August 30, 2016

How to Prepare for the FAA’s New Drone Pilot Certification Exam

Randall Esulto
I passed the drone pilot test without expensive prep courses. Here’s how you can, too.

[Editor's Note: Randall Esulto was one of the first drone operators in the US to pass his pilot certification exam under the new FAA regulations, so we asked him to share his test prep methods.]

I first fell in love with aerial imaging two years ago when I got my DJI Phantom 2 Vision Plus quadcopter. It was the first consumer quadcopter equipped with a 3 axis gimbal allowing for perfectly stabilized, smooth aerial cinematography. I was hooked from the first flight.

Yesterday was a momentous day for me and other current and hopeful U.S. drone operators. New drone regulations developed by the FAA over the course of the last four years finally took effect, opening the skies to a new wave of productivity, creativity, and innovation. 

BerCo Aerial drone photography
Shot with DJI Inspire ProCredit: BerCo Aerial

What’s new?

Prior to the new “Part 107” rules, drone operators who wanted to fly commercially needed what is known as a 333 Exemption from the FAA. While both the 333 Exemption and the new “Remote Pilot with sUAS Rating” certificate allow drone operators to fly for compensation, the new guidelines lower the barrier to entry into commercial drone operation and are much more in-line with the types of assignments commercial drone operators are being hired to perform. 

Some key differences:

  • The person operating the controls no longer needs an actual pilot license. The operator may be a certified Remote Pilot with sUAS rating or may operate under the direct supervision of a certified Remote Pilot.
  • Operation near people not directly involved with the operation is allowed. While it is still illegal to fly directly over people (without a specific waiver), operators no longer need to maintain a 500’ distance from people and property.
  • The 400’ Ceiling (above ground level) may be exceeded when within 400’ of a building or structure. Airspace thresholds must still be respected (a flight into controlled airspace still requires prior approval from Air Traffic Control) but the 400’ ceiling is no longer a blanket requirement.

BerCo Aerial drone photography
Shot with DJI Phantom 2 Vision PlusCredit: BerCo Aerial
How do you prepare for the test?

While the regulations are now more streamlined, you still have to pass a certification exam to be licensed. Technically titled “The Aeronautical Knowledge Test for Remote Pilot Certification with Small UAS Rating,” most of us are just calling it "The Part 107 Exam.”

Leading up to the inception of the new “Part 107” drone regulations, there was lots of chatter, advice, and discussion about what these new laws would mean for those of us looking to start, expand, and continue the use of our drones professionally. One of the main talking points was, “what’s going to be on the test?” 

While there are myriad for-profit “ground schools” popping up to address the needs of all of the would-be pilots (with tuition costs ranging from several hundred to a couple of thousand dollars), I found a few resources that allowed me to take and pass the exam with an investment of $30 and five days of my time.

  1. The FAA tells you what you’ll need to study
    There is a free study guide & practice test on the FAA website (but you’ll need to register a free account to access it). 
  2. YouTube is your friend
    Here are a couple of videos that I found related to Aviation sectional charts. If you’ve found any useful ones in your own search, please share in the comments.
  3. There's an app for this
    The GroundSchool Drone Pilot (UAS) Test Prep app costs $39.99 and offers various study modes including flash cards, audio, and quizzes. The questions are extremely similar to those found on the exam. If you get an answer wrong as you’re doing the practice test, you can find out the correct answer and (most importantly) get a full explanation as to why it’s correct, complete with illustrations and diagrams. 

There’s certainly nothing wrong with enrolling in a classroom structured course, but if you are already an experienced drone operator and want to learn what you’ll need to know in order to pass the exam, then the three resources above are a comprehensive and inexpensive way to go.

Fly Safe!     

Featured image of Randall Esulto with his Phantom 2 Vision Plus, courtesy of BerCo Aerial .

Your Comment

13 Comments

Hey Randall,

Thanks a lot for gathering these resources. It's much appreciated.

Where were you able to take the part 107 test?
I heard that there would be designated FAA testing centers.

August 30, 2016 at 12:51PM

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Nick Capezzera
DP & Editor
213

My pleasure! So if you're a Part 61 pilot (pilot of planes etc and have had a flight review within the last 24 months) you can take the test on the FAA website (the link is provided in the section "The FAA Tells You What to Study"). For everyone else, you need to find an FAA testing center. For me, the closest location was Teterboro Airport.

However, the FAA has centralized all test scheduling so the easiest thing to do is go here: https://catsdoor04.com/cbt/online/UAG.jsp

You'll register and then (I assume) be presented with a list of testing centers. I did my registration via phone after calling Teterboro directly. I was directed to call CATS and schedule with them.

Hope this helps!

August 30, 2016 at 1:26PM

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Randall Esulto
Licensed sUAS Pilot, Photographer, Creative Professional

Thanks Randall!

