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Coronavirus and social distancing for drone pilots: 8 ways pilots can keep up their hobby indoors

In the wake of coronavirus, the Center for Disease control is recommending social distancing to help prevent the spread of the virus.

But for drone pilots, social distancing doesn’t have to mean putting pause on your hobby. While drone meetups might be disbanded, and trips to gather footage might be off due to cancelled flights, that doesn’t mean you can’t be productive as a drone pilot.

In fact, social distancing might make you more productive, allowing you a chance to hone your skills or try something new while stuck at home. Here are the 8 best ways you can spend your time if coronavirus has you stuck at home, practicing social distancing.

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1. Study for your Part 107 exam

If you haven’t yet gotten your Remote Pilot Certificate, there’s no better time than now to study for the exam and ace your test. In order to fly drones commercially in the U.S., you must hold a Remote Pilot Certificate from the Federal Aviation Administration, which you earn by passing a Aeronautical Knowledge Test. The test is challenging, particularly if you’re new to aviation.

The good news is, any can study for — and pass — the test (I passed the Part 107 test on my first try!) with the right resources.

I recommend signing up for an online course through a site like Drone Launch Academy or Drone Pilot Ground School. Most Part 107 online courses range in price from $200 to $300 and typically come with video tutorials, practice exams and access to community forums to help you study. The course I used, Drone Pilot Ground School, says it takes about 15-20 hours to complete. But if you’re choosing to skip your usual plans of going out in lieu of staying in, then odds are better than ever that you’ve got the time to get through it.

Even if you don’t fly drones for commercial purposes (ie. you just fly for fun), it’s worth studying for the course if you have the time (which you probably now have). Knowledge is power, and holding a license could help you get a job in the industry, may lower your drone insurance rates, boosts your credibility among others, and just looks super nifty in your wallet.

Not sure which Part 107 course to sign up for? Check out my guide to the best Part 107 online test prep courses of 2020.

A winning image from the 2015 SkyPixel aerial photo contest by Laurie Rubin.

2. Enter your aerial footage into a drone video contest

If you’re sitting on great footage, enter into drone video or drone photo contests. It’s an opportunity to earn cash and glory!

One of the biggest drone events to look forward to this year is the NYC Drone Film Festival, which was recently acquired by drone video sharing site AirVuz.

Gather your footage now, as you have until May 25, 2020 to enter the NYC Drone Film Festival. You can submit your footage here. Plus, submissions to the 2020 New York City Drone Film Festival are free when uploaded to AirVuz.com.

The festival is set for July 25-26 at the Liberty Science Center in Jersey City, New Jersey. Of course, that’s pending the coronavirus containment (some drone events, like AUVSI’s conference which was scheduled for May, have been postponed).

Other photo contests drone pilots should enter

There are also a number of non-aerial-specific photo contests that are worth entering. The International Landscape Photographer of the Year contest might be an especial fit for drone pilots ($25 entry fee per photo with a $5,000 first prize), while the Monochrome Awards could be interesting for drone pilots who shoot in black and white ($15 entry fee for amateurs with a $1,000 non-professional grand prize, or a $20 entry fee for professionals with a $2,000 grand prize). I also like the Neural Density photo contest, put on by the Neutral Density Magazine ($15 entry fee for amateurs with a $1,300 non-professional grand prize, or a $20 entry fee for professionals with a $2,500 grand prize).

Got an old DJI Phantom you don’t use anymore? Sell it! Photo by Stuart Palley

3. Clean out your closet and sell your used gear

Use social distancing as a chance to do some early spring cleaning. Go into your gear closet, assess what you don’t use anymore and make some money off it.

You can use the time to dust off old gear, photograph it and post it on a site like eBay or another drone specific marketplace. Or, submit it to a program like DJI Trade Up, where you can exchange not just DJI gear, but a multitude of electronics for a DJI store credit.

Find out more about how you can sell your used drone (or other electronics gear) here.

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The Flybrix LEGO drone. Yes, it’s made of LEGOs!

4. Build your own drone

If you can’t go out in the world and fly drones, stay home and build them!

You can build your own racing drone for $99, and the gear you need to make it happen can all be purchased online.

Racing drones not your thing? For a more fun, kid-friendly project (great if your kids are out of school), this drone LEGO kit allows you to build a drone almost entirely out of LEGOs. And for advanced engineers, the Lego kit is a starting platform for serious development. Flybrix’s brain is an Arduino-compatible processor with a barometer, magnetometer, several indicator LEDs, ADC converters, SD card slot, and bluetooth. And since its code is open-source, it’s a great way for inventors to turn a LEGO drone into something spectacular.

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5. Battle like a Jedi using Propel’s Star Wars battle drones

Pretend you’re a Jedi or dark warrior as you battle it out with Propel’s incredible (and collectible!) Star Wars themed drones. These hand-painted, highly realistic drones not only fly, but can also actually battle, due to their eye-safe lasers that can be fired at other Star Wars drones. Put multiple drones together, and it’s a game! If a drone is hit, it will wobble. If it takes three hits, it will crash land.

You can either play with a buddy. Or, if you’re truly in single-isolation, you can battle against others via system that records, combines and compares your performance against virtual players the world.

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The headset from the Fatshark drone racing kit, which is a ready to fly kit.

6. Get into drone racing

Drone racing is not only a fun, indoor hobby, but it can make you big money if you go pro.  While the pros generally build your own drones, you can purchase ready to fly drones (including those first-person-view FPV goggles) for under $500. Make indoor, at-home obstacle courses for yourself using chairs and doorframes.

Here’s a great drone racing gear setup I recommend, which includes Fatshark goggles. I’m also a big fan of the ready to fly Fatshark drone racing kit.

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If you’re stuck at home, learn something new!

7. Specialize your drone skillset in another area through online courses

As drones get cheaper, easier to fly and generally more accessible, it’s not enough to “be a good pilot” in order to gain clients through your drone business. While we’ve talked to many drone pilots (and Drone Girl readers) who make six-figure salaries flying drones, it’s generally not enough to take pretty photos and hope for a fat paycheck. The top drone pilots in terms of income typically have some other speciality skill.

Learn how to use drones for roof inspections

Drone Launch Academy, which is known primarily for their Part 107 course (and nifty flashcards!) mentioned above, also offers an Aerial Roof Inspection Pro course.

That course covers topics like: different roof types and materials; common types of roof damage; how to properly plan your flights (airspace authorization, flight automation software, weather, and more); how to collect the images you need; how to create orthomosaic maps for precise measurements; and how to create a comprehensive roof report.

Sign up for Drone Launch Academy’s aerial roof inspection course here.

Learn how to level up your photography

Trying to win one of the aforementioned photography contests? Drone Launch Academy also offers an online course called Aerial Photo Pro, which covers an array of topics like the best software specifically for editing aerial footage, what settings to use, what you need to know about filters and more. Learn it now, so when coronavirus has passed, you can go out in the world making better photos than ever.

Sign up for Aerial Photo Pro here.

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8. Follow new online conversations

Reading about coronavirus 24/7 can be tiresome. While it’s important to stay informed with the news, it’s also important to take a break. Reduce your coronavirus-induced anxiety and participate in other conversations around drones, like Remote ID, drone racing and more. I’ve compiled a list of amazing people to follow on Twitter, Instagram and elsewhere online in my guide to the most influential drone women to follow online in 2020. Check it out!

What are you doing to make the most of time spent at home while coronavirus has you social distancing? Please leave a comment below. Now, more than ever, the community wants to hear from you.

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