As a cinematographer, I love all sorts of visuals. One type I’ve always appreciated is aerial photography/cinematography. For me they give the viewer a perspective that is unlike any other.
Historically, aerial photography was only possible using large and expensive aircraft like planes or helicopters. I’ve only had one opportunity to shoot out of a helicopter and let me tell you, “it’s a pretty awesome experience!” That being said, these types of opportunities, come far and between.
Enter Remote Aerial Imaging or more commonly referred to as … Drones! As I mentioned earlier, I love aerial images, but I have never been too keen on learning how to operate a drone. So why start now?
Well, as I branch out more into freelancing, I’ve come to realize that to be successful, you really have to diversify you skill sets. With that in mind, in this series of Posts, I will be documenting my experience on learning how to become a drone pilot and along the way hopefully share things I find helpful.
DRONE Legalities (at least for the United States)
Here in the United States, the FAA (Federal Aviation Administration) oversees and provides guidelines on the operation of drones. The FAA has specified three primary requirements that need to be met in order to operate a drone legally in the united states and it’s territories (Puerto Rico).
The first is REGISTRATION. Any drone that is over 0.55lbs/2.4kg and under 55lbs/25kg (anything over 55lbs/25kg ), must be registered with the FAA. This is a simple process that can be done online.
The second requirement is for drone pilots who intend on operating their drone commercially. Commercial Use as defined by the FAA is, “flying incidental to a business.” Pilots must pass an FAA administered test in order to receive COMMERCIAL CERTIFICATION that then permits them to operate drones commercially.
The third requirement is essentially a SET OF RULES that pilots must adhere to. This applies even to those who only intend to use their drone recreationally. Here are some of the rules:
- Fly at or below 400 feet
- Keep your UAS (Unmanned Aerial System) within sight
- Never fly near other aircraft, especially near airports
- Never fly over groups of people
- Never fly over stadiums or sports events
- Never fly near emergency response efforts such as fires
- Never fly under the influence
- Be aware of airspace requirements
My intent, as far as drones, is to 1) invest in a drone and 2) use it as part of my business. Thus, with the above legalities in mind, I know that at some point, I will need to register my drone (when I get one) and pass the FAA test.
However, before I can even think of those two things, being a complete drone noob, I first need to learn how to physically operate a drone. This is my number one concern. Why? As I understand it, the FAA Commerical Drone Pilot Test, is simply a knowledge based exam. In other words, anyone can study, take the test, and presumably pass the test without ever having flown an actual drone. Possessing a FAA Certification to operate a drone does not in itself mean you are a qualified pilot. It’s like saying you can drive a car just because you passed the written exam but have never actually physically driven a car. Similarly, the FAA test does not test actual pilot operating proficiency
How to become a proficient drone pilot? It’s quite simple. Flight Hours! Nothing can replace actual time operating a drone whether it be on a … or a real drone. Why? Piloting a drone involves developing muscle memory. It trains your hands and eyes to react without conscious thought. With that in mind, meet my first drone!
Why start with this lil’ guy? For one, this drone cost almost nothing, good for a starter drone that will undoubtedly experience “issues”, yet has the same controls found on larger drones. Secondly, I’ve come to find that these little drones are actually harder to control than larger drones. Why is that a good thing? Well, if I can learn to “pilot” one of these then the transition going up should much easier!
The second way to becoming a proficient drone pilot is to find a good instructor. Just liked when you first learned how to drive a car, having a good friend who is already experienced and willing to share is invaluable. Fortunately, I have a good friend who is just that! He has been building and flying drones for quite some time now (as well as possessing a recreational pilots license).
Over the past few weeks I’ve been flying my little drone around and I am slowly getting the hang of it. Here are a couple things that I’ve learned.
- Finesse is everything! When flying these micro drones, the tendency is to always go “full throttle”. While fun, it does not translate to good camera work. So, I’ve really been focusing on being more “sensitive” with my flight controls.
- Flying the drone backwards, when the front of the drone is facing you, it is very disorienting because the controls are essentially reversed! Right is left and left is right!
- Cannot emphasize enough how important it is to build muscle memory! The other day, when I started flying a larger drone (more in the next post), a gust of wind picked up and started pushing the drone towards a building. I didn’t have time to think, but my hands didn’t need me too, they just did what they had to do. Muscle memory!
In next post, I hope to share with you my preparation for taking the 107, as well as more flying experiences!