Next up in our “Ask Drone Girl” series is about how one can learn to fly drones in-person. If you have a question for Drone Girl, contact her here.
I would love to learn how to fly drones! Specifically, because I want to start a group that specializes in search and rescue missions for lost pets. My niece is desperately searching for her lost cat and we are trying to find any means possible to help in the search. Please let me know if you know of any groups that are located in Manchester, Maryland.
There are tons of great online courses for learning how to fly drones, but let’s be frank: in-person learning beats virtual learning almost every time, in nearly any subject.
I have a few recommendations for the best ways to learn how to fly drones:
Sign up for in-person, personal drone training through UAV Coach
For in-person learning, my first recommendation is to sign up for a personal drone training course through UAV Coach (which also happens to offer an incredible online Part 107 training course too).
UAV Coach offers two-three hour, personal drone flight lessons for individuals or small groups. The trainings are offered in more than 20 cities around the U.S. including Atlanta, Miami, Boston, Denver, Chicago and — not too far from you — in Gaithersburg, Maryland (view all the available cities here).
Classes are held outside in locations like public parks and athletic fields. It’s great for social distancing (appropriate for the times of COVID-19) but also a safe, easy environment to learn to fly drones with few obstacles.
Since these are 1:1 or small group classes, they can easily be personalized to cover topics you’re interested in, like flight operations management, rules and regulations, DJI flight modes, and intelligent / advanced programming.
Classes vary slightly by location (after all, it’s a different instructor for nearly every city) but typically you’ll learn to fly on an instructor-provided DJI drone. Or, if you have your own drone, the instructor can help you fly your own device too.
And since they’re 1:1, there’s tons of flexibility of scheduling. Whether you prefer a weekend, you want to wait for the summer, you want to get going now, etc. there’s a time slot to accommodate you.
Look for other local meetup groups that can help you learn to fly drones
If you’re on a budget and can take the initiative to teach yourself at least to some extent, while also not being afraid to ask questions, you might not necessarily need to go through formal training.
Instead, look for local meetup groups. There are a number of “Drone User Groups” around the country. Browse sites like Meetup.com or Facebook groups, using search words like “drone” and “[enter your city name]”, and there’s a good chance a local flying club will show up.
Local flying groups tend to be filled with zealous drone pilots, hungry to share their knowledge with newbies who are equally eager to learn.
When I first started flying drones, I joined the Los Angeles & Orange County Drone User Group, which is the local group where I was living at the time in Southern California. It was filled with wonderful, supportive people who taught me a lot — for free, no less! These days, there are dozens of groups in Southern California alone. Join the online versions of the meetup groups in your area, and for the ones that you connect with, attend their IRL events (when it’s safe to do so, thanks to COVID, of course)!
Keep in mind that some groups may be less active than usual in light of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Visit an AMA field
Another option is to become a member of the Academy of Model Aeronautics. There is a membership fee (typically $75 annually). With membership, you’ll have access to fly at thousands of AMA chartered club sites around the nation.
Like the meetup groups listed above, AMA sites tend to be filled with people who are more than willing to impart their wisdom for free.
In fact, there are 16 clubs within 25 miles of Manchester, Maryland alone. (Find an AMA club near you here). Clubs have varying degrees of how social they are, with some meeting just to fly, and others meeting for holidays and cookouts too. Clubs also are specified for interests, so look for one that specializes in drones.
What about training to earn my drone pilot’s license?
That said, if you’re trying to learn the information needed to pass the Part 107 test (that’s the test you’ll have to pass in order to earn your drone pilot’s license, which you’ll need to operate drones commercially), I’ll be frank: I recommend you go for a virtual class rather than an in-person course for a few reasons:
- Part 107 online courses are generally so much cheaper than their in-person counterparts
- Membership to Part 107 online training programs typically doesn’t expire. If it does, it’s typically at least a month after signing up. That’s great, as you can watch and rewatch sections you didn’t understand.
- It’s a lot of information to absorb. I found trying to cram in one weekend wasn’t as useful as watching lessons over a period of time, and then re-watching them when I could multi-task to ensure I absorbed the information. Pace yourself, and only take in as much as you can in one setting. Then, turn on your online drone training course and rewatch lessons while you’re chopping veggies!
Specific information about drones for search and rescue
Now to your point about search and rescue groups that use drones to find lost pets — that’s a great idea!
In fact, the idea has already been executed. Check out S.W.A.R.M. (Search With Aerial RC Multi-rotor). It’s a network of over 3,000 volunteer pilots in 54 countries around the world. Those volunteer pilots operate independently of law enforcement or emergency agencies, and the volunteers give up their time and drones to help find lost people or pets.
In fact, anyone can submit an animal search request, which will then be sent to a nearby volunteer drone pilot. By providing details like where the animal was last seen and its usual habits, drone pilots can use that information to try to locate the lost animal by air. SWARM is also active on Facebook.
You can use that group to ask for help — or you can join in and donate your new drone flying skills to become a volunteer yourself!