How to Become a Drone Pilot
So you want to learn how to become a drone pilot? Drones these days are not something that you are going to take out of the box and be flying in the next 5 – 10 minutes. It most likely will surprise you as to just how sophisticated the controls of these unmanned aerial vehicles are when you first see them. It takes a lot of skill to pilot a drone and even more advanced pilot training if you want to have a career as a commercial drone pilot. Don’t fret though because with some studying, a little hands on training and lots of patience you will get the hang of it.
Current State of Affairs with Drones
There are not many hobbies around the world that are growing as fast as the drone craze. Since drone registration recently became required by the FAA in the USA there have been over 400,000 drones registered there. That figure includes over 12,000 drones registered in Los Angeles County, California alone. The number of registered drones is only expected to grow as the industry estimates that it will be worth 2 billion dollars a year by the mid 2020’s. Drone owners are also being required to register their drones to varying degrees in such places as England, France and Australia too.
Currently, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) in America only allows drone use within your line of sight and in the daytime but if drones are approved for commercial applications that will surely change. Along with that change, it will bring a whole new list of training and certification requirements that any drone pilot will have to fulfill; especially those that want to have the title of being a commercial drone pilot.
This article will go over some drone flying basics, discuss some of the commercial uses for drones and give you some information on how to become a hobby or commercial drone pilot.
Drone Flying Basics
Most likely if you are flying a drone as a hobby you will be piloting what is known as a “quadcopter”. These are highly maneuverable drones that are so sophisticated, some even have retractable landing gears. In most cities these days you will find places that are starting to offer beginner drone flying courses and they are something worth looking into. There are also courses being offered online too. At the very least you will need to study your instruction manual thoroughly before attempting to fly your drone or you will be going to the store again shortly after trying to fly it to buy another one.
The basic control setup for a quadcopter is roughly the same for most quadcopter drone manufacturers. It will consist of a box-like set of controls that are about as big as a smart tablet but a little thicker. Included in the control setup are usually two joysticks used for maneuvering the drone and several other adjustable types of controls that manage such things as the drone’s speed and flight stabilization. There will also be a small antenna for transmission of the signal to the drone located on the unit too.
Many drone controls will also have a built-in LCD viewing screen and camera controls if the model drone you are using includes a camera.
Drone Flying Terminology
If you are a beginning drone pilot or someone who would like to fly drones professionally, it will be easier to learn to fly a drone if you familiarize yourself with the terminology commonly used when piloting them. Here is a list of some of those key piloting terms:
- Remotely piloted vehicles (RPV) – A fancy term for the word drone, also known as an Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV)
- Gyroscope – a device used to keep a drone level and assists in facing the drone in the intended direction too
- Pitch – raising or lowering the front or back end of a quadcopter
- Roll – raising or lowering either side of a quadcopter
- Throttle – controls the rotor speed to provide lift or to make the drone descend
- Yaw – another critical component to make a drone face the intended direction
- BVLOS – a term used to describe a drone that is “Beyond the Visible Line of Sight” when flying
- Fly-Away Protection System – an automatic system that returns a drone to a specific area if communication is lost with it
- No Fly Zone – an area where drone use is strictly prohibited
- Payload – the amount of additional weight a drone can transport
Most hobby grade quadcopters are very easy to fly by line of sight once you have a little practice with them.
Commercial Uses for Drones
The commercial uses for drones are almost limitless and include everything from security surveillance to delivering pizzas. Already in the USA large companies such as Google and Amazon are petitioning for licenses from the FAA to use drones for such things as package deliveries; rest assured that mass package delivery companies like UPS, FEDEX and DHL will be right behind them. A church in Sweden was even trying to get permission to drop bible leaflets over ISIS-controlled towns in Syria. So commercial drone use is only limited by a company or private entity’s imagination.
The FAA in America has already granted licenses for test programs to CNN for news gathering, BNSF Railroad for surveying and inspection of their tracks and also to reputable military drone maker ‘Precision Hawk’ to test advanced drone collision avoidance and tracking systems in rural areas. There have been over 200 ‘special use’ permits sanctioned by the FAA concerning drone use. That number is expected to rise substantially once new drone flying regulations are established as the FAA has promised by the end of 2016.