August 30, 2016 at 3:25PM

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Nick Capezzera
DP & Editor
213

Hey Randall,

I have question regarding the test itself.

Was it multiple choice?
How high of a percentage do you need to pass?

Thanks again!

August 31, 2016 at 5:53PM

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Nick Capezzera
DP & Editor
213

Yes, 60 question multiple choice. 70 or better to pass.

September 2, 2016 at 12:33AM

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Randall Esulto
Licensed sUAS Pilot, Photographer, Creative Professional

Google Play Store link to the same app:
https://play.google.com/store/apps/details?id=com.dauntless.gs.faa.rdp

(since not everyone lives in an iOS world)

August 30, 2016 at 2:59PM

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Haha very true! Thanks for posting!

August 30, 2016 at 4:25PM

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Randall Esulto
Licensed sUAS Pilot, Photographer, Creative Professional

Hey Randall!

Thanks so much for your post and insight! Do you think the FAA study guide that you posted in the article is enough to pass the test? CATS sent me another 87 page study guide from the FAA, but it seems like a lot of unnecessary information for what we would use drones for in film.

Also, do you have any recommendations for drone insurance?

Thanks man!

August 30, 2016 at 3:49PM

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David Listor
Director of Photography, Editor
81

Hey David - These are the three things I used to study with. Of course, I had a good working knowledge of FAA and drone operation requirements from having gone through the 333 Exemption process as well but in terms of disciplined effort preparing for the exam, I mainly used the ground school app to reveal where I needed to spend more time learning and used the FAA link as a resource and YouTube (for the charts). The study guide is probably a great thing to familiarize yourself with since it comes directly from the FAA. That's pretty cool that they sent you that. They made no mention of it when I registered. That being said, yes. Some of the information does seem a little out-of-scope for certain operations but the test is designed to cover all foreseeable applications. I would become familiar with it but I suggest doing some practice tests to help you figure out where you need to learn the most and then focus on those areas. Was the study guide an actual printed booklet or was it a pdf or some other thing? If there's a link to it, post it. I'm sure it'll be helpful to other people too.

Drone insurance seems to average out to somewhere around $1000/Million. I have hull insurance (covers damage to my drone/camera) and 2M liability and it came out to just over 1800/year. I've heard of people paying more and less but it seems like most companies are in the $1000/Mil range. I have heard of a company that does per-job insurance. I heard of them after I had already paid my premium but it sounded interesting. My only concern with the really inexpensive companies is what's going to happen when it's time to pay out? How many loopholes are built into those policies to let them walk away? Who knows...maybe it's the way to go. Here's a link to them if you want to check them out: http://unmannedrisk.com/dromatics-pay-per-use-insurance-for-unmanned-sys...

My insurance is provide by: http://www.global-aero.com/

Hope this helps!

August 30, 2016 at 4:22PM, Edited August 30, 4:22PM

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Randall Esulto
Licensed sUAS Pilot, Photographer, Creative Professional

I've had a really poor pre-sale customer service experience with Dauntless Sotware regarding the potential purchase of Drone Pilot (UAS) Test Prep. I found their customer service attitude to be unacceptable. My plan is to purchase "Remote Pilot FAA Test Prep-UAS Rating" from Aeroapps Technology ($19.99), based on the AppStore reviews.

September 1, 2016 at 2:04PM

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Steven Cohen, SOC
Camera Operator
92

That's a shame... I didn't speak to anyone there, I just bought it through the app store so I can't really attest to their customer service. Hopefully the app you got is just as good. Best of luck on the exam!

September 2, 2016 at 12:35AM

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Randall Esulto
Licensed sUAS Pilot, Photographer, Creative Professional

Also, wanted to add:

Some companies (like 3DR) now have free study guides and exams (3DR's also tells you when you get a question wrong so you know where to focus your study - and, HUGE plus, will also automatically bring up the applicable map page for you). Worth looking into, and good luck all.

(former member, CAP 29-092, Twin Pine Sqdrn, KTTN Regional Airport, looking forward to taking my 107 Exam).

September 20, 2016 at 3:54PM

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JakeR
Drone Pilot
76

I passed my UAS 107 recently and you don't have to spend a lot of money to do so. Here's my preparation experience. I used a Google app call UAS107. Used it for 70% (30% YouTube sectional chart videos) of my prep for the exam; and the app only cost me $4. Passed on my 1st try with an 85%. My total cost to pass the exam:

$4 for UAS107 app
$150 for the test exam fee
———————————–
$154.00

Here is the link to the app for anyone interested: https://play.google.com/store/apps/details?id=uas107.openrobotix.labs&hl=en

February 21, 2017 at 2:44PM, Edited February 21, 2:47PM

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