Drones ply the limited space between the physical and the digital – pilots fly them but aren’t in them – John Battelle
How do you become a drone pilot? In the same way that you learn how to fly any civilian aircraft, you go to school in order to get a license that entitles you to fly a commercial drone within all FAA (Federal Aviation Authority) governed airspace.
Before you enroll in any program designed to teach you how to safely fly a drone, you’ll need to be aware that the FAA has three separate and distinct categories that apply to all would-be drone pilots:
This applies to anyone who just wants to fly a drone in their spare time and for fun. It’s the least heavily regulated and controlled category and the one in which the majority of drone pilots in the United States are part of.
This covers any pilots who wish to fly a drone for commercial or economic purposes, including full-time employment as a pilot for any, and all civilian companies and enterprises.
This category governs and includes any pilot flying a drone for a government agency or controlled body such as the police or fire departments or federally controlled wildlife and park agencies. And, as you’d expect, it’s also the most heavily regulated and strictly controlled.
Crucially, any pilots wishing to fly a drone for commercial purposes are governed by the FAA’s Small UAS Rule, which states that the drone that they are intending to fly must not weigh more than fifty-five pounds (including any and all payload) and must remain within their visual range at all times.
Anyone who wishes to fly a drone for commercial purposes must also be at least sixteen years old, be able to communicate fluently in spoken and written English, be physically and mentally able to fly and safely control a drone, and must pass the Part 107 test which certifies them to fly a drone – and must reapply for certification every two years.
Relax, after you’ve passed the test once, you don’t need to pass it again, and the recertification is merely a formality and box-ticking exercise.
However, passing the previously mentioned 107 test isn’t exactly a walk in the park as it demands that any potential pilot has a thorough and complete understanding of every aspect of drone flight.
And before you ask, it is incredibly comprehensive and features more than sixty multiple-choice questions which must be completed within a two-hour time limit, covers around one hundred and twenty flight regulations, and has a minimum pass rate of seventy percent.
The military also teaches its personnel to fly drones, and the certification they receive upon graduating from flight school and passing the relevant examinations entitles them to fly drones for any government body after they have left the service.
But like all civilian drone pilots, they need to recertify every two years.
How Long Does It Take To Get Drone Certified?
That depends on whether or not you enter into a full, or part-time flight training program. You can adjust your flying and training hours to suit your professional and personal life, but a part-time schedule relies on your instructor’s best judgment and on them deciding whether, and when you are ready to take the FAA 107 test.
If you enter a full-time program, most flight schools claim that from the moment you enter the classroom until you graduate and are qualified to fly a drone, it should take anywhere between four and six weeks.
In our experience, however, it’s always more prudent to believe the longer than the shorter figure, as learning to fly safely and preparing for the exam that you need to take in order to gain your license is an arduous affair.
So, regardless of what your instructors tell you when you enter the training program, expect the best-case scenario to be true, but prepare for the worst.
After you pass the 107 test, providing you score seventy percent or higher, you’ll be legally allowed to fly a drone in every state and US-dependent territory, and the certificate that says that you can do so should arrive, with the FAA stamp of approval six to eight weeks after you’ve sailed through the exam.
Whatever you do though, don’t forget to renew your certificate every two years, as the FAA, just like every other government-regulated body, are sticklers for paperwork.
Is It Hard To Become A Drone Pilot?
Flying a drone is the easy part of learning how to become a pilot, passing the FAA test that entitles you to do so legally is the hard part. And when we say it’s hard, we mean that it is really, really difficult.
After taking the drone flight and ground school courses, you’ll have to take a two-hour test that includes more than sixty multiple-choice questions and if you get less than seventy percent of them right, you’ll fail.
Most instructors recommend that you study for a minimum of twenty hours before attempting to take the test, so make sure that you either have the required free time or can take the time off work to adequately prepare for it.
The good news though is that even if you do fail the test, you can take it again, but your pocketbook will end up paying a heavy price if you do have to take it multiple times.
Our best advice? Study hard and pass the first time.
What Makes A Good Drone Pilot?
First and foremost, you’ll need to be comfortable around and fully versant in the application, and have a good understanding of technology.
You’ll need to know how your drone works, and what makes it work, and thoroughly understand and know all of the legal principles surrounding and governing drone flight.
And to ensure that you can fly a drone well, you’ll need to have excellent hand-eye coordination and control, be cool and calm under pressure, and above all, must be incredibly patient.
It isn’t a job that anyone can do, and before you hitch your wagon to a drone-shaped ride, you need to be sure that you’re a suitable for the life of a drone pilot.