My Experience Taking the FAA Part 107 UAS Test to Fly Drones for Video Work

My Experience Taking the FAA Part 107 UAS Test to Fly Drones for Video Work

I recently earned my Remote Pilot Certification, which allows me to fly a small UAS (drone) for paid photo and video work in the USA, under the FAA’s Part 107 rule. With no background in aviation, passing the test was no easy feat for me. If you’re considering taking the test yourself, read about my experiences to make sure you’re well prepared.

The test was much more difficult than I was expecting, and studying for it wasn’t easy either. With a whole range of topics covered across multiple documents, a ridiculous amount of acronyms, and military-grade (confusing) directions, I’m honestly surprised that I passed. I'm detailing my experience here so that it might be of some help to others who, like me, want to make some money with a drone, legally.

Brace Yourselves

There are a lot a big words and lengthy phrases that will be continually thrown at you. The number of reference materials and how scattered they are is mind-numbing at times. Understand this going in, and consider making a list (or copying the one I provide below) and try to keep all of these terms straight if you can.

Dammit Jim, I'm a Filmmaker, Not a Top Gun Pilot!

With no experience flying actual planes and no prior aeronautical knowledge, I was about as green as grass. I’ve flown drones for miles and miles, but the experience that comes with using a DJI Inspire or Phantom did little to help me prepare for the test. Many of the questions on it cover concepts of aeronautical knowledge, and writing in "my Inspire figures that out so I don't have to" unfortunately wasn't one of my answer choices.

I’m a filmmaker and photographer like most of you reading this probably are, so my main goal with all of this is to take pretty aerial pictures for money. A few months back the FAA finally got their act together and made a simple process for folks like us to add aerial video and photo to our client services. I had been planning to take the test since then, and would encourage everyone to do the same, unless you are content just flying as a hobbyist. (If that’s the case, all you need to do is register your drone, no testing for you!) Passing the test gets you a Remote Pilot Certificate, which allows for flying drones commercially.

The Unmanned Aircraft General (UAG) Exam

If you don’t already hold a part 61 certificate then you’ll need to take the UAG Exam to ultimately get your Remote Pilot Certificate. The exam consists of 60 multiple-choice questions, pulled from a larger pool, so everyone’s test will be a little bit different. You get two hours, and a 70% score is needed to pass. The only reference material allowed is a provided booklet, the AA-CT-8080-2G, the Airman Knowledge Testing Supplement for Sport Pilot, Recreational Pilot, and Private Pilot (AKTS).

The cost of the test is $150, and depending on your location it might be a week or two to get scheduled in for a spot at a training facility. Call PSI (or whoever administers test scheduling in your region) and they will find the nearest testing centers and help you book your exam– don’t bother calling the facility itself, they will just refer you to the test administration companies.

Subjects I Was Tested On

There are two primary sources for understanding the topics (not any actual facts, just the subject matter) that the UAG Exam will cover:

  • Remote Pilot Knowledge Test Guide (FAA-G-8082-20)
  • Airmen Certification Standards (ACS)

Both documents overlap a bit with what they cover, including test taking tips, a list of reference materials, and information on the certification process. These documents are where you should start. In addition, the FAA webpage for Becoming A Pilot should be bookmarked and has most if not all of the links and references you'll need to get going.

Here is the list of documents that I used to study. I didn't study all of these cover to cover, but I'd recommend exploring each one to find specific elements that are referred to in both the ACS and the Knowledge Test Guide. I hope you’re sitting down, as there are over 1,500 pages of content between all of these.

There are other documents that both the ACS and Knowledge Test Guide reference, but I didn’t bother with them. Even with what I linked to above, I found some overlapping information in places, and there was so much to take in that I don’t think I could have tried to include anything else in my studies.

The FAA-CT-8080-2G (AKTS) is the same document I referenced earlier, the one that you get to use during the test. Most of the pages are reference images for exam questions (practice and real) but in the first few pages there is a legend for icons on sectional charts that is a must-study.

Studying for This Beast

Over about two weeks, I probably spent around 14-16 hours total studying for this, which admittedly wasn't very much. I downloaded all of the above PDF files and bookmarked the 14 CFR web pages for easy reference. I used an iPad with an app that let me highlight key concepts, but do whatever works best for you. It's been a while since I've taken classes so I'm a bit rusty when it comes to taking notes and learning like this.

