Tag Archives: FAA Part 107

I Don’t Fly Drones, I’m an Unmanned Aircraft System Remote Pilot


Today, I sat for the Federal Aviation Agency’s “Part 107” exam. I passed by a comfortable margin, but it was no walk in the park. I studied hard, probably a total of 25-35 hours (I’ll tell you how I studied in a bit). I made an appointment for the exam at a flying school that also tests for every level of pilot skill. I paid $150, filled out FAA paperwork, and had an awesome test proctor named Mario. (He flew on EC-47s in Vietnam doing electronic warfare, which was my own career field under the USAF’s Tactical Air Command a dozen and a half years later. It’s really a small world sometimes.) I had butterflies, as it was a formal test setting… I struggled with maybe 10 of the 60 questions, but ultimately found that my studying had paid off when I saw my final score.

Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS) are a real deal in the aviation world these days. You can read elsewhere about just how big of a force they are becoming, but if you are going to use drones ANYWHERE in a business setting then you should be licensed as a remote pilot. For one thing, it’s the law. For another, you will learn a lot along the way as you study for the exam that will help you to not get in trouble as you use your drone for business.

Get Your Mind Right

Drones are playthings. Toys. Model flying machines that you race and take videos with on the hobby side of life. There’s no negativity here, and I use my own drone in this way as well sometimes. But when you cross that line and put your small unmanned aircraft to practical, revenue-generating operational use, EVERYONE benefits from you reshaping your attitude. That UAS is a legitimate aircraft (you’ll put a tail number on it) and you are a licensed pilot. You and your craft can achieve great things, but you also have to understand where you fit in the overall framework of the aviation system. Skip it all and be a rogue operator, and you can easily put lives and property at risk- and I’m not being dramatic. The journey to getting that license will teach you incredible things about the aeronautical world that you’ll be a part of.

How to Approach the Study Process

If you are an accomplished self-study kinda person, then read on. If you don’t do so good teaching yourself new and complicated material- and this is absolutely a complicated body of knowledge- then you probably ought to invest in one of the many available online ground schools. If you’re serious about going down this road, it will be time and money well spent.

I happen to be very good at self-study, with more years than I care to admit spent perfecting techniques that work for me. There are a a lot of blogs and videos out there about “How I passed the Part 107 exam”, and each is a personal testimony that may or may not bring value to you. What comes next here is my own methodology- I make no promises that it will work for you. But what may be different about my approach is that I also happen to be an educator, researcher, writer, and analyst. I think critically, and I generally don’t cut corners.

What Worked For Me

Here we go.

You are after achievement of competency/mastery in a working knowledge of these areas:

  1. Applicable regulations relating to small unmanned aircraft system rating privileges, limitations, and flight operation
  2. Airspace classification and operating requirements, and flight restrictions affecting small unmanned aircraft operation
  3. Aviation weather sources and effects of weather on small unmanned aircraft performance
  4. Small unmanned aircraft loading and performance
  5. Emergency procedures
  6. Crew resource management
  7. Radio communication procedures
  8. Determining the performance of small unmanned aircraft
  9. Physiological effects of drugs and alcohol
  10. Aeronautical decision-making and judgment
  11. Airport operations
  12. Maintenance and preflight inspection procedures

This is the prize that your eyes need to stay on. Now get to it- and have a notebook at the ready.

  • Visit this FAA page– bookmark it and refer to it often (some exam answers are on the page). Download the PDF version of each of the Suggested Study Materials and give each at least one read-through. Don’t get hung up on memorizing stuff yet, but try to remember what is in each resource. You’ll be coming back to them.
  • Watch this video by Tony Northrup. I love his delivery, his style, and that he gave of his time and perspective freely for the rest of us. I do NOT agree with his assessment that the Part 107 exam was a cake-walk. I know that mine certainly was not. Refer back to parts about sectional charts, METARS, and TAFs as often as you need to. You need to be as comfortable with all these as he is.
  • Take yourself to the free Part 107 exam site at the King Flight School. Note that you can test on each individual knowledge area, and I recommend that you do. Then take the practice test with 60 questions from all the areas at least a couple of times. GET THAT NOTEBOOK OUT. Through the King Practice tests, you’ll start to find specific areas that stump you. Write those questions down in your notebook. Don’t get hung up on them. Take a break from King… but you’re not done here.
  • Take yourself to the 3DR Part 107 practice test pages. You’ll find great overlap with King, but the look and feel is different enough to help you to not fall under the spell of simple memorization of any one test site. The same guidance on stumpers applies here- write them in your notebook. But don’t get down on yourself for anything that isn’t clicking- this is some pretty arcane stuff in spots. You’re not done here either…
  • If you have an Android device, get this app. Like the King site, you can test on individual areas or the whole mix, and there is also a handy Study Mode with decent explanations. Here too, use that notebook when something stumps you.
  • Run through ALL THREE OF THESE PRACTICE TEST FRAMEWORKS a couple of times. By now, you’ll feel your confidence growing in spots and frustrations mounting in others.
  • Hopefully, you have several pages in your notebook of individual questions- that represent discreet topics- to work on. And you’ll work on them via the FCC docs that you downloaded back in the beginning. The PHAK will be your main go-to here. Don’t just clarify the question that confused you- remember that the question represents an entire topic, and you have to explore all facets of that topic. I can’t stress this enough, especially for the Sectional Charts and Airspace Classes. Gotta know them cold, I tellya.
  • In the remaining time, rotate through your notes/areas that challenge you, and each of the practice tests. By now you’ll be somewhat in the trap of having memorized many of the questions and answers. Discipline yourself to slow it down, not be a robot, and actually read the words while thinking about the bigger topic.


