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How to Become an FAA-Approved Drone Pilot

Getting an FAA certificate for commercial drone flight requires learning aviation culture

3 min read
photo of author David Schneider
Photo: Henry Schneider

photo of author David SchneiderThe Pilot’s Progress: Our intrepid airman, IEEE Spectrum senior editor David Schneider, can now take to the skies as an FAA-certified remote pilot.Photo: Henry Schneider

Since 29 August 2016, the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has made it possible for people to fly small drones for commercial purposes, so long as they adhere to some generally reasonable rules described by Part 107 of Title 14 of the Code of Federal Regulations, better known as the small UAS (unmanned aircraft systems) rule. The key point of the new regs is that you have to become a qualified “remote pilot”—and get an official certificate to prove it.

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Two men fix metal rods to a gold-foiled satellite component in a warehouse/clean room environment

Technicians at Northrop Grumman Aerospace Systems facilities in Redondo Beach, Calif., work on a mockup of the JWST spacecraft bus—home of the observatory’s power, flight, data, and communications systems.


For a deep dive into the engineering behind the James Webb Space Telescope, see our collection of posts here.

When the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) reveals its first images on 12 July, they will be the by-product of carefully crafted mirrors and scientific instruments. But all of its data-collecting prowess would be moot without the spacecraft’s communications subsystem.

The Webb’s comms aren’t flashy. Rather, the data and communication systems are designed to be incredibly, unquestionably dependable and reliable. And while some aspects of them are relatively new—it’s the first mission to use Ka-band frequencies for such high data rates so far from Earth, for example—above all else, JWST’s comms provide the foundation upon which JWST’s scientific endeavors sit.

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