Not too many years ago the idea of small unmanned flying machines seemed like something from sci-fi movies or toys for the kids to play with. This could not be further from today’s reality.
Drones, or Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS), have been taking on more and more important roles and are now regarded as fully-fledged aircraft performing legitimate and crucial operations in the National Airspace.
Along with these new abilities and capabilities comes the need to understand how drones fit into today’s world of aviation and how new and existing pilots can benefit from understanding the direction drones are leading in many areas.
Who uses these things anyway?
As previously mentioned, professional UAS systems are absolutely not toys. Many common uses revolve around aerial photography and videography for industries such as real estate, insurance and roof inspections, advertising, and TV and film production. Others are deployed with growing frequency in life saving areas of search and rescue, disaster response and other critical situations.
You may be wondering, “why not use conventional aircraft and pilots…?”
That certainly is an option, but when you factor in things such as per-mission flight cost, speed of deployment, and safety factors, it becomes very difficult to not go with the UAS option.
The smaller aircraft size and incredible real-time optics, thermal sensing cameras, and onboard tech gives remote operators the ability to navigate dangerous or restrictive elements where you simply would not risk a pilot or larger aircraft.
In many cases, a drone can be deployed in just a few minutes in remote and harsh areas that would simply not be possible or impractical to consider with conventional aircraft.
Why would I want to know how to fly a drone?
It is easy to come away feeling like unmanned aerial systems are replacing actual pilots, but there is actually another way to look at this.
Despite all the advanced technology, autonomous flight software and sophistication of a UAS, there still needs to be a Remote Pilot in Command (RPIC).
Having a solid understanding and experience flying these systems will only add to your abilities, particularly as this budding industry continues to expand into areas no one has even thought of yet.
Adding “stick time” can further hone your flying abilities and open new doors professionally or even simply for recreational flying.
Do I need a license or certification?
The simple answer is yes. To fly professionally, that is.
The FAA has established 14 CFR Part 107 to allow for civil operation in the National Airspace System.
For new, previously unlicensed operators, the process is essentially being able to learn the required materials regarding airspace, weather, aeromedical factors, sectionals, rules and regulations, and other elements regarding flight operations. Then, successfully passing the aeronautical knowledge test at an FAA approved testing center and screening.
For existing pilots holding a 14 CFR Part 61, the process is a bit easier. You can take the online course, Part 107 small Unmanned Aircraft Systems (sUAS) ALC-451 on the FAA FAASTeam website. Then, complete FAA Form 8710-13 online or by paper.
More details can be found on the FAA website or by contacting your local FSDO.
A new perspective
If you do have an interest in adding drones to your flying skills or as a new pilot just venturing into this new world, it is an exciting time for sure. We are seeing more guidance and formalization from the FAA, as well as many other professional entities, and the future looks bright for our new aircraft.
Whether you choose to fly for recreational fun or to expand your professional capabilities and options, it is a wonderful time to explore UAS flying!