Some of the areas where drone use will become commonplace includes government agencies and private sector companies such as:
- Law enforcement
- Aerial photography
- Package delivery
- Food delivery
- Aerial inspection services
- Real estate sales
- Armed forces
- Videography services
- Homeland security
How to Become a Drone Pilot
With the drone craze growing both as a hobby and for its potential for commercial use, there are many opportunities out there to learn how to fly them. Here are some suggestions.
- For the Drone Hobbyist who wants to Learn how to Fly them
Here are some of the ways that drone hobbyists are learning to fly their quadcopters. These can be much more helpful and fun than just reading the instruction manual that comes with your drone.
- Join a Drone Club
One of the nice things about popular hobbies is you can find someone to share your passion about drones with. Drone clubs and organizations are popping up in cities all over the world. It is an excellent way to learn how to fly your RPV too. You can observe club members piloting their own drones before attempting to fly your own UAV.
- Learn Online
We already mentioned that there are ways for you to learn how to become a drone pilot online too. There is everything from instructional videos made by drone hobbyists on YouTube to schools that offer courses for both hobby and commercial drone flying. There is also websites that were created by avid RPV flyers and many people also have how-to blogs on piloting a drone.
- Learn from a friend
If you have a friend or family member that is into drone flying ask them if you can tag along the next time they fly theirs. You can once again learn to fly your own drone by observing them; if they are brave enough they may even give you a turn at the controls.
As drones increase in popularity, you will also see an influx of flight simulator programs hit the marketplace too. These have been very successful in the past helping people learn to fly piloted aircraft so they should be an excellent learning tool to help drone users learn how to fly also.
Becoming a Commercial Drone Pilot
There is one thing that is known for certain as far as drones being used for commercial applications and that is they are not going to fly themselves. This will create many job openings for commercial drone pilots; so many in fact that if commercial drone applications get approved as expected then it will become one of the fastest growing career fields not only in the USA but all over the world.
Starting in August of 2016 anyone in the USA that will pilot a drone commercially must pass a FAA exam and complete some other requirements too. This has caught the attention of creative educators and now there is so called “Drone Piloting Universities” and other drone-related courses popping up at independent and established learning facilities all over the world. They will teach you all about drone aircraft, how to pilot them (many have simulator training you can do at home) and some even have on site UAV piloting training too.
Education centers that are USA based claim to be able to teach you basics about drone technology, how to pilot them, safe operating procedures and regulations, and even teach you what is necessary to pass the FAA requirements and become approved to fly drones commercially.
Here is a sample curriculum at one so-called “drone training university”:
- Part 1 – Drone basics (home study)
Here a student will learn all about drone construction and propulsion systems. How the various controls on a drone interact and control transmission limitations will be taught too. Also covered are such things as safe drone operation, rules and regulations, flight parameters and drone service and maintenance requirements.
- Part 2 – At home simulator training
This course also includes lots of flight simulator time on several different unmanned vehicles. This particular school will ship software to their students which will allow them to do simulator flight training on their computer at home.
- Part 3 – Onsite RPV piloting training
The final phase of the course will be actual drone pilot training at a site somewhere in an area where the school has students.
Many of the schools that are now offering minor or majors in drone piloting and support activities are accredited colleges and universities. As commercial drone use grows all over the world, so to should the educational opportunities that may very well lead to drone pilot employment also. These courses should give you a leg up also for drone piloting employment opportunities over those that have passed the FAA requirements but have not attended any advanced schooling related to RPV’s.
Drones Are Here To Stay
Drones look to become as commonplace as cars someday as they support the way people in society are traveling around less and less. We have online banking now and work at homes jobs and commercial drone use is sure to feed off that trend. People will be able to have groceries delivered to their homes, take out food delivered and other conveniences that drones can provide to free up people’s time and eliminate their need to travel.
Out of this job opportunities centered around drones will only grow too as more and more people patronize businesses that offer drone-related services. If you learn to be a commercial drone pilot now you may be getting in on the ground floor of an excellent job opportunity that offers steady and lucrative employment. If drone hobby flying is more of your thing then look for that to be around for years to come also. So there is no better time than now to learn how to become a drone pilot.
If this article was helpful, check this post out for what I consider to be the best drones for beginners, and if you’re serious about starting a photography business using drones, this post on the best drones for aerial photography will certainly be of interest to you.
Check out the best selling drone on Amazon right here!
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