Category Archives: Q&A

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!

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!

Ask Drone Girl: B4UFly, what do the grey circles mean, and can I fly my drone there?

Next up in our “Ask Drone Girl” series is about using apps to figure out where you can legally fly drones. If you have a question for Drone Girl, contact her here.

I am about to receive my first real drone, the Phantom 3 Advanced.
My question is on the app it shows airports in an orange circle so obviously NO FLYING. but if I live in a city close by and it’s got a grey circle what’s that mean ?

Hey there!

It’s great to check where you can legally fly your drone BEFORE you actually purchase it. Many people buy their drone, and THEN realize they live a mile from an airport and can’t fly in their own back yard.

To answer your question, first I’d need to know what app you’re using to figure out the colors you’re referencing. There are TONS of apps out there to check where you can and can’t fly. There’s the FAA’s own B4UFly app, but in my opinion the interface is difficult to use. There are lots of other drone apps out there that do the same/similar job, but better. Check out Airmap, KittyhawkHover, or Skyward, which was recently acquired by Verizon.

Personally, I use Airmap, so I’ll walk you through their app to figure out whether you can fly there.

Here’s where I live (San Francisco): Continue reading Ask Drone Girl: B4UFly, what do the grey circles mean, and can I fly my drone there?

Ask Drone Girl: how do I even get started with drones?

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

I was wondering if you have any recommendations on where to start in learning about drones? I’m totally new to this, and looking for a maybe a new career change. What would be a good drone to get to start out, and where would you recommend getting a drone pilot license if I got that route?


Hey Nicole,

Welcome to the drone world! Rules are constantly changing, and it could be difficult to know where to look.

Here’s where I suggest you start:

  1. Buy a cheap, toy drone.  Never flown a drone before? Don’t just drop $1,000 on a quality drone. Buy a $30 drone to see how you like it. These drones can be hard to fly, but they’ll ensure you actually like flying. Mastering flying a cheap, toy drone, also ensures you’ll be a pro pilot by the time you get your fancy, advanced drone. You would way rather fly the $30 toy drone into the pool than your new DJI Mavic, right? Trust me, I’ve heard way too many stories of this happening. Here’s an excellent guide from UAV Coach explaining the basics of flying.
tdr spider
Learn to fly on something you can afford to crash, like this $25 TDR Spider drone.

2. Learn the rules. There are different rules depending on whether you intend to fly for hobby (you are simply flying to have fun) vs. for business (you are making money off your flying). The best site to get this information is on the Know Before You Fly site, which was created by AUVSI and the AMA in partnership with the Federal Aviation Administration. On this site, you’ll learn requirements about having to register your drone, the rules about where you can fly, and more.

These include things like: Continue reading Ask Drone Girl: how do I even get started with drones?

What is the best drone to film my marching band?

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

I’m looking for a drone that will auto hover and film. I will be using it primarily to record our high school marching band from directly above to assist with formations. There are just SO MANY makes and models, I end up overwhelmed and lost in details from one to another. I’m hoping to stay around $400.

Hey there,

This is my favorite question ever, and not because I know exactly what to recommend to you! I was in orchestra in high school (I played the viola) so I can appreciate the marching band too.

How cool! An aerial video of the formations will definitely help out your students — and you. What an excellent use case for a drone.

I recommend you get the DJI Phantom 3 Standard. At $499, it’s a bit over your budget, but it’s totally worth it. It’s also currently on sale on Amazon for just $439!

The DJI Phantom 3 Standard is definitely my favorite drone for under $500. (DJI already has a Phantom 4 drone, so you’re essentially getting last year’s model at a discount.)

GPS assisted flight means the drone can hover in its place for a flight time of up to 25 minutes. (However, just because the drone can hover, I always recommend someone has their hand on the controls just in case). Continue reading What is the best drone to film my marching band?

Will we see drones manufactured in the U.S.?

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

Do you think we will see Drones manufactured in the U.S.? There are many fine products on the market at this time but of course we feel a loyalty to our country! I own 5 drones so far !


Hey Pat!

You bring up a very interesting point. While I would also love to buy American-made products to support U.S. businesses, the reality is, most of the drones in the world are not made in the U.S.

There have been a number of attempts at U.S. manufactured drones, but none have succeeded. “Solo” drone maker 3D Robotics was based in Berkeley, Calif, with a large office in San Diego, Calif. (its main manufacturing plant was just across the border in Tijuana, Mexico) but it has since transitioned away from manufacturing commercial drones after laying off a number of staff. San Mateo, Calif.-based GoPro also laid off employees after recalling its Karma drone because they were falling from the sky.  Though, the Karma drone is back on the market. In January, the makers of San Francisco-based Lily, a widely-hyped drone that never actually made it to market, announced they were calling it quits and would refund those who made pre-orders.

The major companies that are left — DJI, Yuneec and Autel — are all Chinese companies, and many of the smaller drone companies are also mostly based outside of the U.S.

I discussed this phenomenon with Steve McIrvin, CEO of Autel Robotics USA. Continue reading Will we see drones manufactured in the U.S.?