Hi! I wanted to share my experience with obtaining my Airman’s Certificate as a Remote Pilot with sUAS rating. sUAS = Small Unmanned Aircraft System. You may also see acronyms in the field such as UAV (Unmanned Aerial Vehicle), or UAS (Unmanned Aerial System) So what’s the difference, and why?
First off, the acro’s UAV/UAS can be used interchangeably with “drone”. They are both aircraft that have no human pilot on-board. A UAV, may be able to operate itself with an on-board pre-programmed flight plan/route without a PIC (Pilot In Command) operating the drone real-time. The UAS will not have that capability and must be operated by a transmitter/remote controller device of some sort, making the package now a “system”. I put out there that the FAA types will more readily use the UAV/UAS term over the word drone. So, then why sUAS? This narrows the broader UAV/UAS term by describing an unmanned aerial vehicle weighing less than 55 lbs, (small) with a remote controller.
There are two kinds of flight missions for drones: Recreational/Hobbyist and Commercial (for research or compensation). Different rules apply to either mission, and you always take off and land under one type, but you can certainly finish a hobbyist flight and then take off 10 minutes later under Part 107 if need be! Just be sure to LOG IN YOUR LOG BOOK accordingly and note times, etc. 🙂 P.S. “Part 107” is the shorthand-speak for: Title 14 of the FAA Code of Federal Regulations (14 CFR) part 107, small Unmanned Aircraft Systems.
Okay now that’s all in perspective, I love the air! Even took a practice lesson and flew a Cessna 172 in 2018. And didn’t do too bad on those 30 degree banks either!! hahaha
Most of those who follow my blogs, have seen me post stills and video from my sUAS (named “Matisse”), mostly of Lake Anna, but around my home as well, and some other public use areas like Humpback Bridge, Chickahominy River Park, to name a couple. When I went to Natural Bridge State Park, VA in January I wanted so much to take some video and stills with my drone, so began inquiring how to accomplish that, and the park director promptly sent me the rules for Drone use in State Parks in VA. Basically that hobbyist/recreational were prohibited, but commercial use was possible by permit.
Excerpt below copied today (24-feb-2019) DCR Website: click the link to find out if they updated their page commentary from what I copied below.
Drones and other aircraft: Drones, other unmanned aerial vehicles including remote control aircraft, and aircraft in general cannot be flown in state parks pursuant to 4VAC5-30-400. Detailed policy on drones (PDF).
Again, the rules will allow me to fly commercially, but I needed to obtain my Airman’s Certificate, which led me on my journey to obtain it. Here’s the FAA’s procedure.
STEP ONE: Study!
So I purchased this prep book from Amazon which came with the Test Supplement (Sectional Charts) then took a ground school course to study for the Aeronautical Knowledge Test. Although most find reading the sectional charts challenging, I had trouble with the Micro-meteorology pieces. I ended up making flash cards (purchased that ring in the pictures below from a DollarTree store) to supplement school study. I passed my first practice test from the ground school course with a score of 73%. I then began to read more in the ASA Test Prep book from Amazon and found new information that I’m very glad I read about coz I needed it on the test. In other words, the ground school itself may not have been sufficient to pass “with flying colors”. lol . So the second practice test again out of the ground school materials yielded the same results of 73%. The good thing was I was able to see where my knowledge strengths and deficiencies were. Enter the other Test Prep book (from ASA) and the flash cards, and the next practice test I took from that book I achieved 87%!
STEP TWO: TEST!
I scheduled my test through PSI Services, at a local testing center. Test Name is: Unmanned Aircraft – General or code UAG. I chose two nearby centers off this list. I had to make a few calls to get through to schedule the test. I ended up scheduling it at Blue Ridge Aviation. PSI Services, is the test scheduling company, they will send your info to the center that you select. The cost at the time I took it (Feb 2019) was $150, paid to PSI. Blue Ridge Aviation was great when I confirmed ahead and then showed up.
