Three days a week, Joe Tegtmeyer wakes up well before dawn, boots up his Tesla Model S, and makes a ninety-minute commute from his home in Bulverde, just north of San Antonio, to a dusty, windblown construction site near Austin-Bergstrom International Airport. Usually arriving by 7:30 a.m., the 57-year-old retired Air Force pilot with degrees in aeronautical and astronautical engineering spends about two hours flying his fleet of three DJI Mavic quadcopter drones over the property where Tesla, Elon Musk’s electric car company, is building a factory.

Tegtmeyer doesn’t work for Tesla. He is an enthusiast—part aerial-photography hobbyist, part active member of a burgeoning Elon Musk fan community. By his own estimation, Tegtmeyer has spent about fifty hours per week over the past eighteen months shooting drone footage and producing videos that document in meticulous detail the progress of Tesla’s 2,000-acre Giga Texas plant in the tiny town of Del Valle, east of Austin. The sprawling, $1.1 billion Tesla complex, which Travis County lured with generous tax incentives amounting to $1,200 per each of the five thousand workers expected to be employed there, is planned to be the company’s primary factory for its in-development Cybertruck and Semi vehicles, and it will also produce two models of Tesla cars, as well as batteries.

In his videos, Tegtmeyer identifies various pieces of factory equipment and notes how they will fit into the finished puzzle of the Giga Texas plant. That’s earned him a worldwide following on YouTube, where recent videos have garnered more than 20,000 views each. And lately Tegtmeyer has been telling viewers that he believes Giga Texas is ready to start churning out cars any day now. “They’re beyond testing and calibration,” Tegtmeyer tells me on a recent morning by the side of Texas Highway 130, his cheeks rosy from his having stood on a raised embankment in near-freezing temperatures trying to get a good angle for his drone shots. “They’re at that cusp where they could make them.” Recently, filming through windows when the light is right, Tegtmeyer has captured footage of Model Y test bodies being painted inside the factory.

Tesla Gigafactory Joe Tegtmeyer
Joe Tegtmeyer. Courtesy of Joe Tegtmeyer
Tesla Gigafactory
A view into the Gigafactory. Courtesy of Joe Tegtmeyer

He correctly predicted that Tesla, which did not respond to a request for comment, might announce that Giga Texas is operational at its shareholder meeting on January 26. (An earlier version of this story noted that Tegtmeyer had expected that announcement, on that day, well ahead of time.) Indeed, Tesla said in an earnings release on January 26 that it had begun building Model Ys late last year in Del Valle. (Another drone operator who films at Giga Texas, Jeff Roberts, had recently spotted multiple Tesla Model Ys charging in a lot at the site, but it was unclear whether they’d been built there.) Tegtmeyer cautions that production is likely to start slowly because Tesla uses something called “agile project management” that allows the company to start building Model Y SUVs even before the entire production line is ready. Tegtmeyer guesses that the factory won’t be ready to produce the science-fiction-worthy Cybertruck for another year.

Unlike the Model Y, the Cybertruck is a new product for Tesla, meaning the company has to build a different kind of factory to make it. On the day we meet, Tegtmeyer excitedly reports that he’s just witnessed new, beefy steel rails being delivered to the Giga Texas site that will be used to move massive overhead cranes used in casting the Cybertruck underbody. These rails are as long as a semitrailer, and are six or seven feet tall and three or four feet wide. “I did a video a couple of days ago where I was able to look inside at night and you could see the rails,” he says. “Cybertruck production is what Giga Texas is really known for, and there’s millions of reservations for those. Everybody wants to know, ‘When are they gonna build the Cybertruck?’”

To be clear, Tegtmeyer claims no insider knowledge of Tesla’s plans, even though he says many viewers of his videos, which often include detailed voice-over explanations of what his drones discover, are Tesla investors. Other viewers, he says, are construction nerds and environmentalists. Then there are those like him, who are drawn to the technological accomplishments of Musk and his companies, which are working on everything from becoming an electricity provider to building self-driving cars to launching crews for interplanetary travel. Tegtmeyer acknowledges that the world’s richest man who has relocated Tesla and his own home to Texas can sometimes be “nasty” when pushing back against those who criticize him, but, he says, “You need somebody like an Elon Musk, for good or for bad, to push the envelope. If you don’t have people like that, nothing gets done.”

Tegtmeyer, who retired from the Air Force in 2013 and works part-time restoring old Porsche cars, began filming Giga Texas after discovering that Tesla aficionados had developed followings drone-photographing Tesla factories in cities around the world, including in Berlin and Shanghai, where the company’s only other “Gigafactories” primarily devoted to electric vehicle production are located. When construction started in Del Valle, Tegtmeyer was one of four drone pilots who went regularly to film there. They called themselves the “quad squad,” but two of the squad members have since stopped filming. Now, only Roberts and Tegtmeyer regularly fly drones over the site.

Drone pilots aren’t the only visitors making pilgrimages to Giga Texas. In his visits to the site, Tegtmeyer often runs across what can only be called Musk tourists—people from far-flung parts of the U.S. and Europe who have come to see the new factory and are often on their way to Boca Chica to also gawk at Starbase, a production facility, test site, and spaceport for SpaceX, Musk’s rocket and spaceflight company. If Boca Chica weren’t so far from his home, Tegtmeyer says, he’d be filming Starbase instead of Giga Texas. (As others have done.) He describes himself as a “huge space nerd” and traces his Musk fandom to the recent Texas transplant’s attempts to revive space travel and exploration. This is deeply personal for Tegtmeyer: He attended the Air Force Academy in the mid-eighties with the dream of becoming an astronaut, but his plans were scuttled after NASA cut back its manned space program in the wake of the 1986 Space Shuttle Challenger disaster. Instead, he ended up spending much of his career flying the Boeing KC-135 Stratotanker, an aerial refueling aircraft Tegtmeyer refers to as a “flying gas station.”

“Within my lifetime, we basically stopped our space program,” he tells me. “I mean, we did some stuff, but we had so much promise and we stopped it. With Musk, we have a hope of returning back to that path we were on.”

Standing on the side of Texas Highway 130, not far from the newly renamed Tesla Road, Tegtmeyer talks about Giga Texas a bit like a garden he’s getting ready to plant himself. He points out where the battery factory will be and, across the highway, where he suspects a test-driving track will be built for the Cybertruck electric truck. He speculates there might also be a SpaceX factory here, for home satellite dishes that receive the company’s Starlink internet service from outer space, plus design studios and perhaps even some kind of university. “I’m curious about everything,” he says. “I want to know, okay, what are they doing? Why are they doing that? What is that stuff right there? What is it going to become? You know, to me, it’s pretty cool.”

Between Patreon support and YouTube ads, Tegtmeyer is able to cover the costs of his travel, equipment, and drone flying license “and then some,” he says. But he insists his main objective at Giga Texas isn’t to make money but instead to share what’s happening in Del Valle with a global audience of fellow Tesla fans and technology junkies, some of whom study and discuss Tegtmeyer’s YouTube videos in intricate detail. Commenters have counted the number of Tesla “bodies in white,” or partly constructed vehicles, that can be seen in one video, and in others have pointed out when workers wave at the drones overhead. Some of those workers were initially wary of his drones, Tegtmeyer says. But he believes that’s changed as he’s gotten to know many of them over the past eighteen months. “I told them to think of it this way,” Tegtmeyer says. “How many times in your life are you ever gonna work on something that the world is watching?”

Update: This story has been amended to reflect Tesla’s January 26 announcement that production has begun at its factory outside of Austin, as Joe Tegtmeyer had predicted.