You seem them everywhere. Drones are the wave of the future. Formerly reserved for the military, drones are now available for personal amusement and for a number of commercial uses. They can be utilized in agriculture, for instance, for planting, surveying, obtaining growth data, and even precision spraying. They can monitor animals to gather data on disease vectors in remote locations. You can run large inventory assessments in mining and construction operations. The uses are endless and as such, a commercial license means that you can go out there and get your piece of the pie. So, what is involved when it comes to drone training? In today’s article we are going to discuss what you need to know, everything from training resources, to salary, testing, and the industry itself. If you are serious about remote piloting then you are in the right place. Let’s talk about drone training!
Are you looking for a commercial license?
First, you need to decide if you are looking for a commercial license or simply just want to be very, very good at flying your own personal drone. Either option is good but if you want to make money doing what you love then it’s going to take a little work and dedication. The good news is that there are free resources out there for both options and if you just want to be able to fly your drone more skillfully then you can learn with the higher-end resources anyways, just in case you decide to go pro. Speaking of which, what kind of salary do pros make? We’re glad that you asked!
How much money do drone pilots make?
How much you can make depends on a number of factors but we’ve broken it down a little so that you can get a better idea. First, you should know some of the job titles. For instance, UAV (unmanned aerial vehicle) operator, UAS (unmanned aircraft system) pilot, or even ‘drone operator’ are some common standards that you’ll hear. The first, UAV operator, is the common military operations term and lists the lowest salary on searches, starting at around 33 – 40k per year. UAS pilot lists as higher, earning around 60 -70k per year, while a ‘drone operator’ can get up to 80k a year. Keep in mind that the last term is more generic and so it is likely that much of this data covers a wide range of applications. Commercial drone flying on the higher end of the spectrum often involves interpreting the data that the drone is collecting, so it is not necessarily limited to simply flying the drone. You’ll need to decide what specific field you are looking to break in to if you want some more exact numbers but we hope that this will help you to get started!
How hard is the FAA drone test?
If you are thinking to yourself, “I’m a great pilot, I’ve had this drone for years so I should just take the test” then we advise you to ‘hold your horses’. The Remote Pilot Certification test is HARD. It is not some walk in the park, as they say, and it is also not free. Taking the test is going to set you back about $150 and you don’t get that money back if you pass or fail. While getting this certification is quite possibly the easiest way to break into the Aviation industry, there are some things that you are going to need to learn. Examples include weather patterns, emergency procedures, the National Aerospace Administration (what it is, what it does), and more. You also will want to log as many flight hours in as you can. While the last part is not a requirement, if it is your intent to become a professional then you are going to need the skills and no amount of studying is going to trump out experience. Thankfully there are many, many resources which are at your disposal that we are going to discuss in this article so that you can get yourself prepared and take your test with confidence. While you COULD conceivably just take the test over and over until you pass that path is EXPENSIVE, so let’s do things right from the start . Study hard, log lots of flight hours, and prove that you are professional drone pilot material!
What does training consist of?
Before we get started you should know that the commercial certification requirement is waived under one specific condition. If you are currently a pilot of a plane or a helicopter and have a manned pilot certificate which was issued under 14 CFR (part 61), plus if you have had a flight review in the last 24 months then you won’t need a part 107 certification. You’ll just need to take an online course that is freely available called “Part 107 small Unmanned Aircraft Systems (sUAS) ALC-451”. After that, just fill out the FAA Form 8710-13 and make an appointment with your local FDSO.
If you are not already a pilot, then this is what you need to know.
Whether you are going the free route or through a paid instructor, there is going to be a lot of information you’ll be ingesting via book, videos, or both, but the overall path looks like this:
- Pass the Aeronautical Knowledge Test
- Apply for a Remote Pilot’s license certificate
- You’ll need to pass a background check from the Transportation Security Administration
The Aeronautical Knowledge Test
The Aeronautical Knowledge and Safety test is a quiz that you get 2.5 hours to take and it consists of 60 questions. There are around 700 places where you can get it done across the United States but you are going to need to know your material.
Ruppect Law, a specialist in drone laws has some sample questions which you can see from the test. You can also find a 30-question test quiz that can give you a larger sampling at UAV Groundschool's site. Both have been linked in our references. Now, here are some sample questions to give you an idea of what you will be facing:
UA.I.B.K1 : Registration requirements for small unmanned aircraft systems: Under what condition would a small UA not have to be registered before it is operated in the United States?