I had two hours to complete the 60 question test. They provided the Testing Supplement, a piece of paper and a pen. Since I took practice tests, I knew I would not need to rush to get this done by the 2 hours mark, so I carefully read each question, decided what I thought was the answer and then looked at the 3 choices. Took about an hour-ish, and marked maybe 5 to just look back on before finishing. Then hit the submit/finished button, and was presented with a survey before giving my score, which seemed cart before the horse in relation to the survey questions. The survey asked my opinion on whether I thought the questions I got wrong were explained well, or made sense, which of course I didn’t know yet which ones I had gotten wrong! LOL…… then about the proctor, re: their knowledge of the wrong answer explanation, but again I hadn’t yet found out which ones I got wrong nor had the proctor even entered the room yet to review my wrong answers. Haha. I was able, however, to speak to a particular question I recalled as being worded so strangely that I just really passed on it by clicking any answer.
So I answered the survey, since there was no option not to, but my answers would have been VERY different had the survey been at the end of the entire experience; even dramatically so. Then pressed the super button to reveal that I only missed 7 questions! So out of 60 questions and a minimum score needed of 70%, I received an 88% 🙂
The proctor then came in and asked did I wish to review the questions missed, of course I did, lol… the very first one that appeared on the “missed” list was that strangely worded one. But this review did not give any correct answer nor explanation of why my answer was wrong. We continued scanning these “reviews” and none of them had any explanation. I asked the proctor about what this review was trying to covey, but she didn’t know what the review exercise was providing either, and told me there would be codes on the Testing Report that I was going to receive, where I can look up the missed questions, so I just trusted I could look them up later.
I received my official US DOT, FAA, Airman’s Knowledge Test Report (with raised seal) and she showed me the codes, saying I could google them to find out. In reality? These codes, called Learning Statement Codes, tell me the topic, but have no information on the actual test questions I missed.
STEP THREE: APPLY FOR CERTIFICATE!
Then I set up a registration in the FAA’s IACRA system. Integrated Airman Certification and Rating Application system. This is the FAA’s electronic system which allows me to apply become part of the Airman’s Registry, and attach all exams, ratings etc. It took the full 48 hours they indicated for my test results to import into the IACRA system.
Side note: The system gives a message informing you to be sure the name on your test registration matches the name you registered in the IACRA system. I mention this because we rely on the PSI test scheduler to enter our information properly when they register us for the test, and since my legal name is a 2-worded first name (Jo Lynn) and NO middle name, in my life I’ve experienced systems and data entry specialists trying to make Jo my first name and Lynn my middle name. So… if the test scheduler inadvertently didn’t pay attention to that small detail, it would mis-match my registration in IACRA. I made a call to the IACRA service desk just to rule out that possibility, and was told that if that occurred, the IACRA system would specifically post an error which said “Name-Mismatch”. Again, just a tip for those who may like to mentally rule out how you would know if this has taken place, as you wait for your test to sync into the IACRA system.
Once my test synced to IACRA, I was able to complete and submit by application. So test on 2-14, app successfully submitted on 2-16. System told me I could expect my Temporary Airman Certificate by 2-23, and true to their word it was there on 2-23! (yep I checked almost every day in case…lol) It’s a downloadable copy to print and has a validity for 120 days (from date of my application) as I await final approval and my formal Certificate /Number. (Denial at this point is only if there were errors or frauds in my application)
I am now in an info gathering mode in order to submit my request to Natural Bridge State Park for a permit to film there! I need to learn how to successfully write a Flight Plan and Emergency Response Plan to include with my request.
I reached out to my UAV Group for tips and experiences in writing these, so look for a future post on how I successfully obtained a park permit!
Here’s Some Pix of Matisse in action, as well as some recent toys/equipment purchased. The ChairPak is so awesome! Use Code TWANSFPV10 for 10% off! My new camera/equipment bag is from Sporty’s Pilot Store. The embroidery exceeded expectations at a very nominal $10 upcharge. 🙂
NEW EDIT 18-APRIL-2019:
My vetting has been completed by FAA, and my ‘permanent’ (vs. temporary) Airman’s Cert was delivered while I was on holiday this month. I have all the documentation to apply to Natural Bridge for that permit, and will make a separate post when I get that submitted!