Getting Started with SuAS & Remote Pilot Certification!

January 23, 2017  •  Leave a Comment

Wow! It’s really been awhile since I’ve written a blog! Time sure flies! So I felt that a great topic to discuss and share is getting started with small uAS (Unmanned Aerial Systems) and obtaining my Remote Pilot Certification, which allows for commercial operation of a small uAS under Part 107 of the Federal Aviation Regulations. Over the past few years the popularity of uAS has literally skyrocketed and it became necessary for the FAA to implement new rules governing commercial operations of uAS. When I first started getting involved in uAS a couple years ago it was required that you have a Section 333 exemption to operate commercially. Obtaining a Section 333 exemption was almost equivalent to obtaining a sport pilots license, which requires 40 hours of flying an actual aircraft! So with that in mind I decided that I would wait for the FAA to come out with the Part 107, which requires one to take an Aeronautical Knowledge test, no flying actual planes! Yea! So in August of 2016 the FAA released the test and the study material. I must say that I was impressed with the FAA in getting this done!  I set a personal goal to pass the test and get my certification by the end of 2016. Before I discuss the process of preparing for the exam I’d like to go back and talk about choosing a uAS and discuss my first purchase.  Before making a purchase I did the research on the web and had narrowed my choice down to a 2 different uAS. What I really needed though was to talk to someone about what they used for shooting photography and video. Spending 4k on a system was not something I wanted to do from the start so I set a budget of 2k. So at this price point I was looking at the prosumer range of uAS. Since this was going to be my first uAS I was really leery of wrecking something that expensive!  So I decided to take a class that was being taught locally by DartDrones hoping his would give me the confidence I needed to start flying uAS. I signed up for the June 11th 1-day class and paid $360 for a full day of Inspire 1 and Phantom 3 training. The class was good because I didn’t know anything about uAS. Our instructor had a Phantom 3 (no Inspire 1). He went over all of the basics and we all got a chance to fly it. Looking back in all honesty I would rather have the $360, which would easily buy a Phantom 3 now! I was kind of disappointed that they did not have an Inspire 1 in the class.  The Inspire 1 is a stellar sUAS that is one of the best uAS for commercial and real estate photography! Oh well! Also I want to mention - what is up with taking classes these days and there is no study material given or provided? This is the 2nd class I’ve taken in the past year where no slides or material was provided! This does not make me happy! This was also the instructor’s last class. He was leaving the company blah. It was still a good class! I felt confident enough after the class to go out and purchase my first uAS. With the new information and one uAS flight under my belt, I hopped on Amazon and purchased the Yuneec Typhoon H. What I liked about the Typhoon H was the overall build quality, the retractable landing gear and the unrestricted 360-degree rotation of the gimbal. I did not come to this choice easily. I looked at YouTube video after VIDEO until I settled on this one. It met my budget and thought for sure that this would be a good place to start. I was a little reluctant to go with the Yuneec because the instructor was such a DJI fan boy. I mean fan boy yes he was. I think he actually steered me in the Yuneec direction because of that! But in this realm there are many other manufactures of drones. But just like the Nikon/Canon thing, there is the Yuneec/DJI thing to some extent. So on June 18th I ordered my Yuneec Typhoon H. Once the unit arrived, like a kid on Christmas day opening up the box and setting up the craft was exciting! After that wore off one of the things that really irritated me about the Typhoon H is the lack of a case.  Not only could you not order one, nothing really existed in the aftermarket that I found suitable. So it stayed in a box, which I toted around when I wanted to fly it. I eventually randomly walked into a hobby shop and found a rather large bulky soft case to put it all in. It works out ok, but it's tough to carry around especially when you factor in all of the rest of the equipment that I have to lug! But for now it works.

