I have been retired from a great career field for eight years now and my wife and I sold our house, bought a large Class A RV and we travel the country visiting grandchildren, and seeing the wonderful natural and historical sites of the United States.
Quite pleasurable and freeing, but after a couple of years, I was getting a bit bored. What I really wanted was something more, a purpose, a way to catalog our experiences and maybe make some money on the side.
What I decided on, after weeks of investigation and studying all the possibilities, was to get myself a drone and learn how to use it for fun and profit. In my research I found that to fly legally, I needed to be certified by the FAA to operate, so I jumped into the process with both feet.
After exploring several other teaching methods, I passed the Airman’s Knowledge Test (Part 107) with the help of an online drone school. The most important part of successfully passing was never giving up on the process.
Today I’m going to share my process so that I can talk about my successes and you can learn from my mistakes.
» MORE: Best Part 107 Test Prep Courses
Requirements for the Part 107
I started my study by going to the FAA website. My first discovery was that there were four requirements to getting the certificate. I had to be able to communicate in English, be at least 16 years old (boy got that one easy), pass the AKT for sUAS (small Unmanned Aircraft System), and be mentally and physically able to fly safely.
The last requirement is pretty subjective. You can be bedridden, but if you can get outside and be able to see your drone at all times, and you have the help of an assistant to catch or retrieve the drone, you are physically able to operate safely.
Mentally capable is a bit more challenging for some. You have to be able to follow all the rules, use common sense and be watchful of safety issues.
What is needed to pass the AKT?
After a lot of searching around the FAA websites, I finally found a library of data on Part 107.
Once in the library, it was even more confusing because, although they try their best to organize the information, I just found link after link to take me to pages with more links to other pages.
I checked out the knowledge test study guide and was so overwhelmed with what was expected that I almost gave up at that point. There are twelve chapters to this 88-page study guide. Subjects like “Airspace Classification”, “Flight Restrictions”, “Crew Resource Management”, to mention just a few.
This was extremely daunting because you see, I had no aeronautical experience at all. But I will say that for the right person, the FAA study guide has all the information you will need and the rest of the FAA web page links can take you through the entire process.
My first step
While scanning through the pages and pages of material, I saw an ad for the Drone Command Live Seminar being presented by Damon Darnall, “The Drone Boss”. It’s a fantastic 3-day event that covers practically every aspect of drone flying and operating a drone business.
During the three days, he and several other speakers took the participants through so very much information that I just got lost in the enormity of droning possibilities. He had all the study books necessary, membership to his drone consulting firm, drones, equipment, and lots of advice.
A very good seminar, especially for someone who is just starting out or someone who wants to grow their drone business, but there was no one-on-one teaching of how to get my certificate.
An easier process for me
Feeling in a bit of a brain fog at this point, I began to research other avenues of learning what I needed and found several online schools that had Part 107 courses. Drone Pilot Ground School, Pilot Institute, and Drone Launch Academy are a few.
I went to each of their sites and read over their material, listened to sample lessons, and, of course, endured the sales pitch on why I should take their course over someone else.
I decided to go with Drone Launch Academy. What lead me to the decision was the money-back guarantee they offered.
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“If you complete all the modules in the course and score an 80% or higher on our final exam within 7 days of taking the Part 107 exam, but then fail the FAA Part 107 exam, you will be eligible for a refund. We will also cover the price of your next testing fee.”
That in itself was an awesome offer. Once I read over their entire site and found out that I had lifetime access to the full course, and I could access the information any time I wanted, I signed up. Currently, the cost of the Part 107 course is $199, but they run specials every now and then so if you watch closely you can probably get a better price.
Now, I’m not saying that any of the other schools are inferior but this is the one I chose for the Part 107 course. In fact, I have taken other courses from Pilot Institute and others.
» MORE: Pilot Institute
How long is the course?
David Young is the founder and chief instructor at Drone Launch Academy (hereafter referred to as DLA) but he brings in several instructors that are experts in their individual areas.
The Part 107 course has 17 sections and over 100 lessons. This is not a day’s read. I took just a few lessons at a time and in the sections that were difficult for me, only one lesson a day. Each lesson has test questions at the end to make sure that I understood the material.
Once I answered the question, the course would give the correct answer and explain the reason behind it. If something stumped me along the way, there was a chat link available so that I could actually talk to a person who works there and is knowledgeable.
The course was entirely at my pace, as much a day as I wanted to do. If I needed to take a break for a day or two that was not a problem. In fact, some students have had to get away from the course for several months and when they were ready, come right back in where they left off, or start over again.
I was very anxious (and impatient) so I completed the course within a month and scheduled my test soon after that.
How difficult are the knowledge-based questions?
Each knowledge section has different aspects. Some are highly scientific, like weather effects on flying your drone. Some sections are learned best by memorizing them. The rules of flying, how to apply for authorization to fly in controlled airspace are a couple of areas that come to mind.
I am a retired first responder so it is easy for me to read and follow the rules. I usually can see the reason behind the rule and associate how important it is. When I went through the rules sections for the course, they seemed to stick easily with me.
