Coordinator/Manager role. The promotion to Production Coordinator happened early, and I’m gaining confidence and enjoying it more all the time. There’s a learning curve, but there’s progress. It’s different from other production roles, as we’re involved in multiple productions across Australia at any given time, and I must manage all of them at the same time. 

I’m enjoying it so much, I fight for every chance I get to go on set, I’ve been levelling up my skills and have become a licenced drone operator. So whether it be an assistant on Heavylift (drone) jobs, or as the actual drone operator on Inspire 2 jobs, I want to dive right in!

Allie flying the Heavylift drone

You’re originally from the US, what brought you to Australia? 

I met my Aussie partner in New Mexico, while I was working at Vermejo Park Ranch, a guest resort that restores wilderness populations. He had come to film an episode of Leave No Trace TV (luxury eco-tourism TV show), I offered to help them film since I’d studied mass communications at UNCA. Following that, I was invited to LA to help them film an interview with one of the executives at Paramount Studios. We then travelled the world together filming for Leave No Trace TV, in unbelievable locations including the Masai Mara in Kenya, the Patagonian rainforest in Chile, the Zagora mountainous region of Greece, and of course – Australia! 

We travelled often enough to sustain a relationship and had our baby girl near my home in America. I lived and worked near my family in America for almost the entire first year of her life, then made the big move to Australia. It was me, a baby, and four checked bags on a big plane. 

My partner’s production business is based in Sydney, so it wasn’t really an option for him to relocate. I wanted my daughter to be close to her father, and of course, we all wanted to be together. Sydney also appealed to me for having ample opportunities to work in the screen industry, better school systems for my daughter, and the real major draw for me – the seafood! 

Speaking of parenthood, how has it been for you juggling the work/life balance as a mother? 

My Mom was a strong, single mother and was involved in our school for many of the sports we played. She was a tomboy, and tough, yet compassionate and selfless. I derive my inspiration as a mother; my strength, independence, and courage from her. 

The hardest job in the world is to be a parent and to try to be a good one at that. I am a young mom, building my career from the ground up, and I like to think I’m doing it for her. She gives me the motivation to succeed no matter what obstacles I’m facing. At the end of the day, I want to provide both stability and inspiration to my daughter as a woman in this ever-evolving world and I want her to know that anything is possible if you work hard enough. I know that she will be proud of me one day and that alone gets me through the long hours of wishing I was together with her. 

Allie and Grace

I love working, and I love being a mom. Finding the balance is the greatest challenge because my work self is quite different to my mom self. I am fully involved with work when I’m working, and I need to be fully attentive when I’m being a parent, too. It’s like being two sides of a coin and having to switch between modes, kind of like operating a drone, I guess! I find that my experience being a mother helps me deal with people and problems that arise in the industry. It’s like survival instincts and the awareness that you need as a parent and on the field. 

As a Production Coordinator, what does your job entail on a day-to-day basis? 

Besides pulling my hair out of my head? (laughs)
I take job bookings and arrange the schedule so our Sydney/Brisbane/Melbourne teams can all do the jobs that come in without turning away work. I coordinate the equipment and timing logistics so that all the crew and drone equipment can make it on/off the jobs in time, ensuring everyone gets enough rest in between. I also delegate to members of the team wherever necessary.
Frequently, allocation of our crew needs to be finalised at the last minute, this is due to production schedule changes, or weather. This can make it difficult to confirm the crew in advance. However, to maintain the job we have to ensure we remain available for rescheduled dates. That’s when the real mental power comes in: It’s like a jigsaw puzzle, fitting together all the pieces that go into achieving a top-notch and successful drone operation every time while dealing with ever-shifting schedules and maintaining our reliable reputation.

In the workshop

In addition to organising crew and equipment, I also organise quotes; check the airspace for potentially required permits. I start the conversation around safety/lockdowns, then pass it on to relevant parties. I send the invoices for every job we do, make travel bookings for the crew when production is unable to (occasionally). I look after accounts, pay contractors and bills and assist in the hiring process of employees. Last year I started assisting the drone team on set for heavylift jobs like feature films and TVCs.

Now I’m making use of my Remote Pilot’s License by operating the drone on as many local Inspire 2 jobs as possible. These days I try to get all the production work done early so I can justify going on set or practising my piloting skills in the field.

Carrying the Heavylift drone

Through the grapevine, you passed your pilot license test at the Civil Aviation Safety Authority with flying colours. Congrats!
What does this enable you to fly/what can you operate? 

Thank you!! I wouldn’t say it was with “flying colours!” The course material was challenging for me, as a beginner in this tech world, and it isn’t exactly designed to be easy. We know people who’ve failed the test and retaken it two or three times. To legally fly drones as a pilot in command in Australia, it’s crucial to have a solid understanding of the extensive rules and regulations governing drone operations. Any failure to comply can result in heavy consequences.

I was so relieved when I passed. I think I shrieked and knelt to the floor, and the guys at the office ran up the stairs and asked “oh no, you didn’t pass?” and I responded “I DID IT!” Jumping up and down and clapping excitedly like a girly girl, they tapped their fist to my shoulder like a bro – which is just the way it ought to be. 

