Drone alone: aerial acrobatics of the ‘Nerdling’

Zephyrin maintains one of his drones. Photo: Aidan JG Photography

Professionally certified drone pilot Zephyrin Jaros-Grilli talks to the Sentinel about his niche eye-in-the-sky career, which helps keep Sydney’s beaches safe. Youth editor Corin Shearston serves the story.

Since being born 24 years ago, Zephyrin Jaros-Grilli has been a self-confessed ‘tech wizard’. Descended from Italian and Czech immigrants alongside his twin brother Aidan, born before their younger brother Mariner, Zephyrin spent a comfortable upbringing in Katoomba, where he quickly discovered a deep love of electronics and gadgetry.

The Jaros-Grilli twins soon rebelled against the public education system, discovering far more with tools and their hands then they ever wanted to with textbooks and worksheets. They also developed some of their passions into careers. 

With Aidan now practicing as a photographer near Blacktown, Zephyrin lives near Parramatta, flying drones for The Ripper Group as well as running his own business, Zephyr Drone Photography, and maintaining the Instagram and YouTube accounts of Nerdling FPV (First Person View). Using FPV means that pilots can see what drone cameras see in real time, through the use of an immersive headset.

PC Mag define drones as small, remotely controlled unmanned flying vehicles, used for entertainment or for capturing photos and footage. Zephyrin is now helping to keep Sydney beaches safe with his drone pilot skills.

Describing his career path, he tells the Sentinel, “It’s awesome…it’s opened up all sorts of doors for me.” 

Zephyrin focuses on flying one of his drones. Photo: Aidan JG Photography.

After graduating from remote controlled planes and cars in pursuit of exhilaration, Zephyrin accepted an internship from The Ripper Group in late 2017, with help from the ETC employment agency at Port Macquarie. True to his straightforward nature, Zephyrin views his entering of the drone industry as an inevitable thing.

“They’re awesome bits of tech,” he enthuses.

Zephyrin has now completed over 3500 flights from Port Macquarie, Newcastle and Wollongong to Sydney, the Blue Mountains and Bathurst.

“I’m pretty happy with how it’s going,” he tells the Sentinel. “The drone industry is good to get into … the technology is here, it just needs to get a bit more mainstream.”

Zephyrin’s photo of the day from 22 July, 2020. Photo: Zephyr Drone Photography.

When working for The Ripper Group, Zephyrin often rotates around a 5am wakeup, five days a week, in which he commutes to different beaches to fly custom drones, scouting the surf for dangerous conditions, marine predators and other sea life.

Upon encountering signs of trouble, he can then deploy flotation devices, first aid kits and shark deterrents, while communicating to lifeguards via walkie-talkie. Zephyrin’s quick-thinking drone pilot skills have now helped to warn swimmers of sharks while collecting visual evidence of dolphins, turtles, stingrays, and massive schools of fish.

Zephyrin recalls that he once saw a school of around 30 bull sharks near a river mouth off the Port Macquarie coast.

“Dolphins’ tails move up and down, shark tails move side to side … so you can tell them apart instantly,” he says. 

Zephyrin’s photo of the day from 17 September, 2020. Photo: Zephyr Drone Photography

In his free time, Zephyrin enjoys learning new flight tricks and racing drones around tracks with other pilots, although he also savours the relaxation of drone-based photography.

A custom flight simulator program called Liftoff enables him to practice aerial manoeuvres at home, using an FPV headset, instead of risking damage to $500 drones in the field … and the paddock.

Zephyrin is quick to state his frustrations at reckless members of the amateur drone community, who may have lent an annoying reputation to fellow professional pilots through being unaware of the laws laid out by the Civil Aviation Safety Authority (CASA).

Video: Zephyrin flies one of his drones in a remote region of NSW. Video: NerdlingFPV/YouTube.

For aspiring drone pilots, Zephyrin notes five or six Sydney drone clubs, with a few scattered along the coast. Nevertheless, beginner pilots need to be practicing their own safe flights with their own drones before applying for an aviation reference number on the CASA website, which is regularly updated with the latest industry requirements.

For those coping with natural nerves or the disorientation of the FPV headset, Zephyrin leaves the Sentinel with one piece of advice: “Just keep flyin’.”