Annalisa Russell-Smith continues pioneering aviation tradition

Posted on 16 October, 2020 by Advance 

Professional drone pilot Annalisa Russell-Smith is following in the footsteps of pioneers Amelia Earhart and Amy Johnson as the aviation industry enters a whole new age.


Annalisa Russell-Smith at the controls during BVLOS training.
Courtesy Flyby Technology

Annalisa is one of the first civilians to be able to fly a drone not only out of visual sight but operating one in another country while here in the UK - heralding in a new future for aviation.

Her grandfather was a fighter pilot in the First World War and Annalisa said: “The world was a rapidly changing place when my grandfather first took to the skies in 1916 but the change is even more rapid now when it comes to drones. Work-class drones flown BVLOS are about to become a massive force for good across the world in ways people could never have imagined only a few years ago. The aviation industry is entering a new chapter. The future of aviation is in remotely piloted aircraft and we will soon be seeing drones in a completely different light.

“Drones are now often used for filming, surveying buildings and doing aerial inspections. In the future they will become high technology aerial workhorses and will be used in truly visionary, life-changing and life-saving ways. Drones will have a positive impact on millions of lives and the way they can be used will be limited only by our imagination.

“I could soon be flying drones remotely anywhere in the world from the UK and that’s incredibly exciting.”

Drones capable of carrying heavy loads are ideal for humanitarian emergencies such as taking water, food and medical supplies into remote regions after natural disasters including earthquakes, floods and tsunamis. These large drones operating BVLOS could even rescue people from tall structures such as buildings, cranes and oil rigs.

Flying is in Annalisa’s family heritage. She said: “I’ve always been interested in aviation as my grandfather, Allan Russell-Smith, was a World War I fighter pilot who volunteered from the Royal Scots in 1916 to join the Royal Flying Corps.

“My dad, David, would tell tales of the Fairey Swordfish biplane torpedo bomber that flew off the deck of the Merchant Aircraft Carrier he served on as a radio officer during World War II.

“But it was the Spitfire that I dreamed of flying when I started primary school in Hursley, the Hampshire village where the Supermarine Spitfire design team were based decades before during World War II. Sadly, the RAF were still not recruiting women as pilots by the time I was old enough to join but I took every opportunity I could to be up in the air.

“I always loved reading about the achievements of pioneering female aviators such as Amelia Earhart and Amy Johnson but I never dreamed I would be among the first civilians to be flying work-class drones BVLOS. It’s a great time to be involved in this industry.”

Amelia Earhart was the first female aviator to fly solo across the Atlantic Ocean in 1928 while Amy Johnson became the first woman to fly solo to Australia in 1930.

Annalisa, who is a filmmaker and photojournalist, realised while working on documentaries and short films as a camera operator just how useful drones can be to give a whole range of different camera angles. After breaking her ankle last year she went through a long recovery which made her think long and hard about learning new skills and that’s when she discovered the UK drone training company, Flyby Technology.  

All Flyby’s instructors are former RAF or Royal Navy fighter pilots, combat helicopter pilots or Civil Aviation Authority instructors.

Annalisa said: “I wanted to be the best drone pilot I could be and to do that I knew I had to be trained by the very best. Flyby stood out more than head and shoulders from other drone training companies.

“I quickly discovered they are looking at using drones at a level no-one else is seeing yet. My eyes were opened to a whole new world of business and career possibilities with the mentorship to achieve pretty much anything I can dream up.”

She added: “I wanted deep knowledge when flying drones to anticipate any problems well ahead but also to deal with them quickly and decisively when the unexpected happens. I’ve learned far more than I ever thought because they are not simply teaching what you need to know to pass an exam.

“During my training and in my BVLOS exam I had to deal with multiple emergencies in real time. I surprised myself handling each situation the way I had been trained. Flyby’s instructors understand how I learn and everyone is different. I’ve gone from being afraid of failing an exam to looking forward to passing them. It’s a complete mindshift and a real confidence booster that’s had a positive effect on all aspects of life for me.”