“You need to have a license to fly that drone?”

If I had a nickel for every time I was asked that – well, let’s not be dramatic, I could buy a Coke or something. When I have my drone out at various gigs, kids come up and talk to me about the drone they have at home. Adults do the same thing. Lots of people have drones now, and the basic answer to the question is no. You don’t need to have a license to fly one – unless you plan on making any money with it.  Woah, make money with a drone? Real estate, building inspections, farming, weddings, events, movies – the list goes on and on for how to make money with your drone. So why the need to get a license? And who’s checking it anyway? Well, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) is. There have already been fines imposed on people who have operated outside of the rules, and there are many more examples to be made as the rules, which were just implemented late in 2016, settle in. Let’s look at the path to getting YOUR license.

The Knowledge
The path to getting your license is not overly complicated, but it’ll take a little work on your part. The first order of business? Learn the material. At the end of the day, passing a written knowledge test is required to obtain your license. The knowledge you need has many overlapping areas into that of a pilot. You might be thinking, “what could there possibly be to know about flying a drone?” Well, the answer is…a lot. Up until 2016, being a commercial drone operator required either being a pilot or having a special exemption from the FAA. Now most people can become a commercial drone operator, but there is an extensive bank of knowledge to be tested on. To learn it, you could go through the courses of study for pilots, using flight manuals. I’d love to share the skies with you if you choose to go that route and become a pilot. But if you are just looking to get your drone license, combing through the 600 or so pages of the Aeronautical Information Manual can be overwhelming.  Then the FAA part 107 drone rules are over 600 pages as well. On the other hand, reading a basic study guide for the test won’t get you the depth of knowledge you need to pass. My friend Jason Schappert over at RemotePilot101 (and MZeroA) has prepared a special message – exclusively for Clayviation fans – to help explain. Take a couple minutes to watch below and see for yourself. Through Clayviation’s partnership with RemotePilot101, take advantage of the special promo code “Clay30” to save 30% off the course price.


The Cost
Thankfully, getting your drone license is not a very costly endeavor. The knowledge test itself is around $150 and can be taken at a variety of locations. The course at RemotePilot101 is $149, but you can knock that price down to just $99 as a fan and subscriber of Clayviation by using the promo code “Clay30.” Keep in mind that the written test will need to be taken every two years. This means that you will need to pay the $150 every two years to retest and maintain your commercial drone pilot privileges. The benefit of purchasing the RemotePilot101 course is that you have access for life. So every two years when it’s time to take the test, you can sign on to the course to update and refresh your knowledge.  Jason is constantly updating the course with new videos that guide you right on through those ever changing test questions.  Even as a pilot, I personally gained a lot of invaluable information from the course.

Phantom 4 Drone Surveying House Construction

Surveying construction projects is just one of many popular drone services you can offer.  Has anyone seen my hammer?


The Process
Here’s what the big picture will look like – call it the view from 400 feet. First, you study with a course like RemotePilot101. Then, you schedule your written knowledge test at a certified testing facility. After you pass, you’ll receive a temporary certificate. A flight instructor or other authorized personnel will help you log on to a system called IACRA to help you process your rating. After they verify your information and electronically sign you off, your permanent license will be processed and mailed to you. It might take six weeks or so – be patient. A personal note – you might be taking your test at your local airport. If you really want to make an awesome day of it, you might think about taking a discovery flight in an airplane while you’re there. You’ve just learned a significant portion of aviation knowledge and how to operate a small aircraft (your drone) in the airspace system. You might just catch the flying bug like I did.

Phantom 4 Drone Over Eatonton Georgia

The view from above is nice – getting your Part 107 license opens up a ton of opportunities to fly your drone and get paid to do it.


Study Topics
Seeing a trailer to a movie is necessary to get an idea of what the movie will be like.  Similarly, you are probably eager to know what sort of topics are covered in the knowledge test. I’m glad you asked. While the bank of test questions spans a wide array of topics, there are three that stand out as significant. First of all, since you will be operating your drone in the air, you are integrating into the same airspace as manned aircraft. Airspace is a huge component of the knowledge. You can read my blogs about Airspace 101 (Part 1 and Part 2) to get a little taste of it. On the test, you’ll also be expected to read a sectional chart, which is an aviation map. I’ve covered a small portion of that in my blog on reading sectional charts. Finally, there’s weather. It’s both the driving force of simple small talk and also infinitely complicated. For this test, very specific aviation weather knowledge will be needed. Take a read at a couple of blog posts to whet your appetite by learning to read TAFs and learning to read METARs.

Phantom 4 Drone In Flight

Flying a drone professionally requires much more knowledge than just getting it into the air.  What’s THIS button do?


Bring It In To Land
This is all the starting point of a really cool journey that simply didn’t exist a few years ago. As the drone industry grows at rapid rates, this is such a great time to hop on in – the water is warm. I’ve enjoyed the pleasure of having my own drone photography business as well as being a pilot. The crossovers between the worlds are ever growing. I see many pilots who find themselves naturally drawn to the world of drones.  Likewise, many drone operators awaken their desire to fly airplanes by dipping their toes into aviation as they fly drones.  Whichever paths you end up choosing, you’ll find the passion of aviation potent, challenging, and rewarding.  One more thing.  Be sure to leave your questions about getting your drone rating in the comments. I’ll take some of those questions to Jason of RemotePilot101 on a video call that I’ll record and bring back to you. Thanks so much for being a subscriber to Clayviation. It’s truly a blast to be able to explore aviation, continuously learn, and talk to you about it in the process.

To sign up for RemotePilot101, just click the banner underneath this blog and use promo code Clay30 to save 30%!

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  1. JP

    Taking right now, taking test next week.

    Let you know how it goes.

    • Clay

      Great – have a great time with it and good luck!

  2. Eric

    Nice post, Clay. One can only imagine how big this industry will be in 5 years. It will be exciting to watch.

    Thanks for taking the lead and helping to chart the way for others to follow in this exciting new areana of commercial aviation.

    • Clay

      Thanks Eric! I can’t even imagine 5 years from now, but I, too, am excited to be a part of it.


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