expert drone pilot

Ask Drone Girl: How to become an “expert” in the drone industry

Next up in our “Ask Drone Girl” series is about achieving “expert” level in drones. If you have a question for Drone Girl, contact her here.

I am in the process of getting my Part 107 and getting jobs as a drone service provider.  I am trying to build up my drone flying experience and  am curious what you would say is the average number of flight hours you need to considered an experienced UAV pilot? Also how much for an expert? I know I need to build up my experience, I am just curious what would be a hour level I need to build it up to.

“Ask Drone Girl” is beginning to reach a deeper, philosophical level! What really is an “expert?” Is it someone who makes a lot of money at their job? Is it someone who carries a lot of influence? Is it someone who never makes mistakes? It’s all quite subjective.

But you asked for an hour level, which is less subjective. I’ve taught dozens and dozens of people to fly over the years, and — this is not the answer you want to hear — but it varies greatly.

I’ve handed an RC transmitter to people and, without even explaining how it works, they’re flying every which way — even nose-in — seamlessly.  Can you say pilot goals? I still struggle to fly nose-in — I just find it hard to flip my brain around that way. A common denominator I’ve found among these types of people is they have a lot of experience playing video games. One of my favorite drone racers is Zoe Stumbaugh, and she often talks about having a background in video games. (The only video game experience I had growing up was playing Roller Coaster Tycoon, which is hardly relevant.) If that’s you, you have a distinct advantage!

But if it takes you 2 hours, 10 hours, even 20 hours to feel confident flying your drone, that is completely okay too. It’s different for everyone.

The theory goes that it takes 10,000 to master a skill. That would be 416 days straight (no sleeping or eating time) to master it. I don’t even think I’m at 10,000 hours, and I’ve been in the drone industry for about 4 years now (I make time to sleep!).  That also equates to a full-time job for five years. Who has that kind of time? The Personal MBA Author Josh Kaufman makes the case that it takes just 20 hours to master a skill:

Kaufman lays out what you need to do to master a skill:

  1. Decide what you actually want to be able to do: Do you want to learn how to fly? Do you want to be a great photographer too? Do you want to race drones?
  2. Learn just enough that you can actually tell when you’re making a mistake: Do you know your photos are over-exposed? Now you are competent enough to find the resources to fix it.
  3. Remove Practice Barriers: Yes, cut out the distractions. I’m looking at you, Facebook.
  4. Practice at least 20 hours. That’s it!

Point 1 here is really important. Do you just want to be able to fly? Because that’s only part of it. A successful drone business is really not about flying the drone, but gathering the data, knowing the mechanics of your drone, editing the images, gathering clients and more. I read an interesting post from Pix4D recently. It said:

“The actual flying is less than 20% of the job. The other 80% is data processing. It’s more about the data and presentation than about the flying. And if you save your customers money, show them something new, and help them do predictive maintenance, you have the job.”

I would advise you start flying. Depending on your background, that could take anywhere from 20 seconds to 20 hours to be great at it.

But it’s more important that you have other skill sets to make you an experienced UAV pilot too. Get your Part 107 license, which you mentioned you are doing already — that’s great! The Part 107 license is what the Federal Aviation Administration requires you to have to legally operate drones for commercial purposes. I  used Drone Pilot Ground School to help me study for the test and passed on my first try. That right there was about 30 hours of work.

Then, you might want to acquire mapping skills, inspection skills or photography skills, depending on what type of drone service provider you want to be. Maybe you want technical skills to build your own drone, or coding skills to develop your own software for your drone.

There is no right answer to how much time you need to take to be an expert. This industry is so new, that it’s hard to say really if anyone is an expert since we are all still learning!

Happy flying, and happy learning!

 

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