For students who want to become drone pilots, two new workshops at the Virginia Tech Drone Park will connect them with the resources and expertise to soar through the certification test. 

The workshops, led by drone park manager Sarah Macey, cover material on the FAA's Remote Pilot Certificate exam. This certificate allows drone pilots to operate under Part 107, the federal regulations that govern drone flights for commercial purposes and nonprofit work. The certificate is also required to fly a drone on Virginia Tech’s campus, regardless of the purpose of the flight, under the drone policy the university adopted in 2017. 

Both workshops will be offered in person, in the small classroom adjacent to the drone park, and streamed over Zoom. The first session will run from 5 to 6:30 p.m. on Oct. 20. “That one will be an introduction to the basics of Part 107 — things like flight restrictions, basic regulations, tips for taking the exam,” Macey said.

The second workshop, on Nov. 3, will hone in on a single topic: airspace characterization. The Part 107 exam includes questions about how the FAA classifies different types of airspace, what the rules are for flying in each one, and how to interpret the dense, cryptic aeronautical charts whose symbols provide a flood of details about things like airports, restricted areas, radio frequencies, and military training routes. For many people taking the test, Macey said, this is the most daunting part. 

“The information is very complicated, and I’ve found that learning it in person, where someone can be in the room with you to answer questions and point out differences, is much easier than watching a video online and trying to memorize everything.”

Macey is speaking from experience: She’s helped prepare dozens of prospective drone pilots for the exam through her work leading training classes with the Virginia Tech Mid-Atlantic Aviation Partnership, an FAA-designated drone test site. And while plentiful online study guides and tutorials theoretically allow anyone to prepare for the test on their own, she’s seen big advantages to reviewing the material in person with an experienced instructor. 

“People have different learning styles, for one thing,” she said. “And in an environment where everybody’s talking through and thinking through the material together, you’re answering questions you wouldn’t have thought of until you get to the exam and you realize ‘Oh, I don’t know that as well as I thought I did.’ You’re able to fill in gaps you didn’t realize were there.” 

She also pointed out that major changes to drone regulations — and the test itself — in the last year mean that a significant chunk of those online resources are outdated. For students who aren’t familiar with the material yet, distinguishing the current from the antiquated is tricky. 

Macey originally developed the workshops as an extension of one of her other new initiatives — a grant program that makes it easier for undergrads to get their Part 107 licenses by reimbursing the $175 test fee — but they’re open to anyone on campus.

“The first time I took the exam, I didn't know anybody else who had already taken it, so I couldn't ask questions about the material or what the test would be like,” she said. “Hopefully the workshops can reduce some of that uncertainty, and make the process a little bit less intimidating.”

Building community is integral to Macey’s vision for the drone park. Groups from all over campus — and beyond — come through the park for drone activities of one kind or another. The 85-foot-tall netted structure — essentially a football-field-sized open-air classroom and research facility —  provides a place for students from a growing range of departments to learn how drones are being used in their discipline, and how to handle them. Researchers come to the park to test experimental technology under real-world conditions in an enclosed environment. It’s a practice field for the drone racing team, and a site for outreach events for everyone from Girl Scouts to federal officials. Macey has also been working with students in the Honors College to develop a customized Canvas site that houses Virginia Tech-specific training and educational materials. She hopes that the park can become a place for many of these groups to connect with each other, and share information and ideas. 

Macey is committed to finding more and more ways to make the drone park a versatile, valuable resource for the Virginia Tech community. These workshops are two more pieces of the puzzle. 

Register for both workshops at this link

Workshop 1: Part 107 Basics

Wednesday, Oct. 20, 5 - 6:30 p.m.

Workshop 2: Airspace Characterization

Wednesday, Nov. 3, 5 - 6:30 p.m.

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