A) When the aircraft weighs less than .55 pounds on takeoff, including everything that is on-board or attached to the aircraft.
B) When the aircraft has a takeoff weight that is more than .55 pounds, but less than 55 pounds, not including fuel and necessary attachments.
C) All small UAS need to be registered regardless of the weight of the aircraft before, during, or after the flight.
The Correct Answer is A.
UA.I.B.K6b You plan to release golf balls from your small UA at an altitude of 100 feet AGL. You must ensure the objects being dropped will:
A) Not create an undue hazard to persons or property.
B) Land within 10 feet of the expected landing zone.
C) Not cause property damage in excess of $300.
Correct Answer B: No person may allow an object to be dropped from a small unmanned aircraft in a manner that creates an undue hazard to persons or property.
UA.I.B.K14 : During a flight of your small UA, you observe a hot air balloon entering the area. You should:
A) Yield the right-of-way to the hot air balloon.
B) Ensure the UA passes below, above, or ahead of the balloon.
C) Expect the hot air balloon to climb above you altitude.
Correct answer A: Each small unmanned aircraft must yield the right of way to all aircraft, airborne
“Each small unmanned aircraft must yield the right of way to all aircraft”
vehicles, and launch and reentry vehicles. Yielding the right of way means that the small unmanned aircraft must give way to the aircraft or vehicle and may not pass over, under, or ahead of it unless well clear.
Now that you have a little idea of what you are up against, let’s talk about some schools out there that can make things easier for you.
While it costs money, taking classes to help to ensure that you pass your Part 107 test is a good idea for a number of reasons. For one, some offer money-back guarantees if you don’t pass the exam. That’s the kind of confidence that you can get behind. Secondly, you can get access to some excellent resources that you simply won’t find for free, such as extra material, contact with experts, and more. So that you can get a little idea about these training courses, we’ve got information on 3 schools that you can find linked in our references if you decide that you might like a closer look.
Atlanta Flight’s UAV Ground School is our first entry and it’s a good one. They offer a free practice test made up from their database of over 400 FAA questions, along with a Cloud-based tracking system that lets you begin your lessons and continue exactly where you left off. You are allowed to take as many practice tests as you like and their classes also come with access to FAA Certified Flight instructors who you can contact via email or phone. They also have a money back guarantee. If you have studied enough to pass 3 of their practice exams at a 90% or higher or score 80% on their ‘Golden Deal’ Final exam then if you take the FAA Knowledge exam within 5 days of this and fail then your FAA test is FREE. Not a bad deal at all!
Drone Pilot Ground School
Boasting that they have trained more than 25,000 drone pilots, Drone Pilot Ground School is our second entry that you might wish to consider. They’ve got more than 70 video and text lessons and since you are going to need to renew your license every now and again then you might like knowing that their course comes with lifetime access. They offer phone support, realistic practice exams, and if you fail your test not only will they pay for it but they will refund your courses. How’s that for a guarantee?
Our final entry is the Pilot Institute and they also offer a great lineup, with over 200 video lessons, real exam questions, and the same guarantee as Drone Pilot Ground School… if you fail the test on your first try then they will refund your courses and your test fee. Add in the lifetime access that they offer and you are still getting bonus material as their course comes with an 11 page ‘cheatsheet’ that you can use to cram before taking the actual exam. Definitely worth taking a closer look if you are serious about your certification.
Where can I find free training?
As far as free resources there is a lot out there if you know what to look for. Aside from the practice examples you can find at Ruffect Law through our reference links, you can also take advantage of the following:
- The United States Geosciences and Environmental Change Science center offers free study resources which you can access at: https://rmgsc.cr.usgs.gov/outgoing/UAS/FAA_study_guides/UAS%20Part%20107%20Study%20Resources.pdf
- University of California provides their own study resources for free here: http://igis.ucanr.edu/Tech_Notes/Part107/
- Vigilant Aerospace offers a number of links to help you get your license without having to pay for courses. You can take a look at what they have here: https://vigilantaerospace.com/uas-pilot-resources/
In today’s article we have discussed drone training. We’ve provided the path that you need to take, along with a quick sampling of questions which you might see as well as some paid and free resources which are available to help to get you to where you need to be. When you start studying we recommend that you stick to it. This test is difficult and at $150 per exam you don’t want to take it lightly and end up having to pay again. It’s better to buckle down, invest the time, and pass it on the first go. Before you know it you’ll be able to introduce yourself as a commercial drone pilot and we wish you much success!
Ruppect Law; General drone law and question samples
University of California; Free Part 107 resources online