Unmanned aircraft systems, also known as UASs, are air vehicles without a human operator. UASs serve a variety of purposes in different environments like disaster response, healthcare, communications, wildlife monitoring and the military. In this blog post, we’ll explore and provide answers about what is needed to obtain a remote pilot certificate and explore the differences between the civilian and military drone industry.

Enrolling in Drone Training Courses

Those interested in learning how to become a drone pilot will need to enroll in an in-person training course at an accredited school such as the Aviation Institute of Maintenance (AIM). Drone training is typically a two-day course where students become equipped with extensive knowledge of the drone industry. Each person participating in the drone course will gain an understanding on how to operate, test and control high-tech machines. Whether you are intending to use your hands on drone training for a commercial company, personal business or to gain unique skillsets, such as video or photography, learning how to fly a drone can open a whole new field of opportunities to participants.

AIM drone instructor and two administrators with a drone
A two-day course at the Aviation Institute of Maintenance can provide students with an advantage to becoming a commercial drone pilot.

Drone Pilot Certification Process

At the Aviation Institute of Maintenance, our training courses are divided into two sections. The first class introduces the UAS industry and distinguishes an operator’s role and mission when flying a UAS. In the second seminar, drone pilots learn the basic and advanced techniques of flight training.

Part 1: The Operator Role

The first section of training is gaining in person experience in the drone pilot operator role. You’ll learn about aviation history related to UAS and the aviation industry, the physiological aspects of UAS, and the aerodynamics theory and the principles of flight. Then, your teacher will pass along general knowledge of the UAS industry, like how to

  • Identify the roles and responsibilities for UAS drone operators
  • Perform aircraft systems and navigation Inspections
  • Calculate and test weight and balance
  • Exam Flight restrictions and obstacle clearing

Part 2: Basic and Advanced Airmanship Skills

Part two of the UAS Operator and Flight Training Course focuses on the hands on skills needed to become a drone pilot. This part of the training will cover aerial photography with mission planning and execution that can be applied to a career in agriculture, business, real estate, video and infrastructure inspection. Actions items include:

  • Understanding the unique flight properties and performance of quad-copter UASs
  • Performing preflight inspection and airspace/regulation checks before flight
  • Executing basic and advanced flight maneuvers:
    • take off, land, hover, and orbit
  • Planning mission and selection of flight paths
  • Describing ground control software and hardware
  • Performing line of sight (LOS) operation to execute a basic photo, Video or survey mission
  • Discussing safety tips and use of checklists
  • Describing actions and response to common emergency scenarios

Obtaining an FAA Drone License Exam

According to the Federal Aviation Administration, in order to fly a drone under FAA ‘s Small UAS Rule (Part 107), a remote drone pilot certificate from the FAA must first be obtained. A thorough, in person two-day drone course, such as AIM’s, will provide a person the adequate Part 107 test prep needed to take the UAS license exam. Students who pass the FAA UAS aeronautical test (or recurrent test for former military UAS operators) will then be able to move towards obtaining their operator certificate by testing for the FAA drone license exam.

Currently, a Part 107 license allows for the complete operation of a drone aircraft in the skies for the purposes of:

  • surveying
  • inspections
  • agriculture operations
  • aerial photography or video
  • other positions that may be specialized within a select business

In general, within any UAS company and any career within the industry, a Part 107 license could act as a differentiator between you and other technicians or pilots. This is because of the Part 107 license’s specificity and the awareness it provides of the regulations and requirements to fly a drone in the national airspace via in person training. Its greatest benefit is when aircraft are below 55 pounds.  The return on investment is less as FAA requirements mandate operation under other regulators as aircraft become larger, faster, carry heavy cargo, and begin to carry passengers.

How Military Drone Training Differs from Civilian Courses

Drone instructor using a remote to control a drone.
One of the most common questions in civilian drone training is how it differs from that of the military.

While civilian drone training can be covered in a quick in person course, military drone training is completely different. Civilian courses cover the minimum of the Part 107 requirements but military drone training is airframe specific and goes into all aspects of maintenance required to fly these aircraft.

In the military, smaller drones require less training while loiter or strike-capable aircraft will need more piloting and sensor payload operations courses. Large drones are operated with all the same systems a large turbine aircraft would have, with the only exception being the lack of crew systems.

On a specific airframe in the military, there may be a mix of powerplant, airframes, avionics or hydraulics-only technicians performing drone maintenance.

“The military does not require familiarity of all systems and trades like an A&P program would teach,” said Dave Kemp, instructor at the Aviation Institute of Maintenance in Charlotte. “These disciplines rarely overlap in their training and work on aircraft besides the use of the manuals and documenting maintenance, and this is usually the case across all branches of the military as well as airframe models.”

The Future for Drone Pilots

Earning a remote pilot certification has become very popular. People are interested in learning how to fly a drone for personal or business purposes. According to a statistic from Commercial UAV News, since Part 107 was introduced in 2016, the number of remote pilots has climbed to over 280,000. There are also more than 865,000 drones currently registered.

While photography and videos have been the most visible use of drones over these past few years, there are many additional benefits that these devices bring – including saving our planet – such as:

AIM students flying a drone with an instructor watching.
Students practice flying a drone as they learn about the regulations of the FAA.
  • Replanting forests
  • Maintaining crops
  • Reducing congestion and air pollution
  • Helping to provide carbon tax credits

The automation of UASs could also someday compete with that of robots. These altruistic goals can even add in the increased speed of transportation and create a world with never-before-seen processes.

“As we sleep, drones will patrol our skies and streets to keep us safe,” said Kemp. “Drones will take us to space and beyond and wherever our imaginations will go next.”

Drones continue to evolve in their many benefits that comes with continued research as well as offering more qualified training in order to properly operate these devices.

Which Path to Take

While there are some similarities between military and civilian drone courses, there are also significant differences that reflect the unique needs and contexts of each sector. Military training is more extensive and rigorous, with courses focusing on compliance with regulations and security protocols. Their lessons tend to be focused on achieving specific mission objectives rather than flying drones for recreational purposes. Civilian training, on the other hand, concentrates on courses that teach basic piloting skills, commercial applications, safety, and regulatory compliance.

Training equipment also differs between military and civilian training. Military drones are often more complex and sophisticated than civilian drones, which means that military training requires access to specialized equipment such as simulators and advanced ground control stations. On the contrary, civilian drone training may only require access to basic equipment such as consumer-grade drones and computer simulators.

Ultimately, the decision on whether to pursue civilian or military drone courses comes down to the desired outcome or skills that a person wishes to gain. All of this information learned will provide a benefit, but there will be a bigger difference in commitment that will be required for the training itself.