Have you ever considered trying to make some money while you’re having fun flying drones? Pilots of these high-tech devices get to take to the skies as early as their sixteenth birthday, but people of all ages are fascinated by prospect of unmanned flight. These days, they’re doing their flying in some amazing, inspiring and surprising ways.

Since the tech is so new for civilians, the full capacity of these versatile machines is mostly unfamiliar territory. That means there’s a lot of exploration going on, but it also means that it’s a little difficult to get a bird’s-eye view of the drone situation.

Drones’ pilots are often best served by starting with the basics: What are drones, who is allowed to fly them and how do they work? Whether you’re thinking of taking the FAA test to become a drone pilot, you’re curious about the capacity of the devices or you just want to know if it’s legal for you to operate one, here’s some information that can help you out.

What’s a Drone?

It seems like a simple question: “What is a drone?” However, the issue might not be as clear as it appears at first. Pilots of these vehicles aren’t really what you would traditionally consider a pilot at all. They’re more like operators, guiding the drone from a safe distance. However, the opportunities and excitement of flight are all still there. There’s a dizzying variety of brands, types and grades of these devices available. For technical specs and specific data, it’s best to consult a retailer, manufacturer or training center directly, or visit one of those businesses’ websites. For general info, read on.

DJI Matrice 200 Quadcopter
$5,299.00
DJI Matrice 210 Quadcopter
$8,999.00
DJI Matrice 210 RTK-G
$14,999.00
Matrice 600 Pro Flying Platform
$4,999.00

The Drone, Generally Speaking

In the loosest sense of the term, you might classify almost any unmanned craft by the term, from a trench-exploring submarine to NASA’s Mars rovers. But most drones’ pilots aren’t exploring the depths of the ocean or flying spacecraft, so it’s probably more useful to restrict the definition to the increasingly familiar helicopter-style remote-controlled devices. The Federal Aviation Administration calls them unmanned aircraft systems, or UAS for short.

Now that science has caught up with designers’ imaginations with new materials, energy sources and aeronautics engineering, nearly anyone can own drones. Pilots come from all walks of life, from kids to college professors, and they’re all doing some interesting things. Here are some of the ways people are using drones for fun, profit and community service.

Photography

Some of the most striking examples of great drone use in the past few years came from a pretty simple concept: attaching a camera to a flying object. With quite a bit more accessibility, stability, range and grandeur than possible with older methods, such as hiring helicopters or tossing a cellphone in the air while recording, drones have quickly become a favorite of professional and amateur filmmakers alike.

Have you ever wondered what it’s like on the inside of a volcano? While drones’ pilots can’t quite access the magma chamber yet, there has been some impressive footage recorded of craters, plumes of spewing ash and super-heated lava floes. Too hot for you? Drones have also captured images of glacial caverns and vast icy expanses in Antarctica. Looking for something a little closer to home (assuming you don’t live in Pompeii)? Even getting an aerial view of a local sports match wouldn’t be beneath these devices, figuratively speaking.

Community Service

Drones’ pilots aren’t all artists, photographers or explorers. Some are focused on more local issues. In fact, community and government organizations generate many of the opportunities that come from learning how to operate drones. Politicians, political parties and campaigns often hire pilots for drones to create stunning and motivational overhead images of rallies and speeches.

Police and fire departments use drones to great effect as well. Law-enforcement organizations with limited staff can monitor multiple troublesome areas at once through drone images. Fire control and safety centers can use the technology for routine building inspections, investigations of emergency calls and almost nearly instant assessment of fires for appropriate response sizes. Any or all of these types of government bodies might hire freelancers or regular staff to operate drones. Pilots for drones might also find opportunities in other community service capacities.

More Infrastructure Opportunities

With increased coastal populations, the need for oversight, preparedness and high-tech responses to natural disasters has become more and more apparent. Hurricanes and other tropical storms create havoc on the ground when massive flooding ensues. The old way of boating around just doesn’t work in the context of contemporary urban population density.

Luckily, we have something to fill in the widening gap between the efficiency of response techniques and the number of people who need help. That ‘something’ is drones. Pilots of unmanned aircraft truly make a difference in dire situations like major floods or disasters. These FAA-approved technicians work with first responders to methodically seek out people in need and inform response teams of rescue locations.

Entertainment

People sometimes rent out drones to explore the skies, but this requires professional instruction. Driving a drone without learning the basics first is a recipe for disaster. That’s why many rental outlets also double as flying schools. People go to these licensed businesses to purchase or rent a piece of equipment, but also to learn more about the proper use and capabilities of drones in general. Whether it’s to get an even higher view while mountain climbing, scout fishing opportunities or explore an urban park from the air, people want to get the most out of their free time. To do this, they need to know how to have fun safely with their tech.

Learning To Fly

With all these cool and helpful applications of drones, pilots should have been flying them since their invention. However, that’s not the case. The reason why is pretty simple: FAA guidelines. The FAA only issued rules for civilian drone use in 2016, and only under the following conditions:

  • The pilot is at least 16 years old.
  • A written test about the rules and basic drone operation is passed.
  • The drone in question weighs less than 55 pounds.
  • Flight speeds can’t exceed 100 miles per hour.
  • The drone has to be registered.
  • The drone must stay in visual range at all times.
  • Only daytime operation is permitted.
  • Pilots are expected to report drone-related injuries (similar to driving a car).

Speaking of that last point, most of the rules and regulations discussed in drones’ pilots’ tests are pretty familiar to anyone who’s ever obtained a driver’s license or taken a driver’s ed class. You even have to take the exam at an approved testing center, similar to visiting the DMV. It’s easy to find an updated list of these locations if you check out the FAA website. There are also some good resources offered through schools, retailers and training centers if you feel like something a little more straightforward than your typical government website. In fact, you might even get two tasks done at once: Some training centers double as approved testing sites.

A Gateway to the Sky

It’s overgeneralizing a little to say that a drone’s pilot’s license is like a car’s driver’s license. Pilots for drones need more specific knowledge, but that’s a good thing in a way. Establishing the context necessary to understand the terms in the drone flight requirements (and therefore pass your test) puts you one step closer to aviation expertise. That’s valuable if you have ambitions beyond unmanned flight. If you’re a young flier, having experience with the rules and terminology of the FAA puts you ahead of the competition when it comes time to apply yourself to your long-term goals, such as military service, piloting aircraft or even space travel.

Drones by the Numbers

If you’re wondering whether you can make money from operating drones, pilots all over the country have already answered that question for you. While competition for many current positions is tight, there are definite benefits to securing a place in what looks to be a booming industry. Getting a position flying a drone or establishing your own organization could get you in on the ground floor of something truly exciting.

To give you an idea of the potential of this business, here are some figures you can really sink your teeth into. PricewaterhouseCoopers, one of the largest professional firms in the world, projects huge growth in the unmanned aviation industry. They estimate the value of the emerging global market for drones at $127 billion — that’s a lot of opportunities for those drones’ pilots. They split it up even further into some interesting and surprising industry sectors:

  • Mining: $4.4 billion
  • Entertainment: $8.8 billion
  • Insurance: $6.8 billion
  • Agriculture: $32.4 billion
  • Transport: $13 billion
  • Infrastructure: $45.2 billion

Most people are talking about transportation and delivery when it comes to drones. However, the numbers from this international analysis firm seem to suggest that there’s a lot more opportunity in farming.

With new technology being developed every day, drones are at the cutting edge of many industries. Drone pilots can find employment in anything from taking high-altitude photographs to helping out during natural disasters, and likely many more places as the field continue to advance.

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