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How to Get a Drone License (Explained for Beginners)

Deciding to leave the world of the hobbyist pilot and enter the realm of the commercial pilot can certainly be intimidating.

Just a simple search online will reveal a plethora of information and unfortunately, some of it is wrong, or a scam. A great deal of it can be beneficial. Figuring out which is which might not always be clear blue skies.

Don’t worry though, that’s what the drone community is here for – to help you make your way through that very crowded and full airspace and come out the other side with the right information and knowledge to get you to that goal, becoming a licensed FAA Part 107 Commercial Pilot.

What does it mean to be a commercial drone pilot?

First of all, the FAA Part 107 certificate demonstrates that you understand the regulations, operating requirements, and procedures for safely flying drones.

One of the biggest differences between a Hobbyist and a Commercial pilot is that you can be compensated for your work. This is not something a Hobbyist pilot can do under the current rules.

Here’s where it gets a bit tricky. As it is written, a drone hobbyist cannot fly a drone “in the furtherance of a business”.

What that means is that if your work is used to further any business, not just your own, you will need to be flying as a 107 pilot. Did your head just explode? Believe me, I know.

Wait, does that mean that the photos I put up on Facebook or Instagram or whatever are in violation? Well, the answer is yes and no. In the way the rule is written, the answer is yes, as you would be furthering that platform’s business. Yes, YouTube too!

» MORE: Do I Need a Drone License to Post Videos on YouTube?

However, the FAA has decided that pursuing such actions against those pilots would not be in the best interest of the agency’s resources. Could you imagine! That’s the basic nuts and props of it.

As a commercial pilot, you will be expected to be a leader to those who may not know the rules, to set an example on how it should be done and done right. You will be held to a higher standard by the FAA for your actions out there in the field.

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What are the steps to becoming a Part 107 Drone Pilot?

Here’s a quick overview of the steps you’ll need to take in order to become a certified commercial drone pilot in the US.

More details on these steps are below.

  1. Obtain an FAA Tracking Number
  2. Schedule an appointment with FAA Knowledge Testing Center
  3. Take and Pass Knowledge Test
  4. Complete FAA Form 8710-13
  5. A confirmation email will be sent, print out a copy of the temporary remote pilot certificate from IACRA
  6. Receive a permanent card in the mail
  7. Have your Remote Pilot Certificate available whenever you fly your UAS.

Eligibility requirements

What do I need for the FAA Part 107? In order to be eligible for the Part 107, you will need to:

  • Be 16 years old or older
  • Be able to read, speak, write and understand English
  • Be in good physical and mental condition to safely fly a drone
  • Pass the initial aeronautical knowledge exam: “Unmanned Aircraft General-Small (UAG).
Become an FAA-Certified Drone Pilot to Fly for Commercial Use
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Detailed process to becoming a Part 107 Drone Pilot:

  1. Obtain an FAA Tracking Number (FTN) by creating an Integrated Airman Certification and Rating Application (IACRA) profile prior to registering for a knowledge test.
  2. Schedule an appointment with an FAA-approved Knowledge Testing Center (link). Be sure to bring a government-issued photo ID to your test.
  3. Pass the initial aeronautical knowledge test: “Unmanned Aircraft General – Small (UAG)”.

    Knowledge test topic areas include:
  • Applicable regulations relating to small unmanned aircraft system rating privileges, limitations, and flight operation
  • Airspace classification and operating requirements, and flight restrictions affecting small unmanned aircraft operation
  • Aviation weather sources and effects of weather on small unmanned aircraft performance
  • Small unmanned aircraft loading and performance
  • Emergency procedures
  • Crew resource management
  • Radio communication procedures
  • Determining the performance of small unmanned aircraft
  • Physiological effects of drugs and alcohol
  • Aeronautical decision-making and judgment
  • Airport operations
  • Maintenance and preflight inspection procedures
  • Operation at night
  1. Complete FAA Form 8710-13 for a remote pilot certificate (FAA Airman Certificate and/or Rating Application) using the electronic FAA Integrated Airman Certificate and/or Rating Application system (IACRA)*
  • Login with username and password
  • Click on “Start New Application” and
    1) Application Type “Pilot
    2) Certifications “Remote Pilot
    3) Other Path Information
    4) Start Application
  • Follow application prompts
  • When prompted, enter the 17-digit Knowledge Test Exam ID

Note: It may take up to 48 hours from the test date for the knowledge test to appear in IACRA

  • Sign the application electronically and submit it for processing.
  1. A confirmation email will be sent when an applicant has completed the TSA security background check. This email will provide instructions for printing a copy of the temporary remote pilot certificate from IACRA.
  2. A permanent remote pilot certificate will be sent via mail once all other FAA-internal processing is complete.
  3. Have your Remote Pilot Certificate available whenever you fly your UAS.

What’s on the Part 107 test?

The Part 107 exam is a 60-question multiple-choice test. You will need a score of 70% or higher to pass.