I’m certified to operate multi-rotor RPA’s (Remotely Piloted Aircraft) of up to 7kgs on commercial jobs.

With Remote Pilot Licence Certification
With Heavylift drone

This makes you one of the very few females doing this kind of work, can you comment on what it has been like for you being a female in a male-dominated space? 

I don’t really notice a difference from my being a female in this space, other than the fact that not many females are doing it. People might be surprised when I show up as the Pilot for jobs, but it doesn’t bother me, I’m just there to fly it. I don’t think to myself, “if only I were a man this would come easier to me.”

It might bring me more attention, more eyes on me and maybe it raises awareness in the industry. It’s a cool feeling knowing that people don’t expect it from me and that I’m able to just get on with it. I like that.

BTS with the Heliguy team

I always felt that women have superpowers too. And without comparing or giving less opportunity to one gender over the other, we’re all human, here to do what we came to do – living and existing in the same way. It’s only a matter of time before the general population starts believing in equality on a grander level, and then equity in the workplace will follow.

I think anyone who wants to be a UAV (Unmanned Aerial Vehicle) pilot, can. If you work hard enough for it, practice and really want it, you can. That’s what all the UAV pilots I know of did, they liked it and followed through. I’m lucky that I’m so supported by all the guys in my team to pursue my flying passion, oftentimes they’re even more confident in my capabilities than I am! They’ve really embraced me on this journey, and I wouldn’t have been able to do it so freely without them.

I want to be a good pilot, not just a “female pilot”.

With FPV (First Person View) indoors

Did you have hobbies growing up that fostered your career path today?

My brother and I were close growing up, with only two years between us. So, I was used to “bro-talk,” doing sporty things outside, and gaming with him and his network of online friends. He was an avid gamer, and still is! We mostly played Call of Duty Modern Warfare 2 and some PC games. They always liked having a girl play the game. I think that having a gaming background can help translate into operating drones later in real life. 

My dad is one of those people who deconstructed his first computer so he could rebuild it like an engineer – he designed our horse farm and engineered the aqueducts to regulate the rainfall around the property. He knows code, and he always had a workshop at home, I loved to listen to him explain how things work, and what he was building.

My experience growing up with my brother gaming and being able to “bro down” with him and being around my dad’s DIY engineering projects probably prepared me for this tech world. I feel comfortable and enjoy going to work with all the guys, I love learning from them and they’ve always been so keen to teach me this stuff. 

With Heliguy team mate, Bryan

What do you love about working with the team at Heliguy? 

There are so many looney-tunes moments of die-hard laughter and camaraderie between us all. We support each other, and we push each other to be better and better. I love the moments of struggle, where we all test our boundaries of patience and personal perseverance and I love the moments of clarity when we’ve collectively found a solution to a problem we’d been facing.

The best times are when we know it’s busy, when it’s hard, pressures are high, and we almost naturally switch into this survival mode of being calm, cool and collected to get through it. When tensions are high in the office, there’s always at least one person who stays positive for the rest of us to piggyback from. We are a team. We laugh together, we cry together, and we grow together as a unit. 

The Heliguy team

When you’re not working, what do you like to do for fun? What do you get up to in your free time? 

I absolutely must have physical exercise during the week. I go to the gym every morning before going to the office. After dropping off my little one to daycare, I go to the gym (which is a new thing for me – living in the city) and I do the most challenging HIIT classes to get my head in the game for the day. This is critical to my routine because when I’m at work, it’s full-on. 

I do most of the cooking (and cleaning) at home. Cooking I really enjoy – food being a hobby of mine. The cleaning, you can say, is the bane of my existence. 

On the weekends, I volunteer at OzHarvest, which has been a great way for me to give back to the community and to make a good group of friends here in Australia. 

When I have free time, I like to paint watercolours and oils with my daughter or take her rock climbing. We like doing anything outdoorsy, adventurous, and swimming-related. 

What’s your favourite film of all time and why? 

I love classic heroism – good triumphing over evil – with lots of adventure, a little bit of a love story, and a sci-fi/fantasy/historical fiction twist. Some of my faves are Star Wars (the originals – episodes IV, V, VI), Lord of the Rings (mostly Fellowship and Return of the King), Cecil B. Demille’s Ten Commandments, and Titanic

Thanks so much Allie. Any advice for people wanting to enter the industry/any parting words?

At first, knowing nothing about UAVs can be overwhelming, it can be a bit daunting initially. Then you grasp the concept, the basics, and you discover there’s still heaps more to explore. If you want to consider becoming a drone operator, there’s no better time than now to start learning. 

I always wanted to do something meaningful with my life. I am not sure yet where my career is heading, but I am sure that the steps I’m taking are heading in the right direction. Perhaps in the future, we can affect parts of the world by using drone technology. Whether it’s through working on cinematic projects that impact the viewers in some way – or at the very least, by doing what I do in a male-dominated industry, I could encourage other women to do the same.