I read everything in the FAA-G-8082-22 and AC-107, and skimmed for certain material in the other documents. In general I found it to be a bit difficult to find the exact information I was looking for, whether it was an explanation of an icon on a sectional chart, or a clear definition of something like density altitude. Using the 'Find' function when reading PDF files made it easier to find pages with content I was looking for.

Practice Questions and Courses

Once I felt that I had a basic understanding of the concepts that were noted, I attempted the practice questions and took a free online course. Here’s where you can find practice questions:

The questions here reflect what you will see on the final test. Same format, similar subject matter. For those curious, here’s a glimpse at what you’ll be up against:

click on the image above to see in full size

  1. What is the CTAF frequency for MOT?
  2. What airport is located approximately 47 (degrees) 40 (minutes) N latitude and 101 (degrees) 26 (minutes) W longitude?
  3. You have been hired by a farmer to use your small UA to inspect his crops. The area that you are to survey is in the Devil`s Lake West MOA, east of area 2. How would you find out if the MOA is active?
  4. What airspace is located at 1500’ MSL 3NM east of MOT?

In addition to that, you'll need to be able to decipher weather reports in METAR and TAF formats. They look like this:

And that's just the tip of the wing.

Besides taking the above noted practice exams I’d also suggest taking a free online course from the FAA Safety website, which focuses on just the Part 107 highlights. It takes a couple hours to read through, and comes with practice questions at the end for you to work on as well. It also gives you the option to take a practice quiz on the subject matter it didn’t cover (basically all of the hard stuff involving charts and weather) which I found to be very helpful in my efforts to study that material.

My Test

As I was taking my test, about half way through I was ready to throw in the towel. "This is so stupid, I just wasted $150! F- this, F- that." Hard questions involving identifying proper radio frequencies, airspace restrictions, and other markings on sectional charts came at me like a ton of bricks, full of every acronym known to mankind. I focused the majority of my studying on reading charts and weather, but nowhere near enough to feel terribly confident.

Thankfully there were also a number of questions that were common sense (based on the Part 107 content) like whether or not having a hangover impaired your ability to make decisions. Then came a couple of what I’d consider to be ‘dumb’ questions, like within how many days I was required to notify the FAA in the event of changing my primary mailing address. I’m sure that detail is written somewhere among the 1,500+ pages I looked through, but that’s not exactly something I felt was important enough to included on the test. Ugh!

Here's a rough breakdown of the amount of questions included for each topic.

I ended up passing with a 78%. I had a chance to review the questions I missed before leaving the testing center, and they were mostly questions based on using aeronautical charts. It doesn't tell you what the right answer was, it only displays the question you got wrong.

To Sum It All Up

Set aside (at the very least) a few weeks where you can read for a few hours a day. Make notes or highlight things that seem important. Take the practice quizzes and the online Part 107 course. Go back and study harder in the areas you understand the least. Schedule an exam. Give it your best shot.

If you’re anything like me, the Part 107 stuff about Crew Resource Management and Aeronautical Decision Making will be easy enough to comprehend as it’s mostly common sense, except for a few notable details on subjects like PIC and VO responsibilities. My suggestion would be to spend most of your time learning how to interpret aeronautical section charts and how weather affects performance.

Studying this content is not easy. If you find yourself struggling, there are a number of additional resources online you can find by doing some Google searching. There are even paid training courses you could take. The point is that if you want to grow your business into the aerial video or photo realm, then consider the time and money to be an investment into that and don't take your studying lightly.

Feel free to post your questions below! Has anyone else here taken the exam? Did you have a similar experience? Let me know in the comments.

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16 Comments

It's a government operation - what did you expect?

David Lara's picture

Thanks Mike for the article. I had downloaded a bunch of PDF for my studying. But now you given me a better glimpse of what I should be reading in addition to what I had. I'll take the next month to study (I've been out of school for decades so my studying skills are rusty as well, lol).

Do you find out if you pass/fail the test right then and there? Also if pass, do you get a temp doc to prove your legal to fly? Just curious what's the process after the test?

Mike Wilkinson's picture

You find out immediately after whether or not you passed. Once that happens, it takes about 2-3 days for your information to available online and there's a process to earn your actual certification. After about a week, you can print a temporary certificate, and the real one shows up in the mail a short time after.

Tony Northrup's picture

Thanks for this, Mike! I'll be taking the test soon.

Thanks for sharing the experience. I don't do drone videography professionally and was only toying with the idea of getting certified for the heck of it. I'll probably reconsider now....

Justin Myers's picture

Happy to see posts like this about legally flying drones. Transport Canada just upped their fine to $25K if caught flying illegally.

