Do you want to make money flying your drone? If you want to fly a drone in the US for anything other than as a hobbyist, you need to get licensed under 14 CFR Part 107. To get the license, you need to take a knowledge test from the FAA. A couple weeks ago I passed the Part 107 knowledge test with a score of 95%. Here are my thoughts on the test and the processes to get it.
I had a little bit of a head start, since I started studying for a private pilot’s license a few years ago. Although I decided not to get it at the time, it meant that a lot of the FAA stuff was already familiar. I wasn‘t ready to test on it, but I already had the basic concepts of airspace, airport procedures, aerodynamics, etc.
One of the benefits this had was understanding the “why” on some of the things that don’t seem to make as much sense if you are only familiar with flying drones. Why do you need 3 statute mile visibility when you can’t see a drone at that range? Why the 500 ft below, 2000 ft lateral cloud clearance? Because those are the VFR (visual flight rules) limits for manned aircraft (and you can see manned aircraft at those ranges to avoid them). It makes sense to keep that consistent, especially so manned aircraft pilots know what to expect. Knowing how to read TAF and METAR weather reports are useful because they include aviation specific details like visibility and cloud heights. Your weather app probably doesn’t provide those details like the reports that are designed for pilots, even if those reports could use an update.
Along with that base knowledge, I used the following to prepare for the test:
- YouTube videos by Tony Northrop and Blue Ridge Drone Photography
- The FAA study guide
- The ASA test prep app.
- A copy of the testing supplement, which is how you are provided the sectional charts, weather reports, and other material during the test. It is a good idea to go through the testing supplement and make sure you are familiar with all the codes in the METARs, look through the sectionals, etc. since this material is more likely to show up on the test. It is available in hardcopy from Amazon with the ASA Study Guide (Amazon affiliate link) or as a PDF from the FAA.
I worked through all of those a few times, and had a pretty good grasp on the topics. I also had The Airplane Flying Handbook and Pilot’s Handbook of Aeronautical Knowledge as reference, but only used those to look up a couple details. The FAA makes some of the actual test questions available, and all of those resources use them. I had many questions on the test that I had seen verbatim in the practice tests, or with slight differences. Just remember that there might be variations in the questions and answers, so it is not enough to just memorize the specific answers, but having the questions is a very solid blueprint of what you need to know.
Once you are comfortable with the material, you need to call PSI at 1-800-211-2754 to schedule the test. They can provide you the nearest testing center, but it would be best to look at the FAA’s list of testing centers so that you know which one you want to use. You will need to provide a credit/debit card to pay the $150 testing fee. The first time I called I got stuck in queue for a while, then told to leave a voicemail. I ended up having to call back again, at which point I got through to an agent. Other than the wait the scheduling process was fairly painless.
When you get to the testing center you should be shown to a computer that will have at least a few sheets of paper and a pen or pencil for notes and calculations, and the FAA Testing Supplement. There may be a calculator and some other items (like an E6B) that are more helpful for traditional pilots. Any questions that refer to a figure are referring to the testing supplement. Be aware that the page numbers and the figure numbers that are referenced in the question are a few off, and I found myself looking at page numbers instead of figure numbers a few times, which can burn some valuable time.
The test shows numbers for all the questions down the left, color and symbol coded for answered, unanswered, and marked, as well as a few variations. You are allowed to mark questions for review, or review any/all by clicking them on the left or using the forward/back buttons. My practice if marking is available is to always take a best guess at the answer, since if you run out of time you have a 33% or better chance of being right, instead of 0% if you don’t put in some answer, and if I am at all uncertain mark it to review. I ended up marking about a third of the questions, although I only changed a couple on review. The exception is that if one is really a guess I usually don‘t mark it for review, since it is likely to just waste time. Any questions that have to do with the sectional charts it is worth referring to the chart legend in the testing supplement, since that gives you a lot of the answers to those questions.
I have seen some complaints about the questions, but in comparison to some IT certification tests I have taken, I thought they were alright. They also give you the option to go back and review the questions that you got wrong after the test, although it only shows the question, not even the options for the answers. Two of the three I missed were chart questions, and there was some doubt when I answered them exactly what area the question referred to, so I don’t feel too bad about those.
If you pass the test they give you your score, and instructions for registering on the IACRA (Integrated Airman Certification and Rating Application) site. There is no additional cost for this part, but you need to do this to actually get the license. It takes about 24-48 hours for the test to post to IACRA, you finish the application, and then wait. In a few days you should get a temporary license you can print, and several weeks later you are assigned a certificate number, and a permanent card printed. You can do anything with the temporary certificate that you can with the permanent one (flying wise, anyways using it to scrape anything probably won’t work…) just use “pending” instead of your certificate number for waiver applications or anywhere else you need it.
The card took several weeks to get processed, printed and mailed.
All in all it was a reasonable test for something like this, and should not be a problem for most people if they put in the time to study for it.