New as of 2021: all drone operators — regardless of whether you’re flying for commercial or hobby purposes — need to pass a test in order to legally fly most drones in the United States. For years, only commercial drone operators needed to pass a drone pilot test, which was commonly referred to as the Part 107 test. But now, hobby pilots must pass an FAA recreational drone test.
Formally referred to as the Recreational Unmanned Aircraft Systems Safety Test (and reduced to an acronym of sorts as TRUST), the test launched in June 2021. Here’s what you need to know about taking (and passing) that FAA recreational drone test:
Who needs to take the FAA recreational drone test?
The TRUST must be taken by anyone flying under Section 44809, which is those who are recreationally flying drones (so you aren’t flying for commercial purposes or otherwise making money off your flight).
When flying under Section 44809, that means you are flying drones strictly for recreational purposes.
“Recreational flight is simply flying for fun or personal enjoyment,” according to the FAA.
Even if you’re flying drones not for pay, but are still operating drones for a business (like, you’re taking pictures of a high school football game for the school’s website, or you’re volunteering to use your drone to survey coastlines on behalf of a non-profit organization), you need to be operating under Part 107. In which case, skip this article and learn more about the Part 107 test here!
Where do you take the FAA recreational drone test?
The test may be taken online — but you won’t take it through the FAA’s website. Instead, you’ll take it through the websites of one of the FAA-approved partner organizations (there are 16 to start). Those range everywhere from existing online Part 107 course providers to organizations that don’t have drones at their core, but where the drone tie-in makes sense, including The Boy Scouts of America.
Here’s the complete list of the FAA’s TRUST-approved organizations:
- The Academy of Model Aeronautics (AMA)
- The Boy Scouts of America
- Chippewa Valley Technical College
- Community College of Allegheny County – West Hills Center
- CrossFlight Sky Solutions LLC
- Drone Launch Academy LLC
- Drone U
- Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University (ERAU)
- HSU Educational Foundation
- Lake Area Technical College
- Pilot Institute
- Proctorio Incorporated
- Tactical Aviation
- UAV Coach
- University of Arizona Global Campus
- Volatus Aerospace Corp
What is the FAA recreational drone test like, and is it hard?
The test and course content is largely similar across all the FAA’s TRUST-approved course providers, though it may vary slightly in presentation. After all, The FAA wrote the online training and test content for TRUST, so it’s largely consistent across the board. The course content is designed to be approachable even for people who don’t have any pre-existing knowledge about drones.
In general, expect to go through an online course that takes about 30 minutes to an hour to complete. Most providers have a test at the end of the hour training, which allows for unlimited attempts to pass.
How much does it cost to take the test?
Nothing! The test can be taken online and is offered at no cost through the above, approved test administrators.
By the way, if you find any websites out there trying to charge you money to take the FAA recreational drone test, that means they’re a scammy site and your certificate will be meaningless anyway!
Does my Recreational Drone Pilot Safety Test certification expire?
No. Upon passing your Recreational Drone Pilot Safety test, you’ll receive a completion certificate which you should print out and keep with you at all times you’re with your drone (just leave it in your drone case). FAA or law enforcement personnel have the authority to ask you to see it, and you’re required by law to show it to them.
Luckily, you only need to take the test once, as your completion certificate does not expire (contrast that with commercial drone pilot license tests, which must be renewed via a recurrent training course and test every two years).
Though, the FAA has been somewhat vague about enforcing when the test must be taken by, simply stating that “recreational drone flyers should take the test at their earliest convenience.”
Beware of misplacing your completion certificate. Most of the approved organizations don’t save your information on file, which means they cannot reissue you a certificate if you lose it. Save a digital copy that you can reprint, or don’t lose the printed version. Otherwise you’ll have to go through the training course and pass the test all over again.
How is this different than the Part 107 test?
This recreational test is separate from the commercial drone pilot’s license test, which is commonly referred to as the Part 107 Aeronuatical Knowledge Test for UAS operators. Upon passing that test, you’ll receive a license, which you need to operate drones for commercial purposes.
Unlike this recreational test, the test for commercial operators is fairly difficult and contains detailed questions around airspace classification, sectional charts, weather patterns and more. There are many online Part 107 drone training courses to help you study (I used Drone Pilot Ground School), many of which now offer the new recreational tests too.
If you have a Part 107 license and it hasn’t lapsed, then you don’t also need to take the recreational course, unless you are flying under Section 44809 (which is limited to recreational flying).
Why do I have to take a FAA recreational drone test?
The recreational drone test was actually mandated by Congress, which required the development of the testing program under its FAA Reauthorization Act of 2018.
And since then, the FAA has been working to develop the test in tandem with the broader drone community. Much of that input came from a group formed at the end of 2019 that consisted of 12 organizations handpicked by the FAA to assist the agency in developing requirements that potential test administrators must meet. Those companies included drone giant DJI, as well as some organizations that are now actual test administrators, including the Academy of Model Aeronautics and Drone Launch Academy.
From there, the FAA opened applications in February 2021 to serve as a test administrator.
The test was designed as a way to impose education upon drone pilots — many of whom don’t have backgrounds in RC or aviation…and also don’t read their drone’s user manual upon buying one. Especially as consumer drones get lower in cost and more accessible than ever, the FAA has made it clear that everyone — not just those operating drones for commercial purposes — need to have some standardized knowledge sets.
“These organizations are key to making this test widely available and easily accessible to recreational drone pilots,” said FAA Administrator Steve Dickson. “We need pilots of all aircraft, including those who operate recreational drones, to have the training and knowledge needed to operate safely in the nation’s airspace.”