Nate Dorsey's picture

I took and passed the exam the other week with a 95%. I thought it was pretty straight forward, I studied for about two weeks and probably put in close to 30 hours of studying. I didn't think the FAA part 107 manual was very helpful, so I went out on a limb and got a full blown FAA private pilot study guide. WAY more helpful, a lot of the questions were almost word-for-word and I just picked the questions and sections that were relevant to UAVs (like airspace, aeronautical decision making, weather, etc...)

If anyone is interested, this is the practice question book I got "Private Pilot FAA Airmen Knowledge Test Guide" by Jeppesen: https://www.amazon.com/Private-Pilot-Airmen-Knowledge-Guide/dp/088487516...

It has TONS of questions and all the answers right next to them with explanations of why the choices are correct or incorrect

Mike Wilkinson's picture

This is great information, thanks for sharing!

Hey all,

Sorry for the shameless plug and if this is offensive, I'll happily delete it. I truly do just want to help. I wrote a study guide specifically for this test. It covers what you need to know for the test, in plain English, and doesn't cover all the extra stuff in the PPL exam. it comes with a practice exam that you can take as many times as you want with a variety of questions and explanations. I wrote it with the intent of trying to teach a non-pilot what they need to be safe, legal and pass the exam and then make use of it after. A lot of these you just throw away when you're done. (I know because i've bought a bunch of them over the years.)

Good luck everyone else on the exam and let me know if you have questions. There's also a growing bunch of content available for free on the site that might help those of you studying.

You can find my guide at https://www.buildadronebiz.com/product/test-study-guide/

If anyone is interested, I'll give anyone from here a 15% discount through the end of 2016. Just use coupon code fstoppersuav. There's a coupon code option at the top of the checkout page.

Good luck!!!

Robin Browne's picture

Very informative, thanks. PS. Density altitude is pressure altitude corrected for temperature.

It's not in the calculation but humidity also impacts performance too. You see that show up sometimes. Basics of them all are that they make the air thinner, so engines and airfoils (propellers, wings, etc) don't perform as well.

Simon Patterson's picture

I don't own a drone or live in the US, but this article was so well done that I enjoyed it all! It appears to be such an excellent heads-up to those who are facing the test.

Great article. I've talked to a few people who were surprised. The way things are going, I would expect the material to get harder before it gets easier. They're working on better integration of drones into the national airspace system, which will probably mean more ATC and airspace information in the future.

Nick Jense's picture

I see soooo many corporations and video company businesses using their drones commercially that I know don't have a 333 or 107. Most of them I know are knowledgeable about the legalities, yet they don't seem to care and it's seems extremely rare to get a fine. I continually see them posting publicly on several social media platforms with huge amounts of views, often very illegal type flights over people (that very highly likely they didn't get permission to fly over) and some within less than a mile of a commercial airport. I sold my drone when the regulations were just starting and the 333 was born. The 107 is great and I will be getting mine shortly. After paying and in process of taking a video training course prep for the 107, I sure learned a lot already about the rules and will certainly be a safer pilot that I was years ago before the regulations. But I wonder if it really matters to actually take the test at all, since it's extremely rare to get a fine. I suppose this could change in the future and it's a risk, but with seeing how busy and backed up the FAA is and only to get worse... I doubt they will be policing social media and fining people. I'm curious if anyone else has the same thoughts...

Jerry Welch's picture

Future drone pilots. No need to spend $200 to $300 to pass the UAG Exam. There are plenty of low cost and event free online tutorials. In my case, I used a GooglePlay app call UAS107. Used it for 70% (30% FREE YouTube sectional chart videos) of my prep for the exam; and the app only cost me $4. Passed on my 1st try with an 85%. My total cost to pass the exam:

$4 for UAS107 app
$150 for the test exam fee
———————————–
$154.00

Here is the link to the app for anyone interested: https://play.google.com/store/apps/details?id=uas107.openrobotix.labs&hl=en

I passed pretty comfortably on the first attempt.
I used a lot of free resources you mentioned in the article but also used one paid one. The paid one was the Remote Pilot 101 course. I didn't think $150 as it buys you an updating course for life. Keep in mind most of us will be brushing up on this stuff in 2 years. ;)
I wrote a small review on the course, if you care you can find it here:
http://bestdronereviewed.com/remote-pilot-101-review/

I mention this in the review, but I really like that the course just doesn't prepare you to pass the test, but really transfers a lot of solid knowledge that may be useful in professional situations.

-Jake