A client asked if I had my FAA Certification to commercially operate a drone. I said, "Of course." Of course, I didn't. So, I scrambled to hunt down the UAS (Unmanned Aircraft Systems) courses and exam, thinking that I'd just have to glance through the rules and then take some online exam and then I'd get a little PDF certificate I could e-mail to requestors.
Google'd 'FAA drone test,' and up pops this study guide. Study guide? I don't need no stinkin' study guide. Found my way right to the sample exam. Sweet. First question is "What is the ceiling at 1300HRS based on the following TAF: KMEM 121720Z 1218/1324 20012KT 5SM HZ BKN030 PROB40 2022 1SM TSRA OVC008CB FM2200 33015G20KT P6SM BKN015 OVC025 PROB40 2202 3SM SHRA FM0200 35012KT OVC008 PROB40 0205 2SM-RASN BECMG 0608 02008KT BKN012 BECMG 1310/1312 00000KT 3SM BR SKC TEMPO 1212/1214 1/2SM FG FM131600 VRB06KT P6SM SKC=?"
Had to understand flight physics, climate patterns, airspace regulations, and whatevs this chart is that supposedly tells me where I'm allowed to fly my $700 toy. Long story short, I had to study. Hard. Literally, I've never studied for an exam so much ever in my life. Scheduled the actual exam, that I had to take at an actual FAA training center at an actual airport. Rescheduled the exam because I assumed I was going to flunk. Eventually, took the exam and scored an 86%. Needed a 70% to pass. Golden. Now I'm a card-carrying FAA Certified UAS Pilot. Oh. And then the client that asked if I had the certification canceled the project on me.
No matter. We've used the drone for gobs of other projects. Drones - what an awesome tool! You see aerial footage everywhere you go these days. The aircraft themselves are insanely cheap, easy to fly, and they come with wonderfully-decent cameras. My Mavic Pro travels with us on nearly every shoot, always looking to add some snappiness to a client project with a cool establishing shot. And, it's just fun.
With a moderately-talented cinematographer on hand, a drone can offer a unique perspective that helps tell your story...the cinematographer doesn't necessarily need to be the one with hands on the controls (my 9 year old son applies his XBOX prowess, and prolly pilots better than I do). The same way many cinematographers aren't the ones behind the helm of a camera. Often, there's a camera operator who carries out the DP's directions. And just to show you that I remember stuff from the FAA exam, that would place the cinematographer in the role of the 'Pilot-in-Command.' So, when we conduct our aerials shots, there will often be a crew of at least three members to safely and efficiently acquire the shots we need. The cinematographer acting as the PIC and directing for the shot, the pilot with controls in hand, and at least one ground spotter who can keep eyes on the aircraft while the pilot and PIC might be looking down at controls or a monitor.
Just a few quick samples of shots we've taken from the skies: