Before I flew a drone for the first time, I was an active hobbyist photographer making my rounds in the Bay Area’s vibrant music scene. I’d get a thrill out of entering a photo pit in a concert hall or music festival. Over time, though, I hit a creative apex. That’s when I encountered a breathtaking image, taken from an aerial perspective, of the California coastline. Learning how to create a similar effect became my new inspiration.
In June 2014, I borrowed a friend’s first-generation DJI Phantom 1, and lost it, along with my $600 security deposit, on my third flight. Discouraged, it took me a whole year to purchase the follow-up model, a Phantom 2 Vision+. I mustered up the courage to take flight, several months later, on a trip to Iceland. Life lesson: being surrounded by a gorgeous, otherworldly landscape will motivate anyone to break out of their comfort zone.
Friends and professional connections took notice of my progress and asked me if I would like to provide aerial imagery services for their events? Of course I couldn’t because I don’t work for free and ― most importantly, I didn’t have the proper certification to fly a small unmanned aircraft system (sUAS) in exchange for compensation.
The FAA’s introduction of Part 107, on Aug. 29, 2016, has dramatically democratized the process of obtaining certification. A score of 70% or above on the Part 107 Knowledge Test is the new requirement for becoming a remote pilot. Over 23,000 licenses have been released in the past three months, according to Recode. That’s 300 per day, on average. Apparently, the FAA expects 90% of test takers to pass the Knowledge Test. However, you shouldn’t be deceived by the lofty figures ― the exam is difficult unless you have a prior background in aviation.
September, October, and November passed in a flurry of work and travel. I picked up two new clients for my marketing consultancy, continued raising my daughter (which is a full-time job, as any parent can attest), and casually glossed over the Part 107 Knowledge Test training resources from the FAA’s website. A lucrative offer at a Holiday party was the final impetus for me to schedule a time to take the exam and make a concrete plan to prepare for it.
I started with ASA’s Remote Pilot Test Prep ― a study guide organized into small, manageable sections of reading material followed by a series of questions representative of what will be on the exam. While I finished the book and its exercises in a matter of hours, I felt underprepared as the content was assembled in haste. Most pages were littered with typos, while explanations on how to interpret METARS, airspace, and sectional charts weren’t very thorough. I was frustrated by the vague explanations on crucial information that needed to be mastered in order to pass and operate as a remote pilot.
A few days later, with my rapidly approaching exam date looming, I encountered a sample clip of MZeroA.com’s Remote Pilot 101 program. Jason Schappert’s approach to teaching ― refreshingly down-to-earth, engaging, and thorough ― was exactly what a beginner like me needed. He doesn’t assume you already know what he’s talking about and makes it a point to explain concepts in excruciating detail.
I was hooked and didn’t hesitate to pay $99 to access the entire course. Not only did I finally understand everything that I couldn’t comprehend in the first book, I also learned some important lessons about operating as a remote pilot-in-command in the real world.
As it turns out, there are other surprising ways to get your certification revoked besides being under the influence or refusing a sobriety test. When I arrived at the testing center and was told that in addition to the 60 questions on the exam, the FAA was testing 3 new sample questions, and I wouldn’t know what they were, nor would they count toward my final score, I didn’t panic. I was confident in my overall knowledge of the material.
That’s the thing: despite what all the preparatory resources advertise, you shouldn’t approach preparing for Part 107 simply as learning how to answer what’s going to be on the Knowledge Test. You’re going to be a remote pilot performing specialized services. You’ll encounter challenging situations. If you aren’t familiar with the rules, you’ll risk getting your privileges revoked and, worse, potentially putting others in harm’s way.
I can’t recommend Remote Pilot 101 enough. The lessons are divided into short, digestible videos with accompanying quizzes at the end of each section. When I think of what I spent on the course ($99), the book ($13), and the exam ($150), it was worth it ― especially since my first paid gig as a remote pilot-in-command more than recouped the costs associated with the Knowledge Test. There will be more on that experience in a future post. For now, I hope you’re inspired to get certified. The drone industry is in its infancy and the professional possibilities are boundless.
Featured image: Pixabay/Pexels
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