Most of them are common-sense safety protocols. This is what was easy for me, though. You might have no problem with reading charts or have lots of aeronautical experience, so that area might be a snap for you.
I still have a hard time recognizing the different types of controlled airspace. For the test, you need to read everything off the test supplement handbook and not concern yourself with the real-world aspects until you pass your test.
The most difficult section (for me)
For me reading sectional charts was the most challenging part, and I found no quick and easy way to learn them. On their library of resources, I found a digital copy of the “Airman Knowledge Testing Supplement for Sport Pilot, Recreational Pilot, Remote Pilot, and Private Pilot ”.
This is the handbook that all the chart reading questions are taken from. It has everything you need to know about aeronautical charts for the test. The question will ask something like, “(Refer to FAA-CT-8080-2H, Figure 22, area 2.) At Coeur D`Alene which frequency should be used as a Common Traffic Advisory Frequency (CTAF) to monitor airport traffic?”
We will go into sample questions more in-depth later but what this example shows is that you need to go to the handbook, find Figure 22, narrow it down to area 2 and look for this answer. You can download this handbook and use it in your studies, but you are given a copy of the book at the test.
The great thing about the handbook is that on the front few pages is a legend that shows what all the symbols are and what they mean. So you do not need to memorize the handbook before you go take the test.
All the information is there, but take a look at a copy now and see how extremely difficult the chart is to read. Study these sample figures and compare the sample questions with the figures. Study these things closely.
In your study course, whether you use the free material from the FAA, or you buy a course that fits your needs, they list hundreds of sample questions, and there is no way I can list them all here, but a few examples might be helpful to let you see the was the FAA thinks.
Remember that all questions are multiple-choice and four possible answers are given to you.
“According to 14 CFR part 107, how may a remote pilot operate an unmanned aircraft in Class C airspace?”
“To avoid a possible collision with a manned airplane, you estimate that your small UA climbed to an altitude greater than 600 feet AGL. To whom must you report the deviation?”
“What are characteristics of a moist, unstable air mass?”
“What effect does high-density altitude have on the efficiency of a UA propeller?”
“(Refer to FAA-CT-8080-2H, Figure 23, area 3.) What is the floor of the Savannah Class C airspace at the shelf area (outer circle)?”
We could go on and on, but for the purposes of this short exploration of whether you want to pursue the test, this is a fair example taken from the FAA website.
How to study for Part 107 AKT
I found that reading through one section of the course at a time was my best way to study. At the end of each section are sample questions and you can find even more samples on various websites.
I would take these section tests over and over until I felt that I had them mastered, then go on to the next. I found after a while that there was so much information to learn that I had to go back a few lessons and re-read that area.
At the end of the course is a timed, 60 question test to take. Take this test over and over again. The more repetition of the material, the more confident you will be when test time is finally here. Remember that there is not a skill element and no one is going to ask you to fly so don’t worry about that at all. You can learn to fly later.
Taking the Part 107 AKT
The FAA site explains the process to register yourself to take the test. You need to register with the FAA by getting an FTN (FAA Tracking Number). This number will be used by you and the FAA to keep track of your test applications, scores, renewals and so forth.
Go online to the IACRA (Integrated Airman Certification and Rating Application) page and follow the instructions outlined there.
Once you have your number the instructions will show you where and how to register for the test and how much it will cost. This fee must be paid in advance, at the time that you reserve a test time and date.
My first experience taking the test was kind of intimidating. I reported to the testing office, at an airport. I contacted the test proctor in his office and he lead me to the testing room. He checked my pockets and made sure that I did not have any cheat notes or unauthorized items.
The test room was darkened and around the walls of the room were computers placed in partitioned off areas. Just the computer, a work light, and a chair. He gave me the FAA reference book, several sheets of blank paper, and a pencil.
The paper and pencil were there for me to doodle if I had spare time, I guess. The proctor explains the rules and gives you two hours to complete the test, then he goes and sits behind a desk to watch you (and everyone else in the room) to make sure you don’t cheat.
The test is scored right then, so you know whether you passed the test or not right away. They will give you your scorecard and a temporary certificate so that you can go out and fly. You will also get instructions on how to send for your official FAA ID card in the mail.
How to renew your certificate
Part 107 requires that your certificate be renewed every 24 calendar months. Until recently, that meant that you had to go through the entire testing process again, registering for the test, reserving a time and date, paying a fee, and going to the testing center.
But that has all changed in the new regulations that came out last April. All you have to do now is go online to the FAA website and take a short, free course and answer a few questions. You will be scored right away and, if you pass, get a renewal certificate digitally to download.
You will notice on your original FAA ID card there is no expiration date. Just the original date of issue. The agency has no plans at this time to reissue ID cards each time you renew.
This was my experience at getting my Part 107 certificate, but things are constantly changing. Each time the FAA comes out with new rules, they also revamp the processes.
In their current set of new regulations, the agency has indicated that every drone that has been produced up to 2021 will be obsolete and that every drone will need to have a radio identification system that does not even exist yet. But that is another subject for another day.
» MORE: Best Part 107 Test Prep Courses