The FAA has the unenviable job of dealing with the millions of drones sold every year. These drones can fly super high, are relatively easy to operate, and can cause massive issues for manned aircraft. Therefore the government did what governments do: they governmented all over drones.
I actually think the latest series of drone regulations are reasonable. The FAA is responsible for every piece of air in its jurisdiction and there are proper procedures for flying in that air. If you want to fly your drone commercially (e.g. take pictures of someone’s house for a real estate listing, for example) you must be certified under “Part 107” of FAA regs. This involves passing a 60-question test and passing a TSA background test, along with registering your drone (which is required anyway if it weighs over .55 pounds).
Since I had never flown my drone commercially I had not taken the Part 107 test but since I have some commercial work coming up I needed to have my certificate so I took it this morning. Happy to report that I passed with a score of 92%!
What kind of stuff does the test cover? How to fly your drone?
Actually no. The FAA wants you to learn about the dynamics of flight, airport operations, airspace classifications, FAA sectional charts, weather, crew resource management, and risk management. There are no actual questions about drone operations (since drone controls can be different) outside of checking user manuals and things like that.
This knowledge isn’t exactly a walk in the park and, even as someone who flies a lot and whose stepdad used to be a private pilot, a lot of it seemed like learning Greek at first. After I was well into my studies, though, I started to appreciate the different airspace classifications and all of the information available to pilots of both manned and unmanned aircraft in order to fly safely. I can now look at a sectional chart and identify exactly which airspace I would be flying in, where the floor and ceiling of that airspace with, and immediately tell if I can fly my drone there.
I really think the FAA want drone pilots to appreciate the complexity of the environment they enter with their drone. It definitely worked, I was impressed with how well everything was defined and all the rules which were in place. It’s a fascinating look into the aviation world that I didn’t previously have.
How was the test, was it hard?
The test has 60 questions (sometimes there will be more than 60 questions in the case they need to test some new questions but only 60 will count towards your score), costs $150, and takes a maximum of two hours. Minimum passing score is 70% so you can miss 18 questions and still pass.
Honestly I didn’t feel like the test was too difficult. My normal testing habit is to go through and answer the questions I’m sure of and then review the questions I’m not sure of afterward. I was confident on 55 out of the 60 questions. Three out of the five I wasn’t sure of were due to confusing wording and incredibly similar answers (I’m a semantics snob so I probably overthought these) and the last two I just flat out didn’t know. I ended up getting all 55 of my confident answers correct and missing the 5 unsure questions. I was in and out of the testing center in about 35 minutes.
How did you study? Did you take a course?
I studied for about 8 hours for the Part 107 test over the course of a couple of nights. The main study guide I used was this incredible free video by Tony Northrup:
It’s almost 2 hours long and is chock full of exactly what you need to know for the test. His explanation of sectional charts, in particular, was incredibly helpful. I could’ve watched this video a few times and, based purely on memory recall, passed the test.
Because I’m competitive and didn’t want to just pass I went ahead and read the FAA’s study guide for Part 107, the link to which is below:
It’s 87 pages of aviation
wonderment tedium which isn’t the most exciting read in the world but is easy enough to get through. I recommend watching Tony’s video all the way through and then reading the FAA study guide. Tony will give you a foundational understanding of the concepts, which will help you get through the official-sounding language of the FAA document.
…and that was all I studied. Oops, almost forgot about this guy, whose website has a thorough look at Part 107. I perused some of his articles but didn’t find anything I didn’t already know from my studies. Good to know there are aviation attorneys out there though.
There are numerous programs out there who will charge you a mint to walk you through every single bit of everything which you may encounter on the test. I didn’t really think paying for those was necessary but again I’m pretty good at standardized tests. If you’re not and have the money sitting around it may not be a bad idea to pay for one of the programs. I can’t really recommend a specific program (since I didn’t use one) but I was on a podcast with Drone U once and the main guy was incredibly nice, so check out their course.
What about practice tests?
I went through a lot of practice tests. The FAA produces a 40-question practice test (a few of which showed up on my actual test) for free. The answers can be found online to check your work and I found this video really helpful in explaining the concepts behind the questions after I went through the FAA practice test (I aced it!):
From there I took a few tests from King Schools. They have a big test bank of questions and although they don’t tell you why you got a question wrong (unless you pay) I was able to get a good feel for the questions and then reference back to the FAA guide to figure out why I missed.
This morning I rewatched a few sections of the Tony Northrup video, went to his study guide page for a quick review, then went into the testing center.
What is the actual process for taking the test?
You have to sign up for the test using a service called CATS. I went to their website and searched for a testing center close to me and found a few options close by. I found the option I wanted and called the CATS service and, after an annoying number of attempts, finally got through to someone who took down my information exactly as it appeared on my driver’s license. It’s important to get that part right or else the TSA background check could fail. I showed up at the testing center at the scheduled time and was led into a room with a few computers in it and was handed a testing supplement (with all the charts needed for the questions as well as a sectional chart legend) and that was basically it.
Now that I have my exam ID and passing score I will wait for a couple of days for the exam ID to be loaded into the FAA’s system then will register an account with the FAA and get my temporary certificate (the real one will be mailed in a few weeks).
Should I take the test?
I think everyone who wants to fly a drone should at least become familiar with the material. The test is expensive to take but it’s absolutely required for any commercial work you do with your drone. I’m glad I took it and now have a better appreciation for exactly what goes into managing such a risky environment. I consider myself a good drone pilot, in that I’m good at maneuvering my drone and know its capabilities well. Studying for the Part 107 exam made me feel like a better citizen of the air when flying my drone.
The FAA has a new system called LAANC which allows for automated waiver approvals for when I need to fly in controlled airspace so I really think the time was right to get certified and official and I’m so glad I did!
Have you taken the test? What did you think? Do you have any questions about it? Ask me in the comments below!