How Did This End Up Working For Me?

Pretty good, actually. I felt that I had gone far past brute memorization of practice tests, and actually learned A LOT. (I also want to build on that knowledge through real life experiences as a commercial UAS pilot). There were questions that threw me for a loop on the real exam, but I learned enough in studying to make decent guesses and to rule out bad answers.

As a Part 107 pilot, I have to recertify every 24 months. I’m comfortable that my initial studying was done with sufficient depth of retention (and sparking of the desire to keep learning along the way) that I’ll be in pretty good shape when I do this again in 2020.

Good luck to you on your own quest to get licensed.


RELATED: So, I’m a Drone Guy Now

So, I’m a Drone Guy Now…

Drone.pngYes I am. I came into possession of a previously loved unit from a gent who I trust to not have abused it, and suddenly I’m in the game. I’ve got maybe eight minutes of flying in, as it’s been a fairly brutal Central New York winter and there haven’t been any decent opportunities to get out and exercise my newfound droneness.

So how is this blogworthy?

I’ll tell you, I’ve learned (and realized) a lot just getting ready to get into the drone thing, and I want to share that with others  who may be contemplating following the same path. But first, let me explain why even though I’m new to FLYING drones, I’m not a complete babe in the woods when it comes to the bigger drone story.

Drone Stuff I’ve Written About

For the past few years, I’ve been following commercial drone goings on as they make my radar. Here are are a couple of examples

Countermeasures Against Drones

I spent over ten years in the US Air Force in a career field broadly referred to as Electronic Warfare. The short version is that it’s a discipline that seeks to leverage the electromagnetic spectrum to our advantage, while doing nasty things with it to ruin the bad guys’ day. Fast forward to here and now, and the Drone Countermeasures industry has a lot in common with my old line of work. Take a look at:

There are others, and I have no doubt that anti-drone countermeasures are now part of my old military job as well. Fascinating stuff, no?

But Back To Me, the Drone Guy

As I get ready to be one of the bazillion people out there posting cool and/or utterly-boring-to-other people footage and pictures taken from my own drone, here’s what I’ve picked up about the whole thing in the last couple of weeks.

  • The FAA’s drone registry is back. Just do it and stop whining.
  • If you fly a drone, you are either a hobbyist (Section 366) or making money with it (Part 107). Don’t game the system and sell your drone services without meeting all of the Part 107 requirements/qualifications. It’s just not worth the likely fines.drone rules
    (Scraped from FAA’s drone registry pages)
  • There are a universal set of rules for recreational use of drones. I recommend learning them, and maybe printing out a copy to have in your drone kit to help keep you on the straight and narrow.
  • There are sooooooooooo many places you might like to fly, but probably can’t- at least without getting explicit permission. Like state parks and such… it is what it is. Look into the rules, make some calls, etc before you drive all day to get somewhere that won’t welcome your awesome quad.
  • There are a ridiculous amount of “airports” out there. I live out in the sticks, and my home address is within 5 miles (a magic number for drone operators) of a handful of “airports”. Each is a 1500-foot grass strip that may see one small aircraft a year, if that. But they are registered, active operational entities that I’m not supposed to fly a drone within 5 miles of without tracking down the owner/manager and notifying them before every flight. I’m guessing this is one of the more frequently ignored rules. (There are many apps that show this airport/contact information, designed just for drone folks.)
  • Anyone who’s into photography will understand this: it doesn’t take long before you start looking at the terrain around you a little differently as a drone person… how might I fly to that pond? I wonder if I could get over those trees, etc.
  • Like many hobbies, the drone thing takes time but can easily become a mania. Make sure you balance it with other responsibilities and family time.
  • A lot more laws concerning drones are pending at many levels of government, most at local/state levels- despite the FAA being the law of the land. It’s gonna get messy.

And on the Technical Side

Paging my wireless networking homies!

  • Most drones operate in 2.4 GHz and need line of sight between the controller and the drone.
  • Yes, the satellites likely come into play, but that 2.4 GHz link is critical
  • We all know how crappy 2.4 GHz can be in congested areas. Keep that in mind, lest you make poor choices about where to fly and find it hard to maintain control.
  • It’s still Wi-Fi, at least between the controller and your smartphone/tablet used for many drone apps. (Between controller and drone it may be different modulation that normal Wi-Fi.)
  • As with Wi-Fi, you can get jiggy with higher-gain antennas and experimentation with better signal capabilities.
  • Regardless of what model drone you choose, there are likely active forums with lots of participation by fellow owners. And in these forums you’ll find a mix of decent people out to both learn from and to help their fellow man, and some individuals who seem to measure their own self-worth by how condescending they can be to others. Ignore the dicks.
  • Regardless of what drone you choose, there will ALWAYS be a better, fancier, more expensive one right around the corner. You can covet these things like the next iPhone and spend endless dollars, or just enjoy what you have until the motors wear out (then replace the motors). Just know that you’ll always have new ones hitting the market that can make yours look stale.

In closing, I’m really looking forward to the drone thing for one more reason: way back when, I finished a BS degree in Aeronautics. I’ll probably get the Part 107 qualifications in case I choose to add professional drone services to my skills docket, and I’m looking forward to getting back in touch (even if just a little bit) with all things aeronautical via the drone lifestyle.

I am a drone guy now, after all.