Drone Pilots


Exploring this Job

The best way to learn about this career is to purchase an inexpensive drone (or borrow one) and practice flying it. If you buy a drone that weighs between 0.55 lbs. and 55 lbs., you must register it with the FAA (https://faadronezone.faa.gov). If you become skilled at drone operation, consider competing in drone racing events sponsored by the Drone Sports Association (http://dronesportsassociation.com) and other organizations. Another option is to join your high school or college’s drone or aviation club to meet people with the same interests and learn more about drone technology. (And if such a club doesn’t exist, start one.) Finally, check out the following resources to learn more about drones:  

  • The UAVSA Drones Daily: http://news.uavsa.org
  • Drone Law Journal: http://dronelawjournal.com
  • DronesX: https://dronesx.com
  • A Glossary of Drone Terminology and Vocabulary: https://www.dslrpros.com/dslrpros-blog/drone-vocabulary-glossary-terminology

Visit online drone discussion boards and talk to others about the field. Sites to check out include:

  • www.droneflyers.com/talk
  • http://community.uavcoach.com
  • https://diydrones.com/forum
  • http://dronepilots.zone
  • www.dronevibes.com/forums

The Job

Drones (although many in the industry prefer other terms such as unmanned aircraft systems) are used in a variety of areas. In the next decade, companies will develop many more uses for these handy aircraft. Drones are currently used for:

  • crop monitoring
  • military operations
  • power line inspection
  • border patrol surveillance
  • filmmaking
  • endangered species protection
  • package delivery
  • aerial photography
  • sports broadcasting
  • real estate marketing
  • oil and gas exploration
  • disaster relief
  • forest fire detection and fighting
  • land and archaeological surveying
  • weather monitoring

Typical duties of drone pilots include:

  • conducting pre-mission planning meetings with flight directors and/or customers
  • developing flight plans, checking any notices of potential flight hazards filed with the FAA, re-checking weather conditions, and coordinating airspace integration with any affected controlling agencies or owners of private property
  • launching drones with the assistance of a catapult, by throwing them into the air, or by release from a manned aircraft
  • piloting the drone to fulfill the goals of the mission (e.g., military reconnaissance, checking the degree of flooding in a particular area, monitoring a national park for signs of poachers, delivering a pesticide treatment to a field of soybeans, checking the condition of power lines in an inaccessible area, etc.) 
  • performing preflight, in-flight, and post-flight checks and procedures
  • completing safety risk assessments prior to flight and after action reviews post-flight
  • troubleshooting, diagnosing, and repairing drones in the field (for some positions)
  • recovering the drone at the end of the mission (for some positions)