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Thursday, June 5, 2003

By Preston Sparks
Staff Writer

North Augusta resident Damon Comparetta loves to fly, and he loves to take pictures. When he combines the two, his shutter finger is capable of freezing an Augusta-area landscape with rolling hills and plenty of construction projects onto a disc.

"It's a planning tool," said Mr. Comparetta, whose business is aerial photography. Mr. Comparetta, who rents an airplane at Aiken Municipal Airport, started Aerial Photos last month and runs it from an office inside his North Augusta home. He has recently been shooting photos of the Palmetto Parkway construction for the project's contractor to keep up with its progress. He also has photographed the Old McDonald Fish Camp in North Augusta. He has shot photos for a Movie Gallery being built near Langley Pond on U.S. Highway 1 and is planning to shoot photos for North Augusta's riverfront project.
"You have some rolling hills here, which is nice," said Mr. Comparetta, who moved to North Augusta from the Pensacola, Fla., area.

Mr. Comparetta flies with co-pilot Dick Hawkins so he can take photos through an open window with a digital camera. Together, Mr. Comparetta said the two have a combined 73 years of flight experience, "which makes us probably the most highly experienced aerial photographers, at least in the Southeast." Mr. Comparetta served in the Marines from 1989 to 1997 and became the captain and commanding officer of a Marine aviation logistics squadron. He also has been a certified flight instructor since 1997.
He said that when he flies, restrictions require him to stay at an altitude of 500 feet above farms and other sparsely populated areas. However, in heavily populated locations, he must stay at 1,000 feet.

Since the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks, pilots must also stay at a 3,000 foot altitude and three miles away from any gathering of 30,000 or more people, he said. That restriction doesn't affect Mr. Comparetta's business, though, because he usually photographs everything from farms for an owner's personal use to new construction projects where crowds will soon visit. He said his biggest project right now is the Palmetto Parkway work, which involves the extension of the Bobby Jones Expressway from the Savannah River into North Augusta. "I go up once every other month for them," he said, but noted that he usually flies for aerial photos on other projects about twice a week.

He said he now is looking to grow his customer base, with plans to photograph the new construction of a classroom building at Augusta State University and an addition to the Augusta Museum of History. For Mr. Comparetta, it's a love he's had since childhood.
"I knew I wanted to be a pilot when I was 6," he said, noting that his father was in the Navy as an aircraft maintenance chief. "I used to build little plane models when I was a child. And my dad used to take me out to the squadron."

While on visits to the airport in Pensacola about 14 years ago, he cultivated his love for photography while watching military planes land. "Most of my photography is all centered around aviation," he said. And today, that love continues. Inside his office, a model airplane adorns the wall and an aeronautical clock and mug can be found at his desk.

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