So I got a drone license….. September, 2016

As further proof the FAA has no idea what it’s doing, they apparently saw fit to award me a license to operate aerial machines with whirling blades of death for reasons other than just pure fun. Technically speaking, they granted me an Airman’s Certificate for the operation of small, unmanned aircraft systems, AKA a “drone license”. Be very afraid.

I got tripped up a couple times last year from doing some things I wanted to with my motley aircraft because it could have been considered “commercial” under the then archaic and restrictive FAA regulations. I put in for what was called a Section 333 exemption that was sort of a workaround, but the new Part 107 regulations came out before my lengthy Section 333 application could make it out of the black hole that is the FAA. With the new Part 107 stuff, all you had to do was pass a stinkin’ test! I could (probably) do that.

I took the new exam on the fourth day it was offered, September 1st. I scored, um…..fairly well on the exam and it was immediately uploaded to the gods at the FAA from the testing site I took it at. About 30 hours later the wunnerful Internet spit forth a Temporary Airman Certificate until the real, purdy, plasticy Pilot’s License card arrives…

How could this have possibly happened? The end times must be nigh. Sadly, it doesn't say "Drone Pilot".

How could this have possibly happened? The end times must be nigh. Sadly, it doesn’t say “Drone Pilot”.

I had a bit of an advantage in this process because late last century I earned a Private Pilots rating in both power and glider. Although I haven’t piloted in many years, somewhere along the line I must have been cleared by the TSA without even knowing it because there was no delay for me due to this fun bit of bureaucratic hoop-jumping new drone license applicants must endure.

I thought it was an easy test to pass with a bit of study (you can miss 18 out of the 60 questions!) but a difficult test to score high on. Some of the questions were tricky. But I also think that if someone can’t at least pass this thing they probably shouldn’t be let loose in the US airspace to do commercial stuff. There are enough simple questions that it should be passable. It took me about 75 minutes of the allotted two hours to do, and I went through all my answers twice.

My advice for those studying for the Part 107 test? Remember that every test will be a different, with questions taken randomly from a very large question pool so what I had may not necessarily the same as others. But in my instance far and away the largest number of and most difficult questions were those figuring out what airspace you’d be in off aircraft sectionals. Knowing well what the airspace classifications are and how to read a sectional was probably almost a third of the test. So know sectionals backwards and forwards (and sideways!).

My approach was all self study as I just don’t do well with structured learning programs. And I’m cheap. Be wary that now everyone and their brothers are selling “Part 107 Study Courses”, some for substantial amounts of money. At this point no one knows which of these many offerings are really good, or just money making opportunities. By reading the FAA’s own study guide for the Part 107 test (the Remote Pilot Knowledge Test Guide), the Airman’s Information Manual and understanding any random sectional chart, you’ll almost certainly pass.

I’ve watched with some anxiety over the past couple of years as the FAA started promulgating “drone regulations”, expecting the worse. But all things considered I think Part 107 turned out as a really nice bit of regulation. It will allow people to do about 80% of what they want to do commercially with drones with minimal aggravation (the remaining 20% will require additional waiver applications, but doesn’t look to be a big deal). So yeah, I like it a lot.

As for me, I have no specific projects in mind at the moment, but my options have vastly increased. Legal drone pilot, that’s me. Sold out to the man…..