You certainly do NOT need any official training or certification to get at the controls of a UAV for the first time.
There are many safe options for prior drone training for every level of drone experience, including none.
However, with that being said, there are many common-sense safety concerns to be aware of regarding other people’s rights and property before getting a drone into the air for the first time.
You should also note that you cannot fly every drone legally without any training or certification, and as with most licenses, there are limits and guidelines that you need to be aware of.
This is where drone lessons are a great idea if you are new to drones or even if you’re not a beginner and want to take your skills to the next level.
There’s so much to learn from others rather than having to learn it all the hard way on your own.
School of hard knocks
My first lesson was with a twenty-dollar nano drone in my living room with my dog cowering behind the couch.
I broke one lampshade, got stuck in one daughter’s hair, and bent a few propellers, but I learned how to be an ace after a few batteries and a few laughs.
After I was confident with the nano drone with no atmospheric influence (i.e., outdoor weather), I gradually increased the size and distances linearly with my confidence and experience.
Unfortunately, a simple, easy-to-make mistake can inevitably lead to needing to replace your entire airframe, a gimbal, a camera, a motor, or, if you’re lucky, just a propellor.
Or the tears from not knowing how to steer competently away from your daughter’s hair and the inevitable doom and disaster which follows. That would be a disaster, and any good father feels really bad. *Ahem… I love you, Abigail*
Learn first — fly after.
For those of you who would like to be a bit better prepared before your first “flight,” there are options available that you can consider.
I’m going to go over some options for learning the basics and how to grow your confidence before putting any money in the sky.
In North America, it is legal to control aircraft remotely.
If it is heavier than 250 grams, you need proper registration obtained prior to your flight (FAA in the USA or Transport Canada in Canada), specific certification/licensing, and the appropriate insurance and liability coverage.
» MORE: Drone Laws in the United States
The specific legislature and specifics regarding which exact laws/ordinances you would be breaching vary by region/country.
Still, as a general rule, anything less than 250 grams is okay if you’re within line of sight and show public safety awareness.
» MORE: Who Needs A Drone License?
You can legally operate anything above the 250-gram threshold or UAVs up to 25kg after successfully completing the required exam offered by the FAA (Part 107) or Transport Canada RPAS (remote piloted aircraft system) ground school.
Recreational drone pilots in the USA are required to take the TRUST test.
» MORE: What is the TRUST test?
There is a reasonably easy theoretical test for US or Canadian citizens to prepare the pilot for flight basics. In either country, it is cheaper than most low/mid-level drones you would be trying to fly and worth the cost.
» MORE: Top Canadian Drone Courses
Benefits of drone lessons
Save money, propellers, and pride.
Although it may not need to be stated again as common sense for some people, it may not occur to them that learning about something before trying to control a drone for the first time would be beneficial.
While trial and error can be rewarding and even successful in the short term – your odds of success significantly increase with experience.
If you try to fly something bigger than you’re used to (or any size if you have zero experience), you stand a good chance of damaging something or someone, especially your first time.
If you’re on your own property with no means to fly over and around others, you can take chances if you’re like me and don’t like throwing money or hurting people.
Maybe the super fluffy long hair Persian that reminds you of Garfield? Allow me to reiterate that long hair and drone motors are the worst of friends.
The ease of access to information these days makes it an idiotic decision not to research the basics of how to operate your drone and the things to be aware of which can affect your flight.
Things such as physics. Forces. Lift, weight, drag, thrust. As well as how to command each of those via your RC.
Weather. How wind, heat, water, and even pressure and humidity can influence your control and flight.
The methods and functionalities of different manufacturers vary significantly by model, and even professional proficiency in one model of UAV does not guarantee the ability to control or even comprehend the RC setup on a different device.
Things often covered in drone lessons include:
- UAV setup
- Hands-on/Virtual flight test
- Intro to aerial photography/video
- Intelligent flight modes
- App support
- Insurance options
While there are many options of drone ground schools available in many locations around the country (and many more for our northern neighbors up in Canada), there are some great flight training courses available from the comfort of your home with online courses.
There are options to fit every budget, with plenty of free resources to glean from YouTube. Even many of the bigger online drone schools offer free courses just to get you started.
Careers for drone operators
While this is still a relatively new technology, quite a few fields can benefit from experience playing with drones.
Drones are used in aerial faculties for purposes such as (but not limited to) mapping, surveying, inspecting, security, and of course, photography and film.
Not only that, but drones are also used on the ground (think bomb-defusing robots or mars rover – the ultimate drone pilot job, I’d say) and in the sea (gas industry pipe laying or marine archaeological exploration).
This technology will be on the front lines of new methods and perspectives in much scientific inquiry and in artistic and creative disciplines.
Some of the careers I thought sounded captivating and fun:
- 3D Mapping
- Search and Rescue
- Emergency Services
- Military/Government Applications (MI6, CIA, CSIS, etc.)
If you want to get started down one of these paths, you can find a training course to help get you there as well.