All posts by Sally French

Ask Drone Girl: is there any visual observer training for drone operations?

Next up in our “Ask Drone Girl” series is about visual observer training. If you have a question for Drone Girl, contact her here.

I’m currently doing work for a non-profit and just got my part 107 license. I’d like to train a client at my non-profit as a visual observer. While I can tell them to watch and make sure I don’t bump into stuff, I was wondering if there was anything more that could be done – a small training or something that you’ve heard of to prepare a visual observer to help a pilot?

Hey there,

You’re right, honestly a visual observer chalks down to making sure you don’t bump into stuff. My visual observer has also served highly useful in deflecting conversations with the general public! A lot of people approach me as I’m flying and want to ask about what I’m doing, but I don’t really want to think about talking to people when I’m focused on flying!

That being said, it is important your visual observer has an understanding of the operation beyond just “watch out for that tree.”

First off, they need to follow the FAA’s rules under 14 CFR 107.33. That means they must: maintain effective communication with the person manipulating the flight controls and remote pilot in command at all times, they must ensure the visual observer can see the unmanned aircraft, they must scan the airspace where the drone is operation and they must maintain awareness of the position of the drone at all times.

Of course, they must also adhere to the FAA’s rules around alcohol and drugs — no operating an aircraft within 9 hours after the consumption of any alcoholic beverage. (No drinking and droning!)

I would recommend they go through the FAA’s free Part 107 small Unmanned Aircraft Systems (sUAS) course. Going through this course is actually a requirement for existing Part 61 pilots (people who already have a manned pilot’s license).

The course takes about two hours to complete and is free as a self-study tool to the general public. There’s a free practice test at the end. It will go through basic rules, operating procedures and safety.

If they decide they want to take the full Part 107 test, that’s great too! Check out my guide to how I studied for and passed the test.

Happy flying!

Flybrix teaches kids how to build and fly drones with Legos

Scroll to the bottom of this post for a Flybrix coupon code for free shipping.

Looking for a drone for your students or kids? San Francisco-based startup Flybrix has developed a way to teach students from grade school to grad school about drones using Legos.

Flybrix creates kits of Lego bricks alongside propellers, a LiPo battery and Flybrix’s pre-programmed flight board that can be turned into a working drone in about 15 minutes. It’s intended for people age 14 and up to build on their own, but can also be built by kids with some help with their parents.

Flybrix launched in 2014 as a company that was working on a flying selfie camera that could hover in place. The engineers used Legos in their prototyping process.

“We had this ‘aha’ moment,” said Holly Kasun, chief operating officer at Flybrix — who sometimes is referred to as the “chief fun officer.”

Soon enough, the Lego prototype became the product.

Flybrix COO Holly Kasun

The product fits perfectly into Kasun’s genealogy. She’s the daughter of a fifth grade teacher, and her grandfather has a PhD from Caltech and designed airplanes.

But Kasun says that while the drone is targeted at mostly junior high and high school students, everyone from young kids to professional engineers are using it.

“A younger student is going to start understanding a PCB and what sensors look like,” Kasun said. “They’ll be able to build a working vocabulary on topics related to electronics, physics and aerodynamics.”

And for students who master building the drone, they can then progress onto designing their own airframes. A Chrome extension also allows pilots to adjust settings and motor tune. Continue reading Flybrix teaches kids how to build and fly drones with Legos

The gear you need for a drone mapping project is surprisingly cheap

Are you looking into using drones for mapping? You don’t need to spend thousands of dollars on your setup.

84% of drone mapping is occurring on drone models that cost $1500 or less, according to a report released today by drone mapping software company DroneDeploy.

dronedeploy drones mapping
Courtesy of DroneDeploy

Most of the maps created on DroneDeploy software are made using DJI drones; the most commonly used drone to utilize DroneDeploy’s software is the $1,199 Phantom 4. 80% of maps are made on either a Phantom or $999 Mavic drone.”Only five months after launch, the DJI Phantom 4 dethroned the DJI Phantom 3 Pro as the most commonly used drone for mapping, and as of mid-March, the Mavic and Phantom 4 Pro were racing neck and neck as they take aim to replace the Phantom 4,” according to DroneDeploy’s report. Continue reading The gear you need for a drone mapping project is surprisingly cheap

770,000 drones have been registered with the FAA so far

Drones have come a long way in the past few years — and even months. Federal Aviation Administration Administrator Michael Huerta gave a “State of the industry” speech to provide updates on the FAA’s outlook on drones during a speech today at the Unmanned Aircraft Systems Symposium in Reston, VA.

“We’re ushering in a new age of American aviation: the unmanned aircraft era,” Huerta said in a prepared statement. “And it’s moving at a quicker pace than anything we’ve seen before.”

Here are some quick facts about the drone industry:

  • 770,000 drone registrations have been received in a little over 15 months
  • The B4UFly app, which the FAA created to let people know where it’s safe and legal to fly a drone, has been downloaded more than 200,000 times
  • As of March 21, the FAA had issued 37,579 remote pilot certificates

Huerta said the FAA is now ramping up to make the enormous amount of drones in the skies safer, as well as they are working on expanding operations so that unmanned aircraft can be flown over people, and beyond visual line of sight.

The FAA has now formed two groups —  the Drone Advisory Committee, and the Unmanned Aircraft Safety Team. It also recently launched an Aviation Rulemaking Committee to help create standards for remotely identifying and tracking unmanned aircraft during operations.

