Guest Commentary by Terry Holland —
With the FAA opening the sky to commercial drone use with the roll out of Part 107 (providing a clear and specific set of guidelines and regulations concerning the use of drones for paying drone work), we really are at the beginning of a new era in aerial media production. Not only for the larger commercial players but also, and I think more significantly in the long run, for the very quickly growing number of small commercial drone operators. As high profile as some of the larger industry players will be I think the sheer number of one and two person operations in our industry will soon start generating income that will dwarf the big guys. The real estate market alone will become so much more open to the idea that a drone photo/video package must be the part of any serious real estate effort that drone media vendors will pop up in big numbers. The new platforms that are about to be announced in the drone market are going to make it cheaper and easier than ever for amateur fliers to produce professional results. This will increase the pool of available providers, make prices for the end user more competitive, and allow candidate properties to be more able to take advantage of drone services. No longer just the domain of the more exclusive (read more expensive, the $1M plus range) properties, real estate drone services for any property that lists for more than a few hundred thousand dollars will soon be the norm. And while drone platforms are great for the typical aerial perspectives we see on real estate sites, they are even more impressive in the near ground arena. Tracking shots from 6-10 feet off the ground, door entry shots, and simple architectural elevation shots are now all relatively easy to execute, yield higher production values, and are now (due to the increased competition) much more affordable than ever before. When a fellow flier friend spoke with me about his worry of lowering prices I reminded him that lower prices will increase the potential market size and he’ll eventually surpass his revenue with the increased volume. And that’s just the real estate market for small commercial operators….
Now all you need to do is take your FAA Part 107 Aeronautical Knowledge Test at an approved knowledge center. Sounds simpler than it is though. A lot simpler. For those of you have been building your practical drone skills in anticipation of the opportunity to make a little money, test out the viability of your local drone market, or perhaps start a serious venture that can grow into a full time job, passing the test is job one. What’s the first thing you’ll likely hear when pitching a job? “Are you licensed?”, “Are you certified?”, “Are you legal with the FAA?”, and “Are you insured?” are the typical questions you’ll get when you want to graduate into the commercial world, even on a part-time basis. Once you make the decision to be more than a hobby flyer things get a lot more money-centric in your drone world, as all businesses should. Every dollar you spend on wasted investment is a dollar that you’re not spending on maintaining or upgrading your equipment or putting in your own pocket for a job well done. And the first opportunity you have to throw away money (other than buying the wrong drone for your work) is taking the test without proper preparation. No matter how much you think you know and how much experience you have flying, the FAA test is as much about learning the answers to problems the way the FAA wants you to answer them, along with understanding a very specific language and protocol that governs our airspace, as anything else. Walking into the test is one of the easiest ways to waste $150 in the drone world. Think of all the repairs that $150 could cover…..
I’ve been following Alan Perlman at UAV Coach since he started his effort and when a note came through my inbox about the launch of Drone Pilot Ground School I paid attention. I’ve seen courses (and attended some) that leave you wondering “I just paid for that?” when you’re finished and after going through the DPGS course I can confidently assure you that you won’t ask yourself that when you finally complete the course. As the FAA says:
“The FAA estimates that a small UAS remote pilot applicant will expend 20 hours of self-study in preparation for taking the initial knowledge test and ten hours for the recurrent test. For individuals that fail the initial or recurrent test on their first attempt, the self-study-time to retake the test is reduced by 50 percent.”
And that’s if you’re good at getting things the first time through the prep material. For those of us with a schedule that prevents us taking large chunks of time to devote to one task there has to be another approach.
The DPGS course starts off with an instructor led video that tells you about what you are going to learn in each section, follows that with on-screen text that transcribes the video comments and provides more information and resource references, includes a downloadable pdf of the slide deck from the lecture, gives a PDF of the full lecture’s text and references, and wraps up each section with a quiz to make sure that you actually understood what you just think you learned. I found it hugely convenient to be able to start and stop whenever I wanted and to be able take and retake quizzes, reread notes, etc. to make sure that I was actually taking everything in. The course broke down its approach into an overview and then sections on Drone Laws and FAA regulations, Weather and Micrometeorology, National Airspace System, Drone Flight Operations, Practice Tests and Next Steps, and two bonus modules that include information on getting a course diploma and legal considerations for starting a drone business. Basically everything from A to Z for any drone operator thinking of starting to take money for their work.
I’ve looked over a couple of other course approaches and the kind way of describing some of them would be “less than comprehensive”, I have seen nothing better than the DPGS course. And this brings me back around to Alan and his efforts in the drone space. We are an emerging business field, an industry that by some estimates will be worth billions of dollars in revenues in just a few years. We need people to be involved in the process of growing our industry in a responsible and truly interested manner. It’s free to sign up for UAV Coach at uavcoach.com and join the over 25,000 fliers that have already signed up. In addition to courses covering a variety of topics important to drone folks, Alan is also a consistent and balanced source of insight along with the occasional newsy bit/suggestion for us drone enthusiasts. Like the folks who started dronelife.com, I think that people who are contributing to our hobby/career advancement need to be supported and urge you to check uavcoach out. In full disclosure, I have no business relationship and am not on the payroll of either of these groups, I just like to encourage constructive voices to be able to carry on.
And in the “newsy bit” department, here’s something for all of you fliers to consider trying. If you are having a little trouble with sensitively managing your Radio Controller joysticks for precision flying that requires small and exact movements, try extending your joysticks with this simple trick. In addition to simply unscrewing and then locking the stick extenders that come standard on so many controllers there is also another cheap and easy way to lengthen the throw of your sticks. Take an appropriate sized plastic straw (McDonald’s straws work nicely on a number of controllers, particularly DJI) cut an inch or two length of the straw, make a small slit in one end (a quarter inch to a half inch should do), and then slide the slit end on over the top of your joystick. With a small piece of cellophane tape simply wrap it around the slit end of the straw. Cut the length of the straw so as to allow you easy stick movement without interfering with your monitor or any other hardware and voila!, you have now greatly improved your ability to make small adjustments to your joystick that are easy to feel with finger location as well as see more easily the exact direction and amount of stick that you are applying to your craft. For those of you who want something a little more durable and want to spend a few cents, buy a pack of heat shrink tubing that will work on the specific diameter of your joystick top. When you shrink it be careful not to aim the heat you use at your controller, help avoid potentially harmful excess heat by aiming your heat source parallel with the face of your controller, directly and briefly at the tubing on the joystick. Apply just enough heat to shrink the tubing snugly, not so tight that it forms completely to the stick, you want to be able to remove the extension if you are going to repack your controller in any kind of case. Anybody out there with a 3D printer should be able to have some fun, and maybe make a few dollars, designing extenders for the drone community if you’d like. Happy (and safe) flying!
Terry Holland of Northeast Drone Video has been involved with technology development for years and has been an early adopter in the multirotor media development field. Holland has become a drone applications evangelist. His film and television training and experience combined with his marketing and presentation expertise help bring a seasoned view to the practical applications of drone video and photography.