If you want to gain a bird’s eye view of the world, becoming a drone pilot is a great option. Not only can you look at things from far above, but you can also turn this into a paying career.
Whether you want to become a drone pilot for fun or as a job, there are certain steps you will need to take. Flying a drone requires the right training and knowledge. Let’s look at some of the most important steps involved in the process of how to become a drone pilot.
6 Steps to Becoming a Drone Pilot
Step #1 – Start with a Cheap Drone
You don’t want to spend hundreds on a drone and crash it on flight one. Instead, start with a cheap, easy-to-learn drone and get some flying experience. Unfortunately, most higher-end drones are not very beginner-friendly and can be difficult to learn.
Good beginner-friendly drones can be found for less than $100. These lightweight drones may survive a few crashes, as you’re learning, too. They may also have a Beginner Mode or Headless Mode to make it easier to learn how to fly.
Most cheaper drones don’t need to be registered, either. They are light enough that you won’t need to register your drone, and you can fly without a license for recreational purposes.
After becoming comfortable controlling a cheaper drone, you can move up to a higher-quality drone. Many good drones can be found for less than $1,000. However, when you go over the $1,000 price point, you will likely find professional-grade drones better suited for commercial work.
Step #2 – Get Your New Drone Registered
As soon as you get a drone that weighs more than 0.55 pounds, you have to register it with the FAA (Federal Aviation Administration). You cannot fly it without registering it. Micro-drones under the 0.55-pound threshold don’t need to be registered. However, finding one of these drones with a good camera is hard to do.
FAA drone registration is rather cheap and pretty fast. You can get an account on the FAA DroneZone website and pay the $35 registration fee. Then, after providing a few personal details and information about your drone, you’ll be all set.
If you plan to use your drone for commercial purposes, you will need to register it separately.
After registering, you will receive an email with your unique registration. Now, you will need to mark your drone with the registration number visibly. Use a permanent marker and write the number visibly on the body of the drone.
Step #3 – Advance your Drone Pilot Knowledge and Experience
With a good drone ready to fly, it’s time to start learning more than just the basics. Practice flying your new drone and start learning the language. Terms like pitch, roll, and yaw should become common for you at this point.
You also want to learn about all the necessary drone flight fundamentals. Learn how the propellers work, how atmospheric conditions impact flight, how the controllers work, and how the sensors work. With a deeper understanding of your drone, you will know when to fly and how to troubleshoot issues.
Safety should be the top priority when flying your drone. Make sure you don’t do anything to damage property or injure another person. Whether flying recreationally or commercially, you want to pay attention to flight restrictions and regulations. Finally, always make sure you have permission to fly.
Step #4 – Get Your Part 107 Remote Pilot Certificate
After you’ve learned about many advanced drone flight topics, you can earn your Part 107 remote pilot certificate. But, first, make sure you understand the following topics:
- Safety protocols
- Weather conditions
- Federal regulations
You will be better prepared for the Part 107 remote pilot certificate with a good understanding of these topics.
This will be necessary to pass a knowledge test. This test will include 60 multiple-choice questions covering topics related to aviation, interpreting weather reports, reading sectional charts, and more. It’s necessary to score a 70% or higher to earn your drone license.
After passing the knowledge test, you will need to pass a TSA background check. They will likely be looking for aviation-related misdemeanors. The background check can take one week up to two months. You will receive an email once you have passed with a temporary certificate.
Your permanent certificate will be mailed to you. The Part 107 remote pilot certificate will be good for two years. After the time has passed, you will need to pass the recurrent knowledge test on renewing your certificate.
Step #5 – Consider a Drone Training Course
There are many drone training courses you can attend to gain knowledge and skills. Some will teach you the specific topics you need to pass the Part 107 test. Others will provide in-person flying instruction with a trained instructor. You may want to attend both types of classes before taking the Part 107 remote pilot certificate test.
It’s also possible to use online test prep courses to get ready for the test. This can help ensure you’re fully prepared and you pass the Part 107 test the first time.
Step #6 – Comply with Part 107 Regulations
After receiving your drone pilot certificate, you want to make sure you comply with all Part 107 regulations. You’re allowed to market your drone services and get paid as a drone pilot now.
You will need to meet the requirements, such as documentation of flights and reporting any accidents. You might need an FAA waiver in some areas or restricted conditions to fly, as well.
Along with the federal regulations, you want to become aware of the local laws, too. Always ask for permission and get it in writing if you’re unsure about flight restrictions in a specific area.
Industries in Need of Drone Pilots
If you plan to get your Part 107 remote pilot certificate, you can work in many industries as a drone pilot. Several companies are looking for drone pilots to hire for full-time jobs, freelance work, and part-time jobs. Some of the most common industries using drone pilots today include:
- Real Estate
- Site Mapping and Surveying
- Building Inspection
- Public Safety
Many industries use drone pilots for several different types of tasks. For example, a real estate agent might use a drone pilot to create an aerial video of a property for sale. Likewise, police and fire departments might hire a drone pilot to help scout out an area before sending in personnel.
Drone pilots can do many things for many industries. You might land a full-time or part-time job, but it’s more common to take on freelance drone work.
Frequently Asked Questions About Becoming a Drone Pilot
Can I become a drone pilot in the military?
Yes. If you go into the military, you can become an Air Force UAV flyer. However, you will need to be a commissioned officer, which will require going through the Air Force Academy or Officer Training School if you already have a degree.
If you want to become an Unmanned Aircraft Systems Operator in the army, you must become an intelligence specialist.
How much money can I make as a drone pilot?
If you fly a drone part-time, you can earn a few hundred dollars per week. Full-time drone pilots, however, can earn six figures annually. It’s even possible to earn more than $3,000 per day flying for larger companies.
Military drone pilots often earn around $43,500 yearly. If you have less than a year of experience as a drone pilot, you will likely make closer to $21 per hour. However, the estimated average salary across all drone pilots is about $75K per year.
Amazon drone pilots earn an average salary of about $100K. You can earn even more if you’re willing to work overseas.
Are drone pilots in high demand right now?
Yes. Drone pilots are in very high demand. The Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International believes more than 100,000 new jobs will be added for drone pilots by 2025.
Can I make money selling drone photography?
Yes, there is plenty of money to be made taking aerial pictures and videos for people. Drone photography is a newer type of photography and has become rather popular. You can take custom aerial footage of real estate, golf courses, weddings, events, and many other things to earn a living.
How long will it take to become a certified drone pilot?
Once you’ve passed the Aeronautical Knowledge Test, it will take up to 48 hours before you can apply for the Remote Pilot certificate through the IACRA system.