Let there be no doubt, pilots that who want to fly drones and be compensated for commensurate services must obtain a license from the FAA to do so legally. There are certainly many drone enthusiasts and hobbyists who possess masterful skills at flying unmanned aircraft, but the FAA requirement really has nothing to do with flying talent. It has everything to do with the FAA’s definition of safety through situational awareness and preparations, as well as providing an operational consistency that removes risk.
The Part 107 test is an important step in becoming a commercial drone pilot. In order to pass this test, the best method is to study, either with a ground school or with self-study materials, test your knowledge, and then sign up for the test at a testing center.
To be precise, the actual FAA text is found under CFR 14 (Code of Federal Regulations), which contains the codified Federal laws and regulations that are in effect as of the date of the publication pertaining to aeronautics, air transportation/aviation (including large and small aircraft, such as commercial airplanes, helicopters, balloons, and gliders).
The test, which ultimately allows this licensing to take place, is the means for the pilot to demonstrate their understanding of this code and is effectually a promise to operate in accordance with these best practices.
Will you need to decipher aeronautical maps that are cryptic, understand weather processes that are complicated, and identify components of crew resource management? Yes. Is the test difficult? It’s not something you walk into without studying extensively… you need 80% of your answers to be correct. No exceptions. Do we really need to learn all of the things that the test covers, will it really be applied to flying real estate video jobs? Maybe.
And therein lies the point. Where air safety is concerned, prepare for all circumstances. The main reason is that for the many times an accident or miscue occurs, it involves more than just your UAV. It could possibly involve another aircraft.
And that is why we must all be licensed by the FAA, the U.S government agency whose major roles include:
- Regulating civil aviation to promote safety
- Encouraging and developing civil aeronautics, including new aviation technology
- Developing and operating a system of air traffic control and navigation for both civil and military aircraft
- Researching and developing the National Airspace System and civil aeronautics
- Developing and carrying out programs to control aircraft noise and other environmental effects of civil aviation
- Regulating U.S. commercial space transportation
So here is basically how the process should go.
- If you make a decision that you want to fly for pay, now you need to obtain your FAA UAS (Part 107) license.
- Put a plan together to study for the test that you must take to obtain your license. There are many resources available either through online websites or from private ground schools that both teach the many subject areas and offer practice tests.
- Take a practice test after a week or so of studying to gauge your progress.
- Next, you must schedule yourself into a test center so you can take your exam. This process is done through the IACRA and PSI websites, explained on a number of UAS-assist websites.
- The test itself normally takes 90-120 minutes, typically consisting of 60 multiple-choice questions.
- If your score is 80% or better, you receive your license, which is valid for 2 years…then you get to do this all over again.
In this article, I’ll go over the steps of getting your FAA certification in more detail.
Prepare for the Part 107 test (Study, study, and study more…)
We all have different abilities and techniques to retain information. It is key to understand what works best for you. One thing is for certain. You cannot walk in cold, without learning the material on this test without some prior review of the related content, especially if you do not have some understanding of aviation in general.
Additionally, having experienced this test three times, I can tell you firsthand that your ability to skillfully fly a drone has nothing to do with passing this exam. In aviation circles, this preparation and process are commonly called ground school. Consider this step as the bedrock for all that follows it.
Good news. There are many resources available to learn and practice this material. The main decision to be made in this step is between going to school or choosing a self-teaching route. I have done both and can advise that they both work, it just has to do with what works best for you.
Let me break this primary decision tree down:
1. Ground School
You can attend in-person drone flight schools, or these same institutions may offer online courses as well. They are comprehensive, offer great tools to supplement the actual class time (such as videos, practice tests, hardcopy guides and books, and a host of web-references), and provide a teacher/counselor that can guide you and answer questions.
The instructors are usually seasoned UAS operators, some even possess fixed-wing or helicopter flight experience. They are not inexpensive, but most claim a test pass ratio close to 100%. Some even offer a flight school component to help with your piloting skills.