The test itself will cover such categories as Operations, regulations, airspace requirements, weather, and loading & performance. These are the main topics covered in the exam – but wait, there’s more much more.

Let’s take a deeper look into these topics.

Operations

Operations is the second-largest topic on the exam making up 13 to 18% of the total exam. In this section of the test, you will be tested on your knowledge of how to operate your aircraft.

The following topics are the sub-categories for operations.

  • Preflight requirements
  • Emergency procedures
  • Physiology
  • Communications

Operations sample question:

(Refer to FAA-CT-8080-2H, Figure 26, area 2) While monitoring the Cooperstown CTAF you hear an aircraft announce that they are midfield left downwind to RWY 13. Where would the aircraft be relative to the runway?

A) The aircraft is East
B) The aircraft is South
C) The aircraft is West

Image credit: Drone Launch Academy

The first thing you will need to figure out in this question is which direction “runway 13” is facing. If you were landing or taking off on runway 13, your aircraft would be on a heading of 130 degrees (a southeast direction).

As you can see from looking at the Cooperstown airport symbol on the chart, there is only a single runway, and it faces northwest and southeast.

All runways will have two numbers at each end. These two numbers indicate the magnetic heading of the runway (with the zero at the end of the number dropped).

So, runway 09 would be facing 90 degrees (due East) if you were taking off or landing on that runway.

Correct Answer: A

Regulations

The majority of questions on the test will be about Regulations. This is to check your knowledge of the FAA Part 107 regulations. After all, this is probably the most important thing you need to know and makes up 15 to 25% of the exam.

Thorough knowledge of the rules and regulations will make you a safe and responsible flyer.

Some of the regulations you’ll need to know include:

  • What defines a “small unmanned aerial system?”
  • Requirements for any crew you may have
  • What to do in case of an accident
  • Maximum speed, altitude, and time-of-day rules
  • Recordkeeping requirements

Regulations Sample Question:

You had several drinks yesterday and are experiencing a hangover today. Even though the last drink was over 8 hours ago, would you still be allowed to conduct commercial drone flight operations today?

A) No, a hangover is a form of impairment from alcohol consumption
B) Yes, how you feel doesn’t matter as much as meeting the 8-hour rule
C) Yes, as long as you are not in a drunken state, you are allowed to conduct a UAV operation.

Part 107.27 states that all remote pilots must follow the same alcohol rules as regular manned aircraft pilots, which are found in 14 CFR Part 91.17 and 91.19.

Part 91.17 states, among other things, that a pilot must:

  • Have a blood alcohol level that is less than .04 percent,
  • Allow for 8 hours to pass from the last drink before operating an aircraft, and
  • No aircraft may be operated while under the influence of alcohol (regardless of time passage).

In the eyes of the FAA, a remote pilot cannot operate a drone when they are experiencing a hangover, even if they waited 8 hours and are below the legal limit. A hangover is still a state of impairment that could threaten the safety of the mission.

Any form of impairment or influence of alcohol prohibits the pilot from operating a drone under the Part 107 regulations.

Correct Answer: A

Airspace

When it comes to airspace, this will be one of the harder topics on the knowledge exam. As you will be operating your drone in the National Airspace System (NAS), you will need to understand how the system is designed and how to operate within it.

Here you will learn about sectional charts and how to read them. You will learn about Class A, B, C, D, E, and G airspaces and how they relate to one another. This category of the test will make up 8 to 15% of the total questions.

You’ll need to understand:

  • Which “class” of airspace you’re in and the rules for operating within that class.
  • The types of Special Use Airspace you need to be careful of.
  • How manned aircraft operate near airports and how you stay clear of them.

Airspace Sample Question:

(Refer to FAA-CT-8080-2H, Figure 78, Southeast quadrant of chart) You’ve been asked to inspect a railroad beginning at the town of Onawa and ending to the south, in Blencoe. Which of the following is true?

A) A remote PIC would NOT need to receive prior airspace authorization from the FAA, since the proposed route would not take place in controlled airspace.
B) A remote PIC would need to receive prior airspace authorization from the FAA, since the proposed route is in Class G airspace
C) A remote PIC would need to receive prior airspace authorization from the FAA, since the proposed route takes place within 5 miles of an airport.

This question will test your ability to first find a location on the sectional chart and then determine if you are operating in uncontrolled or controlled airspace.

Image Credit: Drone Launch Academy

Once you find Onawa and Blencoe, you can follow the railroad path to see what airspace it goes through. As you will notice, there are no markings that would indicate any controlled airspace, thus no prior airspace authorization would be required before conducting this flight.

Correct Answer: A

On this question, you may have thought C was the correct answer. Answer choice C is incorrect though because we can see that this is a commercial operation (inspecting a railroad). Commercial operations are conducted under the Part 107 rules.

The Part 107 rules only require prior authorization from the FAA if you are going to be entering controlled airspace.

You will find several questions on the exam that are trick questions, where one or two or all three answers seem correct. Only one will be, these questions are present to truly test your knowledge.

