Alva Review-Courier -

Lynn Says

Getting a license as a “remote pilot for a drone

 


The FAA is getting tough on drone operations that violate the rules of the National Air Space system. If you are going to use a drone for any type of business or non-hobby use, you need to get your pilot's license to be a “remote pilot.”

I spent the last two weeks obtaining such a remote pilot certificate. Those holding a private pilot (or higher) certificate and current under flight-review rules, may operate a drone. Even with such a pilot's license, the FAA wants you to take an online test regarding drone rules. So, I thought if I'm going to have to take a written test anyway, might as well go for the Remote Pilot Certificate.

So I signed up for a $295, four-night course at MetroTech Career Tech in their aviation center at Will Rogers World Airport. The course was three hours per night under the instruction of an 80-year-old gentleman who had 30 years' background flying U.S. Navy F4 Phantoms. Of course he had some great war stories to tell. There were six in the course, and I was the only one in the class with a pilot's license besides the instructor. He, at the moment, is grounded waiting out his year after heart-bypass surgery.

He said, “You are a pilot when flying a drone. You are a pilot when flying inside an aircraft. You can damage property or injure people with a drone, you can damage property or injure people with an airplane. So the bottom line is, you've got to know each others' rules.”

He basically said we were going to take the ground-school (book-learning) for all classes of being a pilot: private, instrument, commercial and air transport. He said, “You've got to know their rules to fly in their airspace and they've got to know your rules.”

Well, that's pretty overwhelming. Far more difficult than when I got my private pilot's license about 50 years ago. It was only ONE test, and the air-space system was about a quarter as difficult as it is now.

So I went through the four-night course. On the fifth day, we were supposed to be able to take the computerized test to either pass or fail. It is a 60-question test, and you have two hours to complete it. It is a “proctored” test, which means somebody has to observe you at all times that you are not cheating. In additional, cellphones and smart watches and other electronic devices cannot be taken into the room.

Oh, it costs about $150 to take the test. If you fail, you must wait two weeks to try again and you have to pay up another $150.

To further add to the impending doom was the report that of the first class of six students, only two passed the test. Their computer system was down on the test-taking day, so the MetroTech people said you'll have to come back next week.

That was probably a break for me. I initially wanted to take the test quickly to reduce the amount of information I would forget. As it turns out, I spent the next week spending about four to six hours per day watching YouTube videos on various topics we had covered and taking practice online exams. I'm sure that extra 30 hours of study paid off. Our instructor had warned us not to quit studying. Even one of the students (I think maybe he had failed an earlier exam) advised us strongly as we parted, “Guys, study a LOT.”

I timed my visit back to MetroTech for test-taking so I could hit a couple of Ladybugs basketball games in Cushing.

The electronic computer-based test was brilliantly designed. They had a practice round of non-aviation related questions like, “What color is grass?” and they would provide four answer choices. When you were convinced you could run the computer and understood how to mark your answers, you called the proctor and said you were ready to go. Oh, you could also go backward or forward through the test if you had second thoughts about a previous answer.

It took me 75 minutes of the allotted 120 minutes for the 60 questions. The proctor asked if I was “really” done. When I said “Yes,” she entered a code and my test was immediately graded. Minimum passing score was 70. I got an 88. So I was very pleased considering the difficulty of the material.

One must be 16 years of age to hold a Remote Pilot Certificate, a citizen, and be able to pass a TSA security check.

 

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