Visual Observers For Your Aerial Drone Operations

 

Ear Buds Provide Hands-Free Communications With Your Visual Observer

Ear Buds Provide Hands-Free Communications With Your Visual Observer

The FAA does not require an Aerial Drone Visual Observer (VO) for Small UAS operations. However, the optional VO is an important member of your team as he/she can help maintain situation awareness. For example, things can get dicey real fast when a low flyer, such as a helicopter, suddenly appears. This is especially true when operating near airports, private fields, hospitals, etc.

The VO helps the pilot assess the drone’s position, attitude, altitude, and direction. The VO also observes the air space for other air traffic or hazards.

Prior to getting airborne, the VO should be briefed on the flight plan and maintain communications with the pilot. The VO is not required to have any kind of certification and cannot operate the drone. If there’s more than one drone operation going on at the same time, the VO must be dedicated to one drone only.

I’m a Drone Pilot, so how can a Visual Observer be Useful to Me?

The FAA states in Part 107.33 that . . . “the visual observer (if one is used), and the person manipulating the flight control of the small unmanned aircraft system must be able to see the unmanned aircraft throughout the entire flight . . .” The FAA goes on to state that either the VO or (emphasis mine) the person manipulating the flight control satisfies this requirement.

Many of my commercial drone flights go behind buildings and landscape features such as trees. So, I often engage the client as a VO or my wife, who accompanies me on many of my flights. For some of my more complicated flight plans, we use earbuds with our cell phones so we can position ourselves to maintain visual contact with the drone and voice contact with each other.

Can I use Binoculars to Keep Track of my Drone?

The FAA states that vision must be unaided by any device other than corrective lenses. Since small drones tend to be real hard to spot when their distance from the operator exceeds several hundred feet, a strobe light can greatly extend your line of sight. For example, Firehouse Technology offers compact, self-contained strobes that weigh less than 8 grams. You’ll want to ensure it doesn’t impact your drone’s airworthiness.

Can I use the Drone’s Camera View to Maintain Visual Contact?

Aerial drones can operate at great distances from the operator and download a camera view in real time. However, the FAA requires that the pilot/VO must maintain visual line of sight to the drone. This question was more explicitly addressed in development (pre-Part 107) documents.

Want More Information?

Please refer to the FAA’s requirements for Visual Observers found in Part 107.33 of Title 14 CFR.

How Serious Are You About Commercial Aerial Drone Photography – Do You Have a Remote Pilot FAA Certification?

FAA Remote Pilot Certificate

FAA Remote Pilot Certificate

Having the right answer in case anyone asks (or anything goes wrong) is that you have a Remote Pilot FAA Certification. Better yet, being certified means that you have prepared for and passed an exam that demonstrates your knowledge in relevant areas. Therefore, certification will help you to avoid incidents where you may become legally liable, especially if you’re flying for profit.

Remote Pilot certification requirements were relaxed with the publication of 14 CFR Part 107 on August 29, 2016. Prior to that date, a pilot’s license or FAA waiver was required. Since then, remote pilot certification follows a process specifically tailored for small aerial drones.

There are a number of Internet resources that explain the process. One that I found informative was posted by a lawyer who specializes in drone law:
http://jrupprechtlaw.com/get-faa-drone-pilot-license-first-time-current-pilots

Requirements

The applicant must be at least 16 years old, be physically and medically fit for safe operations, understand the English language, and pass the initial aeronautical knowledge test.

Aeronautical Knowledge Test Areas

The FAA administers exams through contractors. In my case, I took the exam at the Computer Assisted Testing Service (CATS) testing center in Ashland, VA. Test areas included:

1. Regulations
2. Airspace Classification and Operating Requirement
3. Aviation Weather Sources
4. Small Unmanned Aircraft (UA) Loading and Performance
5. Emergency Procedures
6. Crew Resource Management
7. Radio Communications
8. Performance of a Small UA
9. Physiological Effects of Drugs and Alcohol
10. Aeronautical Decision Making
11. Airport Operations
12. Maintenance and Preflight Inspections

The test consists of 60 multiple-choice questions, with a minimum score of 70%.

Certification process

Upon passing the exam, the CATS testing center will notify the FAA. Register for an FAA remote pilot certificate online at: https://iacra.faa.gov/iacra. Your temporary certificate will be issued by the FAA within a few days.

Your permanent certificate requires further vetting by the FAA and TSA and will arrive some 6-8 weeks later. For example, a copy of mine is shown above. As some of you may have been the victim of identity theft (as I have) my date of birth has been masked.

One final and very important note. For commercial operations, your drone(s) must be registered with the FAA and the registration number affixed to the airframe. There are steep fines for failure to register your drone!

Fly Safe!