Just keep in mind that these types of questions are present on each variation of the exam and your knowledge of the subject will be the only thing keeping you from answering that question incorrectly.

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Weather

Do you need to be a meteorologist to pass this section? No. However, understanding the weather will be necessary for performing safe flights.

Being able to read and decipher TAFS and METARS and weather patterns will keep your aircraft safe, and your flights controlled. Weather is the most difficult topic on the exam after Airspace. Weather on average will make up 11 to 16% of the test.

You’ll need to understand:

  • The characteristics of warm and cold fronts.
  • Which three ingredients are needed for thunderstorm formation.
  • How to read a Terminal Aerodrome Forecast (TAF).
  • The difference between stable and unstable air.

Weather Sample Question:

What are typical characteristics of unstable air?

A) Continuous, steady precipitation
B) Fog and haze
C) Good visibility and showery precipitation

Image Credit: FAA DroneZone

This question requires you to know some basic information about weather theory, specifically air masses.

In aviation weather, there are two types of air referred to as either “stable” or “unstable” air. For reasons that are too long and far too complex to try to explain here, stable air is generally characterized by smooth flying weather and poor visibility, and continuous steady precipitation.

Unstable air masses are generally made up of areas where there is a lot of quickly rising warm air. This usually is characterized by good visibility, lots of turbulence, and showery precipitation.

Correct Answer: C

Loading and Performance

Even with all of the automation on drones, you’ll still need to understand the why and how. This knowledge will help ensure you’re flying your drone in a safe manner in accordance with the manufacturer’s limitations. Or, if the manufacturer doesn’t provide any, how to determine those limitations on your own.

This portion of the exam will make up 7 to 11% of the exam.

Performance topics include:

  • How do you determine your drone’s speed and altitude without instrumentation?
  • How much of a load factor does your drone experience in a sharp turn?
  • How do you attach payloads to your drone and stay within operating limits?
  • What kinds of effects does high altitude have on your drone?
Image Credit: FAA DroneZone

Loading and Performance Sample Question:

If the center of gravity on your aircraft is too far aft (rearward), what is the likely result?

A) The aircraft will have difficulty recovering from a stalled position
B) The aircraft will not be able to maintain a constant turn
C) The aircraft will have increased airspeed

The center of gravity is the point in the aircraft where the aircraft is perfectly balanced. When this balance is out of line, it can affect the aerodynamic performance of the aircraft.

The center of gravity can be too far aft (which means too far back towards the rear of the aircraft) when the aircraft is not loaded properly.

To answer this question properly, you also need to know what a “stalled position” is. In short, when an aircraft’s wings are no longer generating lift, they are in a “stalled position.”

A stall occurs when the aircraft’s wings exceed their “critical angle of attack” which, plainly speaking, is the difference between the direction/angle that the wing is pointed and the point where the air is hitting the wing.

This often can happen when the aircraft’s speed is too slow. Air is not able to flow over the wing with enough velocity to generate lift for the aircraft.

To recover from a stall, pilots will pitch the nose of the aircraft DOWN in order to reduce the angle of attack, build up more airspeed, and have ample airflow over the wing.

If the center of gravity is too far aft (remember: rearward), it will be difficult for the pilot to pitch the nose of the aircraft forward and recover from the stall.

See the diagram below for an illustration of this concept.  This diagram comes from the FAA Weight and Balance Handbook (link).

Image Credit: FAA DroneZone

So, here our answer to this question is that having the CG too far aft will cause the aircraft to have difficulty recovering from a stalled position.

Correct Answer: A

Now, this question shows up on most of the exams and can be easy to overlook for the quadcopter pilot, as the stall ratio of a quadcopter is completely different than that of a fixed-wing craft.

What if I need some help getting ready for the knowledge test?

As you start your flight through the cloudy stormy skies of the knowledge you will need to successfully pass your FAA Part 107 exam, you’re going to find the skies unfriendly at first with many new things being thrown at you, things that may not be easy to understand right away.

Hang in there, and if you’re in need of some help along the way, there are some excellent options out there to help clear those skies up and make that flight a lot easier.

Here are some of our recommended resources to help you get ready for your Knowledge Test:

Become an FAA-Certified Drone Pilot to Fly for Commercial Use
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Part 107 Commercial Drone Pilot License Course
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Drone Pilot Ground School – Is Worth It (Here’s Why)

Pilot Institute – Is It Worth It? (For Beginners)

Drone Pro Academy: Is It Worth It? (Must-Read)

Drone Launch Academy: Is It Worth It? (For Beginners)

Peltier Drone Courses (All You Need to Know)

Altitude University: Is It Worth It? (For Beginners)

Any one of the above sites will provide you with all the knowledge you need to not only become an FAA Part 107 pilot, but just a better pilot all around. They will all guide you through the important process of gaining the needed information and how to apply that knowledge.

Which is the best one for you?

That’s a choice only you can make, but any one of the above options will provide a legitimate course and understanding of the material. So, study, learn, pass, and welcome aboard.

Fly Safe, Fly Always, Always Fly Safe!