Drone Pilots


Education and Training Requirements

High School

In high school, take classes in physics, mathematics, and computer science. If you plan to open your own drone company, then business, marketing, and accounting classes will be useful. Photo and video editing classes will teach you how to prepare content for customers.  Strong communication skills are important in almost any career, so be sure to take courses in English and speech. Shop classes will teach you how to use tools, build basic electrical components and systems, and solve problems. 

Postsecondary Education

A minimum of a bachelor’s degree in aviation, engineering, or unmanned aircraft systems operations is typically required to work as a drone pilot, although some people can enter the field with either an associate’s degree and on-the-job experience, or after completing training at a UAS training school. Military drone pilots receive their training from their respective armed forces branch. Visit https://www.todaysmilitary.com/careers-benefits/careers/unmanned-vehicle-uv-operations-specialists for information on training in the U.S. armed forces. 

The University of North Dakota offered the first degree program (Unmanned Aircraft Systems Operations) in the field in 2009. According to the university, students “must be comfortable utilizing complex science, technology, engineering, and mathematics principles. In addition, students must possess strong critical thinking and problem-solving skills. A commercial pilot certificate, with instrument and multiengine ratings, is required.” Visit https://aero.und.edu/aviation for more information. Other colleges and universities that offer degrees or minors in the field include:

  • Central Oregon Community College: https://www.cocc.edu/programs/aviation/uas-degree-program.aspx
  • Cochise College: http://www.cochise.edu/degreescertificates
  • Community College of Beaver County: http://www.ccbc.edu/uav
  • Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University: http://daytonabeach.erau.edu/degrees
  • Green River College: http;//www.greenriver.edu/academics/areas-of-study/details/aviation-technology.htm
  • Indiana State University: http://www.indstate.edu/technology/ums
  • Kansas State Polytechnic University-Salina: https://polytechnic.k-state.edu/academics/degree-options/uasflight
  • LeTourneau University: https://www.letu.edu/academics/aviation/programs-of-study.html
  • Lewis University: http://www.lewisu.edu/academics/unmanned-aircraft-systems
  • Liberty University: https://www.liberty.edu/aeronautics/bachelors/aviation-maintenance
  • Oklahoma State University: https://unmanned.okstate.edu
  • Sinclair Community College: https://www.sinclair.edu/program/params/programCode/UAS-S-AAS

Students in unmanned aircraft systems operations programs take classes such as Aviation Orientation; Introduction to Air Traffic Control; Introduction to UAS Operations; Aviation Safety; Basic Attitude Instrument Flying; Aerodynamics: Airplanes; Aircraft Systems; Multi-Engine Systems and Procedures; UAS Flight Systems; UAS Ground Systems; UAS Remote Sensing; and UAS Operations. They also use flight simulators to learn how to fly multirotor and fixed-wing drones.


Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University offers a a Small Unmanned Aerial Systems Operations and Safety certificate program in which students must complete four courses: Introduction to Aeronautical Science, Introduction to Aerospace Safety, sUAS Flight and Mission Planning, and Unmanned Aerial Vehicles and Systems. Visit https://erau.edu/degrees/certificate/small-unmanned-aerial-systems-operations-and-safety for more information. In the wake of the 2016 FAA rules allowing widespread use of commercial drones, a growing number of schools are creating UAS certificate and degree programs. Contact schools in your area to learn about available programs.  

Other Education or Training

The Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International offers a variety of webinars that provide both aspiring drone pilots and experienced professionals with useful information about the career and industry trends. Recent webinars included Know Before You Fly: How to be a Responsible Drone Pilot; Precision Agriculture in the Drone Age; Mapping and Surveying Applications: A Growing Industry for UAS; and Starting Up in the UAS Industry: How to Build a Successful Company.

Private schools and education providers—such as SkyOP, Udemy, and Homeland Surveillance and Electronics LLCalso provide training and continuing education classes.

Certification, Licensing, and Special Requirements

Certification or Licensing

To become a drone pilot, you will need to earn a pilot’s license and a remote pilot certificate. To become a pilot, you must be at least 16 years old; be able to read, speak, write, and understand English; be in good physical and mental condition to safely operate a small UAS; and pass the initial aeronautical knowledge exam at a FAA-approved knowledge testing center (see https://www.faa.gov/uas/commercial_operators/become_a_drone_pilot for a list of centers).

According to the FAA, aeronautical knowledge exam test areas include:

  • applicable regulations relating to small unmanned aircraft system rating privileges, limitations, and flight operation
  • airspace classification and operating requirements, and flight restrictions affecting small unmanned aircraft operation
  • aviation weather sources and effects of weather on small unmanned aircraft performance
  • small unmanned aircraft loading and performance
  • emergency procedures
  • crew resource management
  • radio communication procedures
  • determining the performance of small unmanned aircraft
  • physiological effects of drugs and alcohol
  • aeronautical decision-making and judgment
  • airport operations
  • maintenance and preflight inspection procedures

Other Requirements

Most employers require drone pilots to be at least 18 years old, but, preferably 21. Some employers require their employees to be U.S. citizens.

Experience, Skills, and Personality Traits

Employers typically require applicants to have a college degree in unmanned aircraft systems (UAS), training from a UAS school, or a minimum of two to three years of experience using fixed-wing and rotor-wing drones.  

Successful drone pilots need to be extremely attentive to detail and have strong powers of concentration and good decision-making skills. They are skilled at multitasking, strong communicators, and are able to function well under stress. Good vision and excellent manual dexterity are also very important in this career.