When it comes to drone pilot training, what does the FAA require? And just how much training do you need before you can start making money flying a drone?
In this guide to drone pilot training we cover the FAA’s requirements, some tips for gaining flight proficiency, and then look at specific skillsets for drone pilots.
Let’s dive in.
Three Areas of Drone Pilot Training
In general, the phrase drone pilot training can be used to refer to three different areas of training, each of which will be covered in detail in this guide.
The first and most common area of drone pilot training is training in the knowledge required to pass the FAA’s Aeronautical Knowledge Test, also known as the Part 107 test.
From a training perspective, passing the test is the FAA’s only requirement for you to become a commercial drone pilot. No flight training or demonstration of hands-on flying skills is required, although this kind of training is certainly recommended for commercial drone pilots and will help you both to win clients and to make sure you’re safe while flying.
The second kind of drone pilot training is general flight training. This kind of training covers the basics of flying a drone as well as more advanced flying.
Now that we’ve gone over the three types of drone pilot training, let’s take a closer look at each one.
Want to jump around? Here you go:
- Drone Pilot Training: Preparing for the FAA’s Aeronautical Knowledge Test
- Drone Pilot Training: General Flight Training
- Drone Pilot Training: Skill-Specific Training
Drone Pilot Training: Preparing for the FAA’s Aeronautical Knowledge Test
As we’ve already mentioned, training for the FAA’s Part 107 test is all done through studying.
That’s not to say it’s not rigorous, only that it can be done without ever having to fly a drone.
But hold on—does this mean you can become a certified commercial drone pilot without ever having flown a drone?
Yes, hypothetically you can.
But as soon as you stepped into the field to fly your first mission, your lack of experience would make it almost impossible to do the work your new certification allows you to do. Which is why, in addition to meeting the FAA’s requirements, you’ll also want to do your own flight training to make sure you’re ready to fly commercially.
Do I Need This Type of Drone Pilot Training?
The FAA’s knowledge test is only required for commercial drone pilots.
If you fly your drone for work or business then you’re considered a commercial drone pilot. On the other hand, if you fly strictly for fun then you are a recreational drone pilot and don’t have to take the test.
That being said, the FAA has announced that a new knowledge test is in the works for recreational drone pilots, and will most likely become a requirement for recreational drone operations at some point in 2020.
Learn more about the FAA’s knowledge test for recreational drone pilots.
Preparing for the FAA’s Aeronautical Knowledge Test
Even though the FAA’s knowledge test to become a certified commercial drone pilot doesn’t require hands-on flight training, it is really involved and requires a lot of preparation. Based on the information our students have shared over the years, we estimate it takes most drone pilots between 15 and 20 hours of studying to be ready to take the test.
Here are some of the topics the FAA’s test covers:
- Radio communications
- Map and chart reading
- Drone performance
Here is a breakdown of emphasis on different topics included in the test:
Wondering what taking the test looks like? Here’s a little more information:
- The test contains 60 multiple-choice questions.
- The minimum passing score is 70% (meaning, you’ll need to get at least 42 questions out of 60 right to pass).
- Each multiple-choice question has three possible answers.
- Each test question is independent of other questions—a correct response to one does not depend upon, or influence, the correct response to another.
- The test has a two-hour time limit.
- Some questions may require visual references, like airspace maps or charts.
Drone Pilot Training: General Flight Training
Mastering basic flying is one of the most important parts of drone pilot training.
But becoming good at flying can sometimes seem like a chicken-or-egg situation—you don’t want to crash your new drone because you haven’t learned how to fly yet, but you don’t know how to fly yet because you don’t want to crash.
So what can you do to learn?
Start with a Simulator
One approach to help you learn basic flying skills as part of your drone pilot training is to start by practicing on a drone simulator.
Drone flight simulators let you build up your basic flying skills without the added pressure of worrying about destroying your drone. They’re also fairly inexpensive or even free, in some cases.
A common approach to learning the basics is to put in several hours with a simulator, then start practicing on an inexpensive small drone.
As you advance, you can go back and forth between practicing on a simulator and applying that practice in real life on an inexpensive drone until you’ve built your confidence up.
Through this kind of drone pilot training, you can make steady progress toward flight proficiency, and even mastery.
Drone Pilot Training—Basic Tips for Learning How to Fly
Whether you start on a real drone or a simulator, there are some basic steps you’ll want to take as you learn how to fly a drone.
Here’s a short list (for more in-depth information on learning how to fly check out our beginner’s guide to flying a drone):
- Learn the definitions. Learning terms like Visual Line of Sight (VLOS), Beyond Visual Line of Sight (BVLOS), or First Person View (FPV) will help you learn how to start thinking like a drone pilot.
- Learn your controls. The four basic controls on a drone are Roll, Pitch, Yaw, and Throttle. Being able to define and perform these movements will put you on the path toward basic flight proficiency.
