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SF Blog: FAA Drone Pilot Certification Test, Part 1

Like many of you, I’ve been closely watching developments in unmanned aerial vehicles for a few years. After several years of proposing the need for a flying camera to shoot Machinery Show video and Successful Farming magazine photography, we finally acquired a DJI Phantom 4 in July 2016.

The main justification for purchasing the drone at this time? Now we know it will be legal to use in a business capacity, and we’ll also be informed about which licenses, certifications, and legal requirements we’ll be bound by. With much of that uncertainty gone, thanks to the announcement of the FAA Small UAS Rule (Part 107), the path to drone ownership was cleared.

In late June, Advanced Technology Editor Laurie Bedord reported on the release of the final rules for commercial use of drones. Shortly after, I began the process of getting my remote pilot certificate.

There are two companies that conduct the aeronautical knowledge test: Computer Assisted Testing Service (C.A.T.S.) and PSI/LaserGrade Computer Testing. 

(Here’s a list of all the FAA Knowledge Testing Centers.) 

The testing site closest to me is Exec 1 Aviation in Ankeny, Iowa. Not knowing where to begin, I picked up the phone and called Exec 1 Aviation and told them I wanted to take the aeronautical knowledge exam for drone pilots. They told me the test wouldn’t be offered until the end of August, but C.A.T.S. was collecting information from people interested in preregistering for the test. So I emailed that group and submitted my information.

The very next day I received an email informing me that preregistration was now open. A few days later I logged on at the site, registered with C.A.T.S., and paid $150 to take the exam. After a couple of phone calls back-and-forth, my test date and location are set.

The next thing I needed to know was what I’ll be tested on. The confirmation email I received from C.A.T.S. includes several links to more information regarding what the test will cover, a sample exam, and FAQ. I know I’ll spend a good amount of time studying that information in the days leading up to my test since I don’t want to have to retake the exam. To pass the test, you must correctly answer 70% of the questions.

Drone registration

If you’re going to use a drone, you’ll also need to register it with the FAA. All UAVs that weigh more than 0.55 pounds must be registered, whether they’ll be used for recreation or business purposes. The process is simple and costs only $5. Upon completion, you are given a license number, and you must mark your aircraft with that number in a location that can be read without the use of tools. I printed mine on a small mailing label and affixed it inside the battery compartment. You can register your aircraft online at

Assuming I score at least 70% on my exam, I will then be able to complete the FAA form 8710-13 for a remote pilot certificate. Then my information will go to the TSA for a security background check. Once the background check is compete, I can print a temporary certificate to use until my actual certificate is mailed to me. The remote pilot certificate is valid for two years; then I’ll need to renew it by passing a recurrent knowledge test.

Look for an update on my progress later in September.

Follow me on Twitter: @jasonmeeker


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