I have been literally counting down the days for Part 107 since I started DARTdrones Flight School in April of 2014. For years, we have had to break the hearts of aspiring commercial drone pilots who couldn’t wait to start their careers in the UAS industry, but did not have a 333 Exemption or a pilot’s license. Needless to say, today was a huge day! I signed up months ago to take the Airman Knowledge Test the second it became available: 8AM EST this morning. With the help of the DARTdrones Flight Instructors, I was able to pass the exam and be one step closer to becoming a commercial sUAS pilot! Here is what I learned on this huge day:
1. The FAA is NOT Messing Around
There is no dancing around it. The test was difficult and required extensive studying and understanding of the materials. I studied for between 20 and 25 hours.
2. The FAA Sample Exam and Study Guide are Not Enough
While the FAA Study Guide was a helpful for pointing out test topics, the Study Guide alone is simply not enough. Practicing the questions is the most effective way to study for the exam. I am sure that many people thought that memorizing the sample exam that the FAA made available a few weeks would be enough to pass the test. I personally only got 3 questions that I had seen in the sample exam.
3. In-Person Training Was Key
I studied using both the DARTdrones online UAS Ground School course and an in-person DARTdrones UAS Ground School course. Although the online course gave me all the information, many times during the test I found the answer by remembering conversations that happened in the in-person classroom. Having an instructor answer my questions, tell me when my thinking was wrong, and share personal stories made me fully understand the material. Also, other students asking questions is incredibly valuable.
4. Learn From a Real Pilot
Many of the questions that I was asked were not questioning facts, but were questioning the way the FAA thinks. After hearing personal stories from our DARTdrones Flight Instructors, I was able to figure out the answer to a lot of the regulations questions.
5. Study Those Charts!
It has at least 20 questions that asked about sectional charts, and they were by no means the basic areas of the sectional charts. I even had to measure the cloud ceiling over a cell tower.
6. You Cannot Just Memorize Questions
Based on seeing the questions from the test, there has to be an enormous question bank that the exam is pulling from. Memorizing questions is not going to get you very far. You need a comprehensive understanding of the material. The FAA recently changed the way that they test pilots. They used to make their test banks available and pilots would memorize questions. Their new testing system requires that pilots have a full comprehensive understanding of the material. The only way to get this is through a professional training course.
7. Pushing Back the Test Date
The thought popped into my mind a few times this past week that I should push back my test date. I decided not to because I desperately wanted to see the exam so that we could advise our students. If you do not have a strict deadline for taking the exam, it may make sense to push back your test date. You should be going into the exam confident and excited. If you are nervous, it probably means that you aren’t prepared enough to succeed.
8. I Had a Great Time
Taking the exam was actually very fun. After so much studying and hard work, to be able to confidently answer complex aviation questions felt like a huge accomplishment.
9. The FAA Did A Great Job
No matter what the FAA does, it seems like UAS pilots are never satisfied. The one thing that is undeniable is that the Airman Knowledge Test took some serious effort and time to create. Almost every question was specific to sUAS and the Part 107 Rules. The difficulty of the test will truly guarantee that commercial drone pilots will enter the aviation community safely.
10. Celebrate This Win For Our Industry
Today is an amazing day that thousands of people have been waiting for for years. I am so grateful to all of the innovators and believers who made today possible. Let’s fly!
Abby Speicher is the CEO and Co-Founder of DARTdrones. DARTdrones is a national flight school for drone pilots offering both in-person and online training for commercial UAS pilots. All DARTdrones Flight Instructors are true aviators with extensive aviation and sUAS experience.