- Consider your environment. When flying it’s important not just to think about your aircraft but also about the environment in which you’re flying. Have you done the legal research and airspace research for the area where you plan to fly? Have you checked the weather? Are there any Temporary Flight Restrictions (TFRs) in place?
- Walk before you run. Before trying to fly in patterns or over distances first focus on getting your drone off the ground, hovering, and landing. Once you are proficient at these, move on to practicing flying forward/backward and left/right. Then, once you’ve got the hang of these movements, go on to flying simple patterns like squares and circles.
- Repetition is your friend. After doing all of the above do it again, and again, and again. Through practice, you will become better, and eventually you will move forward toward mastery in your drone pilot training.
[Want help finding places to fly as part of your drone pilot training? Check out our master list of the best places to fly throughout the U.S.]
How Do We Measure Flight Proficiency for a Commercial Drone Pilot?
Since the FAA doesn’t currently require a demonstration of flight proficiency in order to obtain a remote pilot airman’s certificate, identifying how exactly we measure proficiency can be a little murky.
Should you consider the number of hours logged, the number of missions flown, the different types of flying performed, or some combination of all of these?
Fortunately, we can look to existing FAA requirements for manned aircraft to provide a baseline for measuring proficiency.
A private pilot of a manned aircraft must log 40 total hours of flight time in order to get a pilot’s license. We could apply a similar baseline to drone pilots and say that those who have logged 40 hours of flight time are probably ready to start doing commercial drone work.
Of course, actual proficiency will be determined by the type of work and the type of training the drone pilot has undergone.
Some pilots may be ready to start work before having logged 40 hours if the work they plan to do is fairly rudimentary and does not require complex flying skills. And other pilots may need more than 40 hours of practice if the work they plan to do is complicated and takes place in difficult scenarios, like flying underground in a mine where GPS is unavailable.
Learn How to Fly with Us
Looking for support in learning how to fly your drone? We offer drone flight training in cities located throughout the U.S.
During a typical session of drone pilot training with us, you get to:
- Meet with an expert and friendly instructor in a convenient outdoor location, like a park or athletic field
- Have 45-60 minutes of hands-on flying time to master orientation, basic flight maneuvers and more advanced flight skills
- Learn how to handle obstacles such as lost GPS, low battery charge or emergencies
- Practice flying under various intelligent flight modes from DJI
Here is a list of cities where you can find drone pilot training near you:
- Drone pilot training in Alabama
- Drone pilot training in Arkansas
- Drone pilot training in California
- Drone pilot training in Colorado
- Drone pilot training in Florida
- Drone pilot training in Georgia
- Drone pilot training in Illinois
- Drone pilot training in Maryland
- Drone pilot training in Massachusetts
- Drone pilot training in New York
- Drone pilot training North Carolina
- Drone pilot training in Tennessee
- Drone pilot training in Texas
- Drone pilot training in Virginia
Drone Pilot Training: Skill-Specific Training
After you’ve completed your knowledge training and gained proficiency in flying your drone, you may still have some drone pilot training left to do to be ready for the drone job you have in mind.
This training will consist of learning the specific skills needed for the work you’re focusing on as a drone pilot.
Here are a few areas where drone pilots may seek extra training:
- Specific inspection scenarios. Each inspection scenario in which a drone pilot might work could potentially require its own training. For example, inspecting a tower means knowing to avoid guy wires and getting too close to the tower (in case of magnetic interference with your signal), while inspecting the inside of a boiler requires a special drone made just for indoor inspections, like the Elios 2.
- Public safety. Each public safety application could potentially require its own kind of drone pilot training. Flying a drone outfitted with a thermal camera to collect information about an ongoing wildfire will be different from using a drone to find a missing person in the woods in a Search & Rescue scenario—and these are just a few examples of public safety use cases for drones.
- Aerial videography. Aerial videography is one of the most common ways for drone pilots to make money but there are many different kinds of skills required for different kinds of aerial videography. For example, flying a big rig drone on a movie set is pretty different from putting a drone in the air to capture aerial stills at a wedding, and each scenario will require a specific kind of knowledge and training.
If you’re looking to accelerate your skillset in aerial videography, check out the Drone Cinematography Masterclass.
Stewart and Alina are amazing instructors and offer one of the highest quality online training courses we’ve ever seen, not to mention their impressive drone filmmaking background and the beautiful cinematic footage within the course.
Training a Visual Observer
One last consideration to note when it comes to drone pilot training is the training recommended for a visual observer (VO).
What is a VO?
A VO is an additional crew member who serves as a second set of eyes for the Remote Pilot in Command (PIC). The FAA does not require the use of a VO for normal commercial drone missions but using one can be really helpful in certain scenarios as an added safety precaution, especially when flying in or near restricted airspace.Learn more about how to train a VO in our guide, Training Your Visual Observer (VO) for a Drone Flight Mission.