As you can see here I took the original packaging and just placed it inside the new case. Does it fit perfectly? NO, but it works and protects it. There is even room for the ST16 controller with the extended range antennae and other goodies too!  So with everything now fitting in its place I decided that I should probably update the firmware. I used to work in IT so updating firmware is simple? NO! I actually found a way to botch up the firmware update so much so that when I took it out to fly one of the motors would stop and it would just fly back down. So Amazon has an awesome return policy. On June 29th I sent that puppy back and got another one! This time with my YouTube video on hand I was ready to update the firmware on that bad boy! The directions from Yuneec were unclear to me; so glad I found a decent walkthrough! I was able to update the firmware and the craft was perfect! So on and off I took out my uAS and had some great flights. Here are some example images where I’ve shot a couple properties in Fredericksburg and around the San Antonio area.

In this shot above I was shooting a property in Fredericksburg for a client and since I was not yet certified this was practice. With the busy road nearby and all of the trees to work with it was kinda sketchy. I was not in my comfort zone here. The shot worked out great though and helped market the property. 

11619 Lower Crabapple Rd
Fredericksburg, TX 78624
In this shot I'm just trying to get a different perspective on the home. This is another beautiful property in Fredericksburg.

BPC "Murph 2015"BPC "Murph 2015"Lost Creek B&B
5000 S State Hwy 16
Fredericksburg, TX 78624
In this shot above I'm using the uAS to again get a different perspective on this old barn. 

31000 Interstate 10 Frontage Rd
Boerne, TX 78006
In this aerial shot I'm really trying to show the buyer the space and how it's currently being utilized.

So initially finding an ideal place to fly near the house was challenging. I now have a low traffic park nearby that is perfect to fly at.  I recall one of the first flights I took was near my house; it’s a vacant lot that is used for utility access and drainage but is close to the road. Some knucklehead stopped and said, “Hey you can’t fly that thing there!” I was like what? STFU! The guy was clearly on a roid-rage just yelling this and that. Anyhow it was ok to fly where I was but this guy was sure I was trespassing. So I have decided not to fly there anymore incase that knucklehead shows back up! In this video I was on my 2nd flight getting used to the Typhoon H and just having fun!

Over the next few months I kept up with the FAA and anxiously waited the release date of the Part 107 exam. I flew as often as I could but not nearly as much as I wanted. So the test became available and the FAA published the study guide. I took a look at the study guide; I was so new to Aviation I quickly realized that I would need some additional training to really understand some of the concepts presented in the FAA study guide. So I started searching for an online Part 107 training course. I went out to udemy and took a couple of courses there but it just did not seem like it was enough to get me thru the tests and I was failing all of the practice tests I took. So I kept searching and on Cyber Monday I got an awesome deal from  for $192, usually $299! It was totally worth it. I went though the course and videos and also went out to YouTube for deep dives on some subjects I had to work harder on. I took a month to review the videos and study. There are 5 sample exams and quizzes at the end of each module. I really took my time because I know that in 24 months I’m going to have to take the exam again and it’s good to know all this stuff! In studying for this exam I really got interested in Aviation looking at all sorts of Cessna flying videos on YouTube and sort of considered getting a pilots license but probably won’t anytime soon or at all. Every time I hear about an airline crash it’s usually a small aircraft that bites the dust.  In the journey of getting this remote pilots license you learn the basics of Aviation. It all starts with a review of the regulations. The FAA wants you to know when you can fly and where. Much of the where involves knowing where you are flying in relation to airports and knowing that manned aircraft always have the right of way. If you are operating near an airport you will have to know the various types of airspace that is regulated by the FAA.  There are also waivers and you will need to know about those. Suppose that you want to fly at night. You need a waiver for that and you’ll need to plan for that because it’s taking at least 90 days to get them approved. Next you will need to understand weather and how it can affect your uAS. This is where it starts to get fun! Reading METARS, understanding how to read sectional charts, airport operations, uAS loading and performance and physiology are also a few other things you will need to know to pass this exam. What is cool about signing up and taking the course from  is that they email you about once a week and ask if you have taken your test and it was helping me keep on track. Once I got through all of the practice tests I felt like I was ready. I called the CATS testing center - 800-947-4228 option 3 and paid the $150. On Dec 30th I showed up at the testing center, took the test and got a 97%!  Overall I felt great about making the decision to get my Remote Pilot Certification. I know now that I can legally provide my commercial customers with aerial photography and video and I feel confident that I am operating safely and within the guidelines of the FAA!


Happy Flying!







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