So you want to fly a drone? A primer - Adam Cooper, RBP, FBCA


Adam Cooper, RBP, FBCA

Drones seem to be everywhere. You can go to just about any park around and see people flying them. What information is needed in order to fly a drone? This and other questions will be answered in the article.

The first decision to be made, even before you go out and purchase a drone, is whether or not you will be flying commercially. This means that if you plan to make money with your drone, ie: real estate, commercial architecture, editorial, stills or video, you will need to get an FAA part 107 license.

The FAA license requires you to take a written multiple choice test at a local airport or flight school. There are a number of ways to study and get the information in order to pass this test. One way is find a local flight school in your area that offers the FAA part 107 class. Generally, classes last 1-2 weeks and cost between $200-$400. Another way to learn, and this is how I learned, is to search videos on YouTube. There are a number of videos on YouTube that discuss similar questions and give the answers and the reasoning behind the answers. The subject matter includes, weather, airspace, notice to airmen and safety. Most drones over 0.55 lbs. must be registered with the FAA as an unmanned aircraft system (UAS). The exam is actually the first round of exams that all pilots must take. Safety to people on the ground is important, but safety to other aircraft is paramount.

Hillsboro Lighthouse © Adam Cooper

The major brand of drone today is DJI. They make a large line of drones from the mini drones to FPV (first person view) with goggles to the full size drones for high end motion pictures. I’ve owned a couple different models, but currently, I own the DJI Air2s. It has a 1/2” chip and can produce 4K video and RAW HDR photos. It also has many built in features that can do a number of specialized functions, which will be touched on later in the article.

The advantages of being licensed are many. First, if you are working for a company and a job duty is to fly a drone, many companies will require the license. Technically, if you are making money with your drone, you must be licensed. Being licensed helps in other ways as well.

The drone uses a controller that connects to your smart phone and wirelessly connects to the drone. The phone runs apps that give you full control of your drone and all the functions while in the air. You can see exactly what the drone camera is seeing and can move the drone in order to get the shots you want. Even before you lift off, you must make sure that it is safe to fly in that area. An app call B4UFLY will show you the air space, and where it would be necessary to get special permission to fly. Obviously, it is difficult to get permission to fly in proximity to any airport. I live less than 35 miles from Palm Beach, Florida and when the former president was at his home, there was a 35 mile military no fly zone. It is connected to the app that controls your drone and the drone will not be able to turn on within that zone without permission. An agency called LAANC can be requested for special permission to fly. In order to do this, you must put in your license number, date and time you will be flying, exact location and height requested.

This is just a bit of the regulations that drone pilots must abide by. Again, safety is key. If a drone hit a jet engine, it will cause a serious catastrophe. The rules are there for the safety of the people on the ground and all the people in the air. There’s even a function that speaks out loud when a manned aircraft is flying by. By the way, all National Parks are no fly zones and drones are not permitted.

Green bean field © Adam Cooper

This story happened to me last year and shows how the app is connected to the FAA and the local airport, air traffic controllers. I was photographing a home that was adjacent to Palm Beach International Airport for a realtor. When looking prior to the shoot, I realized that the house was in line with the runway and I didn’t think that I would get permission to fly. When I arrived at the home, I was setting up and a jumbo jet flew by. It was probably about 400 feet, possibly lower, in landing mode, wheels down. Then I saw another and another. All this time, I was trying to get instant permission to fly. The drone would not turn on as I did not have permission to fly. Jumbo jets were landing one after the other. I kept putting my license number in and requesting permission multiple times. Then, all of a sudden, my drone went on which meant that I got permission. I flew for about 15 minutes, doing my photos from every angle of the home from about 200 feet up. During the time I was flying, no jumbo jets came through. As soon as I landed and turned off the drone, another plane came through. This shows that the air traffic controller, saw my request, and was able to either see a break in the air traffic or held up a plane for me to fly. It was quite incredible.

There are many creative features that the drone provides. You can shoot 4K video and HDR 5 frame auto bracketed RAW files. It will also do many special features, such as panorama, 3D globe and many preset moves such as boomerang and circle around and object. You can also, select a moving subject, lock the drone onto it, and the drone will follow the subject until you stop. You can also select a non-moving subject, lock onto it, and for example, simply move to the side and the drone will keep the subject in the same spot. The drone has a high-end gimbal built in, so the video is smooth a silk. The files can be brought into programs such as Adobe Premier Pro and edited to something amazing. Here’s an example of a project I did for myself at the Hillsboro Lighthouse in Deerfield Beach, Florida. Many of the preset movements were used in this video.

Hillsboro Lighthouse © Adam Cooper

Drones can be fun to fly and give perspective that you would never be able to do without an aircraft. Safety is key. Knowledge of the rules will take you a long way to avoid any issues with authorities.

I believe that having my drone license was key in attaining my current position with Pero Family Farms. We’ve done many video and photos of the farm and have used the footage in major marketing and sales initiatives. It’s fun and exciting every time and it’s worth it to do it right and get your license.

Farmer Josh © Adam Cooper

Pero Family Farms ©Adam Cooper

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Adam Cooper, RBP, FBCA
Cooper Studios