There are dozens of these schools varying in size and geographical coverage, many of the most reputable being national. An online ground school is a great option to kick-start your studying and guide you along through the material you need to learn to successfully pass the Part 107 test. You can check out Droneblog’s top picks for well-rated and trustworthy drone ground schools over here.
» MORE: Top 9 Online Drone Schools
Should you choose this route, it is recommended to shop and review the many schools that offer the FAA Part 107 test preparation, as they differ in what they offer, how much they charge, and how they offer classes.
Keep in mind that your goal should be to become the best pilot and operator you can be, and not just simply get 80% of the test questions answered correctly. The more you learn and retain, the better you will off you will be.
This method is for someone who possesses the self-discipline required to stay on task for several hours on end without a formal syllabus. Do not approach this method as a means of cramming for a test.
There are plenty of resources throughout the internet, including a host of tutorials, guidelines, and opinions on YouTube, but ultimately you must understand what content allows you to properly prepare for taking the FAA Part 107 test.
Sequentially, you should first research and examine what content can fully cover what you must learn:
- Start by reading FAA CFR 14 / Part 107 – Small Unmanned Aircraft Systems.
- Next, review some of the virtual documentation, like sectional aeronautical charts, aviation weather reports, and FAA study guides.
- After that, take at least 2-3 online video classes.
- Lastly, there are many places to obtain practice tests, which are vital since this teaches you what you may need to revisit…as well as what the actual questions look like.
Keep in mind that FAA Part 107 has been around since 2017. That means for almost five years we have had hundreds of thousands of test-takers go through this process, with many of them sharing their experiences and best approaches, including actual content.
There is no shortage of information for you to rely on, just be wary of what is really going to help you. Having taken both in-class and online preparation methods, perhaps I can help with the following information.
As mentioned earlier, start with becoming familiar with just what FAA Part 107 is. This text also provides references for further information. The look here to see the rule book itself.
The FAA also publishes a study guide that is very helpful as it amply covers every “knowledge area” you are expected to be proficient in, complete with helpful diagrams to illustrate things like what controlled airspace looks like. It also provides important links and references to supporting documentation like the AIM (Aeronautical Information Manual). Access the study guide here.
A good amount of the test questions involves your knowledge and use of FAA sectional aeronautical charts, or VFR (Visual Flight Rules) charts. The USA is divided into 54 parts (there are 54 “maps”) which indicate static information on airspace from the ground up through 41,000 feet. Most importantly, these charts indicate restricted and prohibited airspace. They also contain information about obstacles (like towers, terrain, power lines, balloon operations).
Start by reviewing the map for your area of the country, and start by studying the legend. Here is where you can find digital maps for all regions.
The FAA, former students, current drone businesses, schools, associations, and even aviation law firms offer free study guides and slide decks that cover all the areas you need to become proficient in. These are all found on websites they have made available at large and for free.
Some of these sites concentrate on specific components, such as weather, aeronautical maps, crew resource management, etc. Others cover the entirety of FAA Part 107.
As you examine these, be sure to properly vet the sites for integrity and aggressive marketing tactics, because nothing is totally free. These entities at least want your data.
Some of the more trustworthy sites are:
- From the FAA itself.
- Offered by Rupprecht Law.
If you are looking for free content, there is plenty of material on video. You would have to supplement your study toolkit (books, charts, notes, etc.) independently to ensure the best outcome.
Honestly, many of the aviation ground schools offer most of their courses via video anyway, so this is well worth a try. I believe this is the most cost-effective and customized way to study for your FAA Part 107 renewals, especially having gone through a formal ground school prior to the first time I took the test.
There are many different approaches and teaching styles, so again, for each individual, this is worth vetting so you can get connected to the best way you learn. These are some of the better, more feature-rich sessions:
Tony Northrup offers a practical, layman’s approach to learning given by someone who is a photographer first, not a pilot. He covers ALL of the content that is expected on the test. Viewed over 2 million times:
Jason Schappert of Remote Pilot 101 breaks his videos into multiple sessions dealing primarily with airspace and charting:
Brandon at Altitude University offers another end-to-end study program that is an updated version of the Tony Northrup work. Run time is just over 1.5 hours:
There are more videos that present study guides and lessons on specific subjects, like the websites, but offer the material graphically and in motion. Lastly, there are a few videos on YouTube that also talk about the questions pilots have experienced and how they were able to answer them…these are certainly worth viewing so you can understand what to expect.
