So, I didn’t necessarily need to get a pilot’s license to fly a UAV in the United States. You do need to register any drone that weights over 0.55 lbs (this is very much what drove the design of the DJI Mavic Mini). And, of course, you have to follow all FAA regulations. However, you don’t need to be a registered pilot, unless you are going to fly the drone commercially (check here for details.) Commercial applications would include anything from working for hire to do roof inspections, to taking professional photographs, to even making money from YouTube videos that you make. Commercial UAV pilot certificates are commonly called Part 107 licenses because fall under the FAA’s Small UAS Rule (Part 107).
If you were to ask me, I would say that I was getting the license so that we could offer drone photography that is part of my wife’s photography business. That is an entirely factual statement because we will be offering drone photography at weddings and Part 107 Licenses are required to do that. But, I should add to that, I could get a real FAA pilot’s license! Let me repeat that, I have a real reason to get a real FAA pilot’s license! Hell yeah, I was going to do that!
The Part 107 license is not really all that complicated to get. You need to pay $160, get a 70% or higher on a 60 question multiple choice test at a special testing center, and then pass a background check. The test itself is really focused on things like definitions of airspace (where you can and cannot fly), weather, practical safety, and a few other things that are pretty obvious with some reasonable sense of what is and isn’t risky behavior. Airspace and weather were a little tricky, but manageable. Since I live near an airport, I thought that the airspace information was very useful even though it was the most time consuming to learn.
To prepare, I paid $12.99 for this course on Udemy. I would recommend it because it hit the important stuff, but didn’t waste time with fluff. I went through it twice at double speed for the lectures and then took a few practice tests. It probably spent less than 10 hours in total preparing. I should note that I am likely better than average at test taking so results may vary. When it comes to test time, you do need to schedule at a registered testing facility so you will need to plan ahead and for me it required a 45 minute drive on a sunny Saturday morning to a private company next to an airport in Flint. I had two hours to take the test, but knocked it out in an hour with a 93% score that they let me know immediately.
I probably could say more about the test, but let’s just say that make sure that you study, take your time, and get it done. It wasn’t hard, but it does require some preparation. Most importantly, I was now an official UAV pilot!