From the breathtaking Chicago lakefront to the Garden of the Gods Recreation Area, Illinois has many fantastic opportunities to explore the skies via drone.
You must hold a commercial license before launching your drone, so how do you obtain one?
Here’s how to get a commercial drone license in Illinois:
- Check FAA’s eligibility rules
- Apply for your FAA Tracking Number on IACRA
- Register at an FAA Knowledge Testing Center
- Study for the Part 107 exam
- Take the test and pass
- Complete FAA Form 8710-13
This beginner-friendly guide will take you through all the steps required to earn your commercial drone license in Illinois.
I’ll also share my favorite resources along the way, so let’s get started.
Here’s how to obtain a drone license in Illinois
The FAA administers drone licenses to pilots in the United States, differentiating between recreational and commercial status.
You must take the TRUST exam if you’re interested in holding a hobbyist license, and will be restricted in some uses. For instance, you can’t fly a drone for profit.
That requires a Remote Pilot Certificate, which you can only obtain if you pass the Unmanned Aircraft General – Small (UAG) test. These steps will explain how it’s done.
Check the FAA’s eligibility rules
The FAA requires that first-time pilots be at least 16, mentally and physically capable of drone use, and fully understand English, including writing, reading, and speaking the language.
Most importantly, you must pass the FAA aeronautical knowledge exam, but you’ll be ready for that by the time you’re done reading.
Apply for your FAA Tracking Number on IACRA
You don’t yet have an FAA Tracking Number as a first-time pilot. Each new pilot receives a unique FTN they’ll keep with them for all their aeronautic endeavors. It’s part of how the FAA identifies you.
You’ll need an account on IACRA to obtain your FTN. What is IACRA? It’s short for the Integrated Airman Certification and Rating Application. It’s an FAA resource documenting policy and regulatory requirements and issuing temporary certificates.
Click here to visit the IACRA website, then click the blue Register link on the upper corner of the homepage. That will begin the registration process.
Registering on IACRA can be moderately intimidating for first-time pilots, so allow me to explain what you can bypass.
On the first page of registration requiring you to check off a role, you can only select Applicant and still move on to the second page. You should check off more relevant roles as applicable, but you don’t have to.
Then, on the second page, you can skip the section called Certificate Information. You don’t yet have your Remote Pilot Certificate, so you can’t input the Airman Certificate Number. IACRA allows you to bypass this section and complete your registration.
The rest of the registration is straightforward enough. Type in your personal information, choose two security questions from dropdown menus, add your answers, and create a unique login. Double-check your details, then click Register.
IACRA will email you confirmation of your account registration. Log in, and you will see your FTN, as IACRA automatically issues you one after you register.
Register at an FAA Knowledge Testing Center
Now you’re ready to register for the Part 107 exam. The FAA only administers this test in person at Knowledge Testing Centers, facilities approved by the FAA.
You must create an account on PSI to register for the exam. PSI is a partner of the FAA that administers many types of FAA exams, not only the Unmanned Aircraft General – Small (UAG) test.
New users can create an account by clicking the Create an Account button. PSI will ask for your name and FTN to verify you. If you’re eligible to proceed, you can continue creating an account.
You will receive an email from PSI confirming your details after you make your account. Log in using your new credentials by clicking the blue Sign In button.
Next, navigate to Find a Test Center. You can search for FAA Knowledge Testing Centers from Chicago to Aurora, Naperville, Rockford, Joliet, Peoria, and beyond by selecting your postal code and desired distance.
Don’t forget to pick the right exam type. Yours is all the way at the bottom, Unmanned Aircraft General – Small (UAG).
Choose a convenient location, and then a date and time to take the Part 107 exam. Once you confirm, you’re officially locked in!
Study for the Part 107 exam
It’s an exciting but nerve-wracking time, as you could soon become a commercial drone pilot. The Part 107 test isn’t designed to be easy, but studying will make it far less difficult.
