Last autumn, I finally decided to get my butt in gear and become FAA Part 107 Certified to be able to fly my drone commercially. Since I had pretty limited time in the busy fall season, and had zero prior aviation knowledge, I decided to give one of the many online courses out there a try.
If you have a drone and want to be able to fly it for money, you need to get certified by the FAA to do so. The exam you have to take, if you pass it, allows you to fly a small unmanned aerial system (sUAS) commercially under a special "Part 107" rule for drones under 55 pounds. Previously, I had found plenty of Part 107 test prep materials free online. There are tons of guides, practice tests, manuals, etc., floating around out there, but they all seemed either too complicated or inadequate. I just didn’t have time to sit and read through hours and hours of aviation jargon to weed out the information I actually needed to fly a drone and pass the test. So, I decided to find a prep course. I wanted someone who knew the test itself to walk me through all of the material in a quick and easy way. I wanted to pay the toll to take the freeway instead of navigating the backroads with an outdated map.
The one I chose to use was Drone Pilot Ground School. I don’t even remember how I came across it — maybe a link from a YouTube video or an ad from a drone news site — but it looked good, the price seemed reasonable for what I was looking for, and the site looked modern enough that I thought it might be a good bet. The course has been around since July 2016, right before Part 107 regulations went into effect.
I scheduled my test for October 25, about little over a month out. I figured that over a month would give me plenty of time to learn the test material, while also giving me a deadline to work under, since I tend to perform better under pressure.
Of course, as is tradition, I put off studying for the exam until I started feeling that pressure a week or two out. And then, unexpectedly, I received a call from the testing center. They were moving locations, and I had two choices: move my test up a couple of weeks, or wait until after mid-December to take the exam. I didn’t want to wait that long, so I decided to push it up to October 11. But there was a problem. That only gave me a few days to study. Challenge accepted.
Drone Pilot Ground School (DPGS) is specifically a FAA Part 107 Test Prep and Training Course. In theory, it gives you everything you need to know to pass the test in an easily digestible way, complete with videos, PDFs, practice tests, and more. The course is self-paced, meaning you can complete it as slowly as you’d like or as quickly as you need.
The course is broken down into easily absorbable sections — Drone Rules and FAA Regulations, the National Airspace System, Reading Sectional Charts, Weather, and Micrometeorology, etc. In each section, you have multiple (streamable and downloadable) videos where Alan Perlman, the CEO of UAV Coach & Drone Pilot Ground School, teaches you one small chunk of knowledge at a time. There are over 70 videos, and most of them are short, ranging from around 1-10 minutes. Only one or two videos over 20 minutes. Each subsection also has a downloadable PDF with lecture text, maps, charts, etc., which is helpful if you’re a visual learner like me. It was really easy for me to sit down for 20 minutes here, 10 minutes there, an hour there, and study at my own pace.
I found the way in which the course was broken down to be intuitive and easy to use. I could knock out an entire section in one sitting, in less than an hour, leaving me plenty of time to take the practice tests and re-read the accompanying text summary. Alan was great at explaining things that were a little complicated — like sectional charts and airport traffic patterns — and, even though it got kind of tiring seeing him in the same shirt in every video, I enjoyed having him as my “teacher.”
Each practice quiz has multiple questions, and each answer is explained. It’s obvious he’s not just trying to teach the material on the test, but also trying to teach you how to take the test. Test-taking skills are important, and it’s obvious he gets feedback from people who have taken the test about the types of questions they are asked, making his practice tests very useful. If test-taking doesn’t come naturally to you, I’d highly recommend a course like this to help you practice.
At the end of the course, there are full-length practice tests, a huge cram sheet, and a test day checklist, which are all useful the day before your exam to make sure you have everything in order. And if you’re keen to keep studying after passing the test, there are bonus lectures on everything from how to conduct airspace research, drone liability and insurance, how to price drone services, and more.
If you purchase the course, you’ll have access to it for life. This is great, because if you want to stay certified, you’ll have to take a recurrent test every 24 months. There is recurrent test-specific information as a part of the course, and I’m sure it will be constantly updated as the test changes.
DPGS claims that more than 99% of their students pass the test on their first try. I can attest to its effectiveness; with only a few days to study, I passed with flying colors. I doubt I would have been able to do it without having a test prep course such as this one. If you don’t pass the test, they claim a money-back guarantee on that test fee (not the course fee). If you show them your failed test documentation, in theory, they’ll refund your testing fee, usually about $150.
I never had to use it, but DPGS claims great customer support, and even had an “ask a question by voicemail” button in the course where you could leave a message for someone to answer.
What I Liked
- The price is good, especially given the fact that passing the test is guaranteed or your test fee back, and you get access to the constantly updated material for life.
- Short, segmented sections so you can study in small chunks when you have the time to do so.
- It was enough to get me to pass the test with just a few days of studying when my test schedule unexpectedly changed.
- All of the necessary test knowledge seems to be covered, and there are plenty of study guides, practice tests, and other resources in case you need help.
What I Didn't Like
- One thing I wish the course had was the ability for me to “flag” sections that need more review. Some parts of the course were more difficult than others, and I’d have loved a box to check or some way to remind myself to go back and study certain subsections more thoroughly.
- I wish the practice quizzes had some kind of rotating or randomized questions so that you could take quizzes on the same subject more than once for some extra practice.
- Though the videos are short and sweet, a little B-roll now and again to break up the monotony of watching the videos might be nice.
If you’ve been looking for a course to help you pass the FAA Part 107 Drone Certification exam, the only one I can recommend is the one I myself have taken, so... I recommend this one. For $299 and a lifetime of access to the material, it might be worth the investment.
If you're interested, use the code FSTOPPERS for $50 off the course for being an Fstoppers reader!