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Curious About The Small Plane Circling Overhead Recently? It’s Researching City’s Construction Boom

No, that plane flying over Chicago isn't Big Brother — it's Big Real Estate Data.

Jackson Park, the proposed home of the Obama Presidential Center.
AJ LaTrace/Block Club Chicago
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DOWNTOWN — For over a week, a low-flying small aircraft making daily flights over the city and surrounding suburbs was spotted by residents throughout Chicago.

The plane, a Cessna Caravan owned and operated by the commercial real estate information database CoStar, was gathering data and images of new construction in the greater Chicago metro area.

The team wrapped up its latest assignment in Chicago prior to Thanksgiving.

Overseeing the effort is aerial research photographer Amber Surrency, a United States Marine Corps veteran based in Florida.

For the Chicago assignment, the team was tasked with updating imagery and information on over 400 sites.

“We’ll fly each market gathering construction data while verifying the status and collecting images on known construction properties,” Surrency said. “Anything new we find is submitted to the research gatherers.”

Surrency and crew complete two three-hour flights each day and document high-resolution images and other data utilizing a 6K RED Dragon camera mounted to a carbon fiber Cineflex stabilization system.

Surrency, who was in Chicago for an assignment at the same time last year, said she has documented a noticeable increase in new multi-unit buildings and hotels. And with numerous mega-developments in advanced planning stages, the city’s landscape will continue to change dramatically in the coming years.

Chicago’s notoriously unpredictable weather and congested airspace presents challenges to completing the entire assignment in the alloted time. However, Surrency said the team does typically complete a market on schedule.

Despite the growing popularity of drones for video and imagery, Surrency said that using a small aircraft is much more efficient, allowing the team to cover more territory and ultimately complete more research. Small aircrafts are also more conducive to covering data points in both developed urban and rural areas, she adds.

“We fly in the plane for five to six hours per day, while a drone can only fly for about 20 to 30 minutes per battery,” Surrency said. “With pilots, you can also coordinate with restricted airspace while drones are limited to line of sight.”

Covering 136 different metro areas throughout the country, Surrency said Chicago is one of the most unique markets to document.

“Flying over the lakefront and Sears Tower is always an amazing experience,” she said.

Reporter AJ LaTrace rode along for a flight. Here are some photos he took:

Credit: AJ LaTrace/Block Club Chicago
The Chicago’s Tribune printing center, known as the Freedom Center, site of proposed new development.
Credit: AJ LaTrace/Block Club Chicago
The vacant land known as “The 78” because it could be Chicago’s 77th neighborhood. It’s south of Roosevelt along the Chicago River.
Credit: AJ LaTrace/Block Club Chicago
Here’s the old Main Post Office you drive under when on the Eisenhower Expy.
Credit: AJ LaTrace/Block Club Chicago
The property slated to hold the new “Lincoln Yards” development at the border of Bucktown and Lincoln Park.
Credit: AJ LaTrace/Block Club Chicago
Jackson Park, the proposed home of the Obama Presidential Library.
Credit: AJ LaTrace/Block Club Chicago
Inside the Cessna flying over Chicago.
Credit: AJ LaTrace/Block Club Chicago
Looking up the Chicago River.
Credit: AJ LaTrace/Block Club Chicago
Credit: AJ LaTrace/Block Club Chicago
Credit: AJ LaTrace/Block Club Chicago
Credit: AJ LaTrace/Block Club Chicago
Credit: AJ LaTrace/Block Club Chicago
Credit: AJ LaTrace/Block Club Chicago