Which study resources do I recommend? I’m glad you asked!
You can find Droneblog’s top drone courses for beginners seeking a Part 107 license here. These classes from resources such as Pilot Institute, Drone Launch Academy, Drone Pilot Ground School, and Drone Pro Academy are some of the most renowned in the industry.
You’ll learn from real FAA professionals and commercial pilots who share their knowledge in an easy-to-understand format. Short video or text lessons are simple to digest, and practice quizzes cement what you learned.
The quizzes include questions from real FAA commercial exams, which further helps you prepare.
You should also appreciate the generous money-back guarantees. You can get a full refund and the cost of your Part 107 exam if you don’t pass, so you have a great assurance to proceed.
Take the test and pass
You’re ready to take the commercial drone exam. The questions are presented in multiple-choice format, with 60 in all.
You will have two and a half hours to take the test, which should suffice. Take your time with each of the questions, think carefully about your answer, and go with your gut.
You must bring a government-issued photo ID card to the FAA Knowledge Testing Center on the day of your exam.
You will receive all the materials needed for the test, including a pencil, blank paper, a dry-erase marker, a transparent sheet, and the test supplement book.
You can bring some of your own tools, including an electronic calculator that only does math (no other unrelated functions) and a protractor.
However, you can’t take any personal belongings with you to the testing room, including your phone. You’ll have access to a locker to leave your things until you’re finished with the test.
You can answer 18 of the 60 questions incorrectly to score the required 70 percent passing grade. Your test results will be posted on the IACRA website within several days to weeks after taking the test.
Complete FAA Form 8710-13
You passed the Part 107 exam! Congratulations on becoming a commercial drone pilot in Illinois. The FAA will mail you a permanent Remote Pilot Certificate in several weeks, sometimes upwards of a month.
However, you don’t have to wait that long to start flying. You can request a temporary license through IACRA by completing FAA Form 8710-13.
Log into IACRA, then begin by clicking Start New Application. IACRA will ask for an application type, so select Pilot.
Next, choose Remote Pilot under the Certifications section. Then click Other Path Information and Start Application.
The application prompts will take you through the process. You might have to refer to your IACRA account for your Knowledge Test Exam ID. The final part of the application is an electronic signature.
Once you click submit, IACRA will process your application request, which includes forwarding your information to the TSA for a background check.
IACRA will email you after you pass the background check, including a temporary copy of your license and downloading and printing instructions.
I have my commercial drone license in Illinois – Now what?
Becoming a commercial drone pilot in Illinois is extraordinary, but you must be an accountable pilot and take care of other responsibilities before you launch your UAV.
For instance, have you registered your drone yet?
All commercial drones require registration under FAA law regardless of their weight. You can register your drones for up to three years at a reasonable cost of $5 each.
You should also learn Illinois’s drone laws if you’re not already privy. I have a great resource here detailing all the federal, state, and local laws.
» MORE: Drone Laws in Illinois
The state law HB 1652 prohibits pilots from using their drones to interfere with hunters and fishermen.
You could receive a Class B misdemeanor charge for violating this rule and face six months of imprisonment, probation, and a fine of up to $1,500.
Schaumburg, Evanston, McHenry County, and the Crystal Lake Park District have local ordinances controlling drone activity.
In Schaumburg, you must stay 100 feet from village property and rights-of-way during events. Evanston outlaws domestic drone use with an anti-personnel device, and McHenry County prohibits drones outright.
The Crystal Lake Park District prevents drone launches without permission or in use in a designated area.
Your Remote Pilot Certificate will expire in two years, so how do you renew it? You can obtain your sUAS Recurrent Certificate for free by taking an online FAA exam that marks answers incorrectly as you go through.
It’s a lot more convenient than paying the $165 to take the Part 107 exam again, which commercial pilots had to do prior to April 2021.
You can read about the entire commercial license renewal process here.