Meet “Lone Drone” creator Vanessa Elliott

Many filmmakers make movies with a drone. Filmmaker Vanessa Elliott is making a film starring a drone.

Elliott is a California-based filmmaker, who has worked on projects including projects for Vice Media, the short film “Share” by Pippa Biano, a Netflix documentary in post production called “Mortified Guide”, and has even starred as an actress with Disney. She studied at the University of California, Berkeley, and earned her B.A. in Film & Media.  Now, she’s breaking out into the drone world with a film project that stars a drone as the main character. It’s called “The Lone Drone.”

Drone Girl: What’s your film about?

Vanessa Elliott: “The Lone Drone” is set in the not-so-distant future when drones are more common and prevalent in daily life. It follows a drone that lives in a house with a family and helps with household chores. One day it is faced with a morally questionable option from its master. The drone gets confused and ultimately escapes the situation completely. As it gets further away of its human masters, it becomes self-aware. It is taken to a wild western landscape that it has never been to; it only knows the house it lives in and city life. This landscape is detailed, colorful, there are wind storms. It discovers its freedom.

This inventive, desert girl ends up finding it trapped, and she is immediately put off by it because she hasn’t been exposed to drones. As she gets to know it, like a kid playing with a balloon for the first time, she thinks it’s wonderful and is mesmerized by it.

The two mirror each other in that they are both lonely and breaking out of their own limited environments. It’s a story of how they find harmony between human beings and possession.

vanessa elliott lone drone
Photo by Kat Nebrida

DG: I know you just got a DJI Mavic — congrats! Will the Mavic play a starring role in the film?

VE: I would like to create a custom drone for the project — I have designs laid out. My plan is to work with someone who can help me build out the drone from scratch.

DG: And then I’m guessing the film will have plenty of drone shots.

VE: Absolutely there will be drone shots in the film. We’ll have multiple drones on set. There will be the “hero” drone. We’ll always have that drone filming for that over-the-shoulder view. Then we’ll have a drone following the “hero” drone, there will pretty much always be at least two drones in the air. Continue reading Meet “Lone Drone” creator Vanessa Elliott

How to learn mapping and agriculture for drones

I’m interested in breaking into agriculture and mapping. I think what I need the most is some training so that I know what I’m talking about when looking for clientele. Do you have any suggestions?

Yes, I know exactly what you need. I highly recommend Icarus Aerials’ Lewis Butler and Trevor Duke’s online course on mapping and 3D modelling.

The course goes over a variety of topics – photogrammetry, structure scanning, hardware, software and more. It primarily discusses using Drone Deploy, though I personally have had success with Skycatch’s software, which is similar to Drone Deploy.

It’s a self-paced online course so you can do it on your own time – and there’s lifetime access in case you need a lot of time. The course, called Mapping and 3D Modeling 101 costs $199. Continue reading How to learn mapping and agriculture for drones

Ask Drone Girl: getting a job in drones

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


I am retired from the US Army and back in College. I am wanting to get into a engineering field that would be best for working with drones. What would you suggest? San Diego City College has a AA in Electronics. They also have the first 2 years of electrical engineering or mechanical engineering degrees with a transfer to San Diego State University. Do you have any suggestions on what’s best to study to get into the drone field? Thanks!

Thank you for your service, and welcome to the drone world! The tough thing in the drone industry is there is no “set path” to succeed. The great thing about the drone industry is there is no “set path” to succeed.

I’ll let you know my story. I got into drones by accident. I was a college student pursuing a Bachelor’s degree in both German and Journalism, with a minor in multicultural studies. I needed one credit to graduate and the only thing that really fit in my schedule was a course on drones, so I signed up and of course, fell in love! Continue reading Ask Drone Girl: getting a job in drones

FAA Remote Pilot Certifications: here’s the database to search Part 107-certified pilots

Next up in our “Ask Drone Girl” series is about the FAA Part 107 Certified Remote Pilot database. If you have a question for Drone Girl, contact her here.

Does the FAA have a website where you can see if a drone operator has a license to fly commercially? 


Hello, Dave!

The short answer is yes! You can browse the FAA’s public registry of Part 107-certifed remote pilots here.

In order to browse the database, you will have to start by submitting information about yourself, including your name and address. From there, you can browse all airmen (okay, how about airwomen?!), whether they are manned or remote pilots.  You’ll be able to see each pilot’s certificate and their rating (including that of yours truly).

If you’re hiring someone to do commercial drone work for you, this is a great place to check if that drone pilot is actually certified.

As of March 21, the FAA had issued 37,579 remote pilot certificates, according to an FAA spokesperson.

And if you’re a drone owner who flies commercially but is not yet Part 107-certified, save yourself the embarrassment of not showing up in this database by taking the Part 107 test. I promise, it’s not as hard as it may seem, even if you don’t have a background in aviation. (Here’s my guide and video to taking the Part 107 test, which is a 60-question written test that takes up to 2 hours. If you don’t have a background in aviation, you’ll certainly need to devote a few evenings to studying, but it’s not something you can’t do.

Note that not all pilots who have certificates may show up in your database search. Pilots do have 90 days to opt-out of having their address posted so there is a significant lag in posting, and someone’s legal name may not be the name you know then as when you search them.

Looking for study resources to ensure you pass? I used Drone Pilot Ground School and passed on the first try. I also recommend UAV Ground School — you can save $25 with coupon code DRONEGIRL. 

Happy flying, and happy test-taking!