How To Become A Drone Pilot
Drone flight is quickly becoming the wave of the future for a number of private and public industries and learning how to pilot one of these drones can be a great way to keep up. If you are already into drone flying as a hobby or you are interested in becoming a pilot, this short guide will give you a good foundation from which to start your drone pilot journey.
Before you can consider becoming a professional drone pilot, it is a good idea to get a feel for flying drones on a smaller scale. Toy drones are generally inexpensive and a great place to start getting used to the intricacies of drone flight and control. A primary benefit of starting small is that you do not risk damaging an expensive drone if your skills are not quite yet up to par.
Toy drones are generally made of lightweight materials and have flight times that max out at around 10 minutes. Use this type of drone to better understand how the sensitive controls and flight patterns of your drone and drones in general. Once you feel you are comfortable flying a toy drone, you can start upgrading to a recreational or commercial drone with a longer flight time and more advanced drone features.
Register Your Drone
For any and all drones that weigh more than 0.55 pounds in the United States, you must contact the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) to reigster your drone. This is a fairly simple process that can be done through the FAA's DroneZone webpage. In terms of federal designations, drones are considered an unmanned aircraft with the capability of invading others' privacy and/or taking inappropriate videos or pictures while in flight. Registering your drone with the FAA makes you accountable for your drone's actions, put simply. Unfortunately, no matter how innocent your intentions, unlimited and unleashed drone flight poses quite a few problems for the community at large by less than innocent individuals.
The FAA will also provide new pilots with guidelines that must be followed in order for you to enjoy flying your drone. For example, drones are not allowed to be flown anywhere near the White House and cannot interfere with law enforcement activity. These guidelines are in place to create a sense of accountability for you and your drone as well as to create a sense of responsibility and flight etiquette overall.
Become Familiar with Your Controller
Drones are operated by a handheld controller that either comes with your drone or must be purchased separately and connected to your drone. While these controllers come in different sizes and shapes depending on their connected drone, they all generally have the same functions:
- Left thumb stick - controls speed and direction
- Right thumb stick - controls movement and roll
- Practice getting your drone into flight and passing it through simple manuevers
- Make sure you have a good feel for the controller in your hands
- Remember that direction is determined by which way the drone is facing; if it is facing toward you, then the controls will be "backwards" to make the drone move
You want to make sure that your controller is comfortable and easy for you to operate so that you do not have to worry about issues connected to the controller while flying. If the controller that your drone comes with is not comfortable, then you can always purchase an additional controller that you can connect to your drone for better flight capacity.
Practice in Different Areas
Where you are flying your drone can create unique situations and affect how you fly just as much as the drone itself. Try to vary where you practice so that you can get a feel for several different types of flying environments. After all, if you practice in the general area all the time, you will find that you may be unequipped to deal with a sudden change in your drone's flight style.
Open fields are perfect for testing out your drone's turn radius. When you are comfortable with your drone's basic flying, it is time to add in some new techniques and flying maneuvers that will give you the best possible feel for your drone and its limits. With plenty of space, you can practice banking and rolling without too much fear of collision damage.
In a heavily wooded area, you will need to practice close control and tight movements to weave your drone in and out of the trees. Precision control can come in handy in a number of ways throughout your drone piloting career.
Indoors, outdoors; open, narrow; whatever kinds of environments you can find, you should practice in. Not only will this type of practice help you become a better and more well rounded drone pilot, but you will also likely enjoy the challenge and have fun flying your drone no matter what.
In addition to the growing commercialization of drone flying, there is also a growing trend revolving around drone racing that can prove fun and educational. Drone racing is the utmost in precision control flight and, even if you are not an avid racer, can prove an extremely beneficial lesson in flying your drone close to the cuff.
For racing purposes, consider getting a fairly inexpensive racing drone, as you will likely be crashing your drone time and again during training and the races themselves. Racing is not kind on drones, but can be a good, fast paced, and fun means of learning to better fly your drone with precision.
Attend Drone Flight School
If you are serious about becoming a professional remote drone pilot, then finding an expert in the field is not a bad place to start your career. There are a number of drone schools and teachers around the country that are willing and able to instruct you in the finer arts of remote piloting. Find the teacher and/or the school that best fits your needs and budget to get started.
Drone schools are designed to not only give you a thorough understanding of basic drone flight and maintenance, but also to prepare you for the FAA remote pilot licensing and certificate test (see discussion of the FAA and its tests below). The FAA Part 107 test is a mandatory aspect of becoming a drone pilot, and a quality drone school or teacher can help you tackle it with confidence and ease.
Once you have learned the basics, you can always return to a drone school or instructor to learn even more about your drone and about remote piloting in general. The FAA requires that you renew your certificate as a remote pilot every couple of years, and as the technology behind drones (as well as our understanding of aeronautics) grows, you will likely find that keeping up with your own personal practice and with your drone school education can be of great benefit to you as a career remote pilot. Start off with the basics such as learning where you can legally fly your aircraft.
Educate Yourself on Aviation Culture
While you may never be put into the same situation that a large vehicle pilot might face, it is still a good idea (both as a pilot yourself and as a nod of respect to the culture of aviation as a whole) to learn the basics of aviation. These basics include such concepts as:
- Airspace Class - There are two main types of airspace classifications: regulatory and nonregulatory. Within those two types, there are four further classifications: controlled, uncontrolled, special use, and other airspace. Airspace class refers to the different uses and densities of different areas of the air. These differences determine what safety measures need be followed as well as who and what is able to fly in these areas.
