Drone Pilot Training 11/25/22

Learning with Richard Bleil

For many years, drones seemed to me to be little more than modern remote-controlled aircraft, such as the simplistic little helicopter toys I used to destroy in my youth.  Sure, drones have expanded capabilities, more finesse in their controls and features that were not possible when I was young (such as cameras and the ability to pre-plot paths), but ultimately, I’m still convinced that they’re little more than toys.  And, yes, I’ve purchased a drone.

My drone is a quad design, meaning it has four propellers as is very popular these days.  Well, except among Eagles.  Birds of prey, as it turns out, well, they prey on drones.  I don’t know if they’re defending their territory or wondering if drones are edible, but there are many videos of drones being attacked and taken down, as perhaps they should be.  After all, we’re the intruders in their airspace, not the other way around. 

In truth, as of the writing of this post, I’ve not flown my drone (by the time it’s published I probably will have flown it several times).  Winter has fallen hard upon my state, so the weather has not been conducive to trying it out.  But nearly as soon as I ordered it I’ve been hearing about FAA regulations.  So, am I even allowed to fly it?

I’ve begun classes to become a licensed drone pilot.  Is it necessary?  No, not really.  Hobbyists are allowed to fly their drones in airspace that is not restricted by the FAA.  Well, mine is because I’m closer to the local airport than I thought I was, but I could probably drive it out toward my drive-in theater (where I worked last summer) and fly it there.  But the FAA does have a nice app (if you want to download it, it’s called B4UFLY) that tells you, based on your location, if you are in a restricted flight zone, and even makes it easy to get FAA approval.  But, aside from airspace restrictions, an FAA pilot license is not necessary.

However, the loophole in FAA regulations is for hobbyists.  As it turns out, there are certain aircraft (“experimental”) that do not even require a pilot’s license (as I understand it).  It’s one of the loopholes in FAA regulations, just as the hobbyist loophole exists for drones.  However, if you want to make money off of the drones, flying them commercially (for example, if my drive-in wants to hire me to take photos of their facilities), then a license is required.  By obtaining my pilot license, I will be able to charge people to film things, such as real-estate agents for the properties they have on the market. 

As it turns out, the FAA does not distinguish between fixed-wing aircraft and rotary devices (such as, for example, helicopters as well as drones).  To get my license, then, I must take the exact same licensing exam as those looking to get pilots and helicopter licenses.  Kind of familiar, though, as there was a time that I was taking pilot training.  I gave up on the training, though, when it became clear that, thanks to my diabetes, the FAA would not issue me a license anyway.  But unlike traditional pilot license training, I am not required to go through a training course. 

However, the FAA does recommend at least twenty hours of preparation before attempting the exam (which makes me want to just take the exam without training to see how I do).  As such, I’ve signed up for drone pilot license training online, which is self-paced.  I actually accidentally signed up for a bundle that includes the exam training and a course in drone maneuvering, so what the heck.  It can’t hurt, right? 

My drone does have a couple of cool features though, such as point of interest flight.  You can choose a single point on the ground, and a radius, and the drone will fly circles around the point of interest continuously.  This would be a great hands-free way to capture video and photos of, for example, a house for sale.  It also has a “follow” mode where it will follow you wherever you go.  So, if you’re riding a bike, it’ll record the trip.  But, I think I might get in a little bit of trouble if I have it follow somebody just because I think she’s attractive without her permission, don’t you think?  Creepy aerial high-tech stalking aside, I’m looking forward to learning about my new drone and adding this skill to my growing photography capabilities.


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