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Train like a pilot

Editor's note: This story was updated Feb. 23 to correct the description of the aeronautical experience of DARTdrones instructors, who are all manned aircraft pilots. AOPA regrets the error.

Many people and organizations offer training for drone pilots, but not all of them are pilots. AOPA has partnered with DARTdrones, whose staff brings manned aviation expertise to the unmanned world, to offer AOPA members free and discounted drone training courses.

Every DARTdrones instructor is also a manned aircraft pilot, and "we'll never deviate from that," said co-founder and CEO Abby Speicher. Photo by Ella Gagiano Photography, courtesy of DARTdrones.

AOPA Senior Director of UAS Programs Kathleen “Kat” Swain, who has taught pilots to fly both manned and unmanned aircraft, took a hard look at courses and programs around the country (there are many, many of them) and talked to several before settling on DARTdrones. The company offers both online and in-person hands-on training, all conducted by certificated manned aircraft pilots, many of whom are CFIs.

“They have a very stand-up product,” Swain said. The various courses and programs are “very much in line with what AOPA puts out, and after talking to them it was a natural fit.”

DARTdrones Co-founder and CEO Abby Speicher said insisting on manned aviation experience for the training staff “has become our brand… we’ll never deviate from that.”

DARTdrones instructors working from locations around the country provide in-person training for clients ranging from photographers to firefighters. The company also produces supporting materials such as standard operating procedures and manuals, and offers consulting services on unmanned systems integration planning and procurement.

The company’s course offerings include one designed for those completely new to drones, or still unsure whether flying UAS for recreation or commercial applications is something to pursue. The free introductory course available exclusively to AOPA members (including the new AOPA drone members) will explain what all the excitement is about, what to look for when shopping for drones, and how to use tools like AirMap to fly safely and legally for recreation.

“It’s a great answer for your first 100 questions about drones,” Speicher said of that course.

Those who choose to go on to fly for dollars will need a Part 107 remote pilot certificate, and DARTdrones has an online course to prepare students for the FAA written exam. It is particularly well-suited for newcomers with no aviation experience. Already certificated pilots also can opt to take the written exam (as an alternative to having a current flight review and passing a simpler online test for manned aircraft pilots seeking a remote pilot certificate).

“It’s designed for either audience,” Speicher said. The material on the Part 107 test has a great deal of overlap with a private pilot exam, though there are a few drone-specific things to know.

The 107 test prep course was written by Amelia Owre, DARTdrones’ director of curriculum development, whose résumé also includes developing UAS training for the U.S. Navy.

“We met at Xponential,” Speicher explained, referring to the annual show hosted by the Association of Unmanned Vehicle Systems International.

Speicher said manned aircraft pilots who have taken the course have given positive reviews.

“They loved the course,” Speicher said. “It’s a great refresher, and also offers insight on how manned procedures translate to the drones.”

Speicher said manned aircraft pilots have been leaders in the drone community from the beginning, and in part because so many have come from manned aviation, many drone operators have embraced analogous training and procedures, adjusted for drones but with the same framework designed to support safety.

“We noticed a lot of pilots got into drones even before nonpilots realized drones existed,” Speicher said. As customers and insurance companies gain appreciation for the detailed, methodical approach to safety taught and practiced throughout the manned aviation world, “I think they [manned aircraft pilots] definitely have an advantage in the industry.”

The ABC television reality show Shark Tank, which helped launch drone maker xCraft Enterprises in 2015, has now noticed DARTdrones: Speicher is sworn to secrecy ahead of the episode’s Feb. 24 air date, but a Feb. 8 press announcement from DARTdrones notes the show will air at 9 p.m. and Speicher will be featured, which could lead a reasonable person to conclude that things went well.

DARTdrones offers basic Part 107 training, as well as specialized training for emergency response and other applications. Photo courtesy of DARTdrones.
Jim Moore

Jim Moore

Editor-Web Jim Moore joined AOPA in 2011 and is an instrument-rated private pilot, as well as a certificated remote pilot, who enjoys competition aerobatics and flying drones.
Topics: Unmanned Aircraft, Membership

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