- Aviation Weather Services - The National Aviation Weather System is the standard in providing information about the current and future weather conditions of an area for pilots. This type of program is an essential part of what pilots must understand and utilize in order to conduct their flights safely and efficiently.
- Aircraft Construction, Maintenance, and Overall Piloting - Perhaps most important, a pilot must know the ins and outs of his or her flight vehicle. This means knowing the basics of how your plane (or drone) works, what special auxiliary systems it may or may not contain, how to operate its many and diverse flight instruments, how aerodynamics directly affect his or her unique flight vehicle, and how general aircraft design and theory can create a working plane (or drone).
It is not necessary that you be a professional pilot or aeronautical engineer of any type, but rather that you simply gain enough knowledge in the field of aviation so that you have a clear and working idea of what it means to be a pilot. Furthermore, many of these basic aeronautical skills and overall knowledge will be required to pass the Remote Pilot Knowledge Test which is needed to gain full licensing as a remote drone pilot. So really, learning up on airplane sciences and drone law will only benefit you in both the short and long term.
Pass the Remote Pilot Knowledge Test
All rules and regulations regarding the piloting of drones or other small, unmanned aircraft is included in the FAA's Part 107 of their regulatory board. Part 107 specifically deals with Small Unmanned Aircraft Regulations and is the authority on anything and everything having to do with drones. The Remote Pilot Knowledge Test is conducted by the FAA as an integral component of Part 107 and is a necessary requirement in order to pilot commercial or private drones. In order to apply to take the test, you must meet the following criteria:
- Must be 16 years of age or older
- Must be able to read, speak, write, and understand English (this does not extend to hearing or speaking impaired individuals)
- Must be physically and mentally able to pilot an unmanned vehicle
- Must pass the aeronautical knowledge exam at an FAA approved center
In order to take the Remote Pilot Knoweldge Test, you must first make an appointment at an FAA approved testing center; these centers are listed on the FAA's website. Once you have your appointment, you will be issued a basic aeronautical knowledge test that will cover such content areas as:
In order to receive your remote piloting license, you must successfully pass the Remote Pilot Knowledge Test and pass a background test. Beyond this, the major requirements for being a drone pilot center on registration paperwork with the FAA and adherence to FAA guidelines and regulations.
Attain Your Remote Pilot Certificate
As soon as you are licensed, renewing your license or earning a remote pilot certificate is as easy as going onto the FAA's courses and activities webpage and enrolling yourself in a small Unmanned Aircraft Systems test. The FAA will have you fill out an online application using their Integrated Airmen Certification and Rating Application (IACRA) system. Paper applications are also available at FAA approved locations.
Once you have completed the course and submitted your application, the FAA will send your information to the Transportation Security Agency (TSA) who whill, in turn, conduct a background check on you. So long as your background check comes back clean, you will be sent a temporary certificate while your real certificate is on its way to you through the mail. It can take upwards of 90 days for your hard copy certificate to arrive, but luckily your temporary one will last up to 120 days.
Remote pilot certifications must be renewed every two years. This means that in two years, you will be required to take the Remote Pilot Knoweldge Test once more to renew your certificate.
Get to Work
Once you are licensed and have your remote pilot certificate in hand, you are ready to go out and start creating your drone flight business. Whether you choose to work for those companies with big names in drone flight technology (such as Amazon) or you choose to work strictly as a freelancer, there are plenty of job opportunities available in the market today.
According to a CNN Money article on the growing demand for drone pilots, the starting pay for quality drone pilots can be as high as $50 an hour, which is more than $100 thousand a year. The fact of the matter is that drone technology is growing quickly which results in an equal growing demand for drone pilots.
Jobs Related to Remote Drone Piloting
There are a number of different, though related, career fields in the remote drone piloting industry. As a pilot, you can consider working for different delivery companies that utilize drone technology to get products to their customers. Aerial photography and video is also a quickly growing professional field in drone piloting that is always looking for applicants.
If you are interested in the engineering side of drone piloting, then why not consider a career that involves repairing or otherwise optimizing drone technology? If you are adept at creating or theorizing about the creation of drones, then this booming remote pilot market can be a great benefit to your new drone selling business.
Drones are also used in geographical surveying, military surveying, and other such fields that you can look into. The key to finding the right job is to balance your skill set with what you want to do and what you hope to get out of your drone flying career.
Lastly, but far from least, if you become proficient enough as a drone pilot, you could consider becoming either a solo instructor or joining a larger drone school to teach others about the wonders of drones and remote piloting. The options are vast, and the choice, as always, is yours.
Becoming a drone pilot can be a truly rewarding aspiration both in terms of the career itself and the salary potential that comes with it as well as the sheer joy of remote piloting your own drone. But while purchasing a drone may be easy, becoming certified is a bit trickier and is a path that only those serious about drone remote piloting should pursue. Learning the basics of aeronautic flight and regulations is only one small part of the greater effort to become a drone pilot; there is much that must be understood and shown respect before you can claim the title. But if you are willing to put in the effort, then you can become a drone pilot and pursue your dreams.