Now test yourself to determine what you have retained
Hopefully, you have undergone many hours of learning, memorizing, and reviewing. It’s vital that you put yourself to the test…literally. If you have taken the test preparation course through an established ground school, it’s likely you are provided one or more practice tests.
There is no better way to gauge how well prepared you are for the actual FAA. Many courses present sample questions along the way, as you learn the content. This couples the information you learn with what type of answer the FAA is looking for.
The actual test is known to have over 400 questions in its library, of which 60 will be randomly presented to you when you take the test. You are likely to see many prep test questions that you won’t see on the actual test.
It’s best to take several of these prep exams ahead of your test date, particularly when some of them are free. They demonstrate in short order where you might be deficient in your learning and understanding, especially when explanations for the correct answer are part of the exercise.
The FAA publishes a very good set of sample questions here.
Many of the established ground schools offer free prep tests online, apparently a part of their ongoing marketing. Be that as it may, take advantage of these. Any opportunity to measure yourself is only going to help you.
Here are a few examples:
…and some from YouTube:
Drone Launch Academy:
UAV Coach, specific to charts:
Ready? Schedule your test
Now that you feel ready to be tested, you must commit to a time/date/location where the test is administered. Know that you cannot simply walk into a test center and proceed with this. There is an established process. There are generally several dozen test sites for every state, so you should be able to find a test center close to home, and just about all of these are administered by a third-party aviation management company.
Your steps to schedule testing are as follows…
- Create an IACRA account (Integrated Airman Certification Rating Application) with the US DOT.
You will need to click on “applicant” to begin. Fill out the boxes on the next web page and submit. You’re going to be assigned your own unique identifier called an FTN – an FAA Tracking Number that you’ll have throughout your aviation career. You’ll find it on your IACRA home screen. Make sure you record this number, as you will need it for the next step.
- Create an account on PSI. This company is contracted by the FAA to manage, among many others, UAS testing including FAA Part 107. There is a fee of $175 (as of February 2022) to take this test. Click through to create an account. The next web page is where you will need to insert your FTN, secured through step one above. Subsequent registration information can now be filled in, and eventually, you are presented with valid test site locations for your area along with a scheduling calendar where you can commit to a date and time.
- Test time! Be sure to bring a government-issued photo ID, such as a driver’s license or even better, a passport.
The test site proctor will:
- Confiscate hats, cell phone (turned off), wallet, watch, keys, anything else in pockets.
- Check your sleeves.
- Check any outerwear like jackets.
- Give your personal items to you, locked in a canvas bag, and brought into your testing station.
They’ll provide you with:
- Scratch paper & pencil
- Magnifying glass for charts
- Test booklet
Once you’ve finished, a pass/fail condition will be advised, along with your score (usually as percent correct).
If you pass, you must then take the additional step in applying for your FAA Part 107 certificate, which comes in the mail in the form of an ID card about 4-6 weeks after you’ve passed.
If this testing process seems complicated, well, it’s not simple, no doubt. Again, there are many websites that can guide you through scheduling and registering for the test.
Understand that while somewhat intimidating, obtaining your FAA Part 107 license is a process, a process many of us have successfully accomplished. If you indeed follow this as a process, you can do it.
I will tell you that when I took my first test back in 2017, I did prepare by taking a class through DARTDrones. I poured over my class material, watched several supporting videos, and took and retook several practice tests. I passed my first time with an 84% score.
For my first renewal, I scored 88%. My most recent renewal in 2021 was 98%. Quite a precedent, but proof that continual preparation combined with practical field experience shows you just get more and more informed.
Look at your journey in obtaining FAA Part 107 with due respect, and something to be proud of. Now, with confidence, take your next steps in building your business as a commercial UAS pilot.