The best drone mapping classes to level up your skills (and make more money in your drone business)

There are a lot of people trying to make money in drones. You’re a competent, talented pilot. You’re free to fly drones for work on the side. And most pilots start with standard, visual images. But the real money is in enterprise and commercial work, like modeling and mapping. So how do you learn how to do that? Consider a drone mapping class.

The best online drone mapping classes cost less than $500, meaning a relatively small investment can pay huge dividends in the kind of work you’re able to do with your drone. Even in-person training can cost less than $2,000. Such an investment can pay dividends in the type of drone work you’re able to do for clients. And having higher-level skills simply means you can charge more money.

Yes, doing more with your drone than taking simple photos can translate to a huge pay bump for your business. What’s great about learning drone mapping is that you don’t even need a full college degree. A low-cost course like the ones named here can give you a huge amount of knowledge — in way less time and for way less money than going to college.

Certainly many people who work in mapping and modeling and who use drones have advanced degrees in fields such as GIS, surveying and mapping. But you don’t necessarily need a college education to land jobs, and plenty of the most successful drone pilots in mapping space are self-taught.

That said, drone mapping and modeling isn’t typically something a novice can just dive into without training. Typically, these types of operations involve flying around expensive infrastructure and equipment, which you don’t want to risk damaging should you not be certain in the flight controls. And the data is not valuable if you don’t know how to actually collect it.

That’s where drone mapping courses come in.

The best drone mapping courses of 2024

Ahead of enrolling in a drone mapping course, consider a few factors, including:

Experience level: Are you a complete beginner, or do you have some drone flying experience? Beginner courses will focus on fundamentals, while advanced courses will delve into specific software and techniques.

In-person versus online: How do you learn best? Some people prefer online self-paced learning. Others like the convenience of an online course that they can participate in from home, but like the real-time feedback that comes from a live event — in which case a live virtual workshop might be best. And then there’s the folks who value that in-person touch. In-person drone mapping courses are out there, too.

Budget: Drone mapping courses range in price, so factor in your budget when making your decision. This guide focuses on online courses that cost less than $500, as well as in-person courses that at least cost less than $2000.

UAV Coach’s Drone Mapping Essentials (online: $499)

The Drone Mapping Essentials online course was created by drone training leader UAV Coach in partnership with PilotByte. Led by industry expert Dylan Gorman (who happens to be Pilotbyte’s founder), the course consists of more than 100 hours of instructional videos, netting more than 10 hours of learning modules.

There are also quizzes, plus downloadable resources like checklists that make executing real-world flights easier.

UAV Coach’s program also includes real world, downloadable data sets so you can practice your skills on actual projects. Modules include:

  • Equipment and Software Overview
  • How to Generate Accurate Maps
  • Methodology for Data Acquisition
  • Software for Data Processing and Visualization
  • Ground Control Point Utilization & Workflows
  • Post-Processed & Real-Time Kinematic Data Capture
  • How to Create Professional Data Deliverables

The course culminates with a final exam. Upon passing that exam, you will receive a certificate of completion, which can be useful in showing off to clients.

What’s nice about the course is it doesn’t force you to pay extra for drone mapping software, as this course specifically teaches to free software for mapping and data processing.

Register for the UAV Coach mapping course for $499 here.

UAV Coach’s Drone Mapping Essentials 2-Day Workshop (in-person: $1,999)

If in-person is more your thing (it’s certainly my thing), then UAV Coach also offers a 2-day workshop.

The in-person workshops present an opportunity for pilots to develop their drone mapping skills even further, taking the knowledge learned in the course and putting it to use in the field with the guidance of a master instructor.

You’ll learn some of the same topics that are taught in the online course, such as photogrammetry basics, mission planning, RTK and PPK concepts. But, this adds in the extra component of hands-on activities such as actually capturing 3D and manual map data out in the field, as well as going back to the computer to learn how to process RTK and PPK data using Pix4D Mapper and other software tools like Emlid Studio.

Courses are offered periodically in major cities around the country, such as Atlanta, Chicago, Denver and Houston. Check out the list of upcoming workshops here.

It costs $1,999. Sure, it’s far more expensive than the online courses, but the real-time feedback, in-person networking and higher potential for learning retention by being engaged and there might be worth it. And yes, it includes lunch too.

For what it’s worth, the $1,999 also includes complete access to the company’s online drone mapping course ($499 value) as described above.

Drone Launch Academy’s ‘Mapping and Modeling Fundamentals’ (online: $399)

A screenshot from the Drone Mapping And Modeling Fundamentals course by Drone Launch Academy.

The folks over at Drone Launch Academy, which is primarily known for its Part 107 test prep course, also run a mapping class dubbed “Drone Mapping And Modeling Fundamentals.” Among the things you’ll learn in the Drone Launch Academy course:

  • What data is important to clients, and what data you’d need to collect.
  • How to collect and process data.
  • How to land government contracts.
  • What equipment you need (and it’s not necessarily out of your budget).

Typically, you’ll just need a drone with a quality camera, like a DJI Mavic 2 Pro or a DJI Phantom 4 Pro V2.0. You’ll also need drone mapping and modeling software. While some of these softwares can be expensive, many offer free versions with limited capabilities.

Drone Launch Academy’s Drone Mapping And Modeling Fundamentals course is divided into sections that include:

  • An intro to Photogrammetry
  • Data acquisition fundaments
  • Nadir vs. oblique imagery
  • GSD
  • Absolute versus relative accuracy
  • Automated flight plans
  • Front and side overlap settings
  • Common GIS files and software outputs
  • Manual georeferencing
  • Annotating marker maps
  • GeoTIFF files and .SHIP files
  • Creating reports

It’s extensive, and it’s thorough. And while the course is normally a still pretty affordable $399, Drone Launch Academy is offering Drone Girl readers an exclusive, $150 discount. Enter coupon code DRONEGIRLMAPS at checkout to get $150 off. That brings the $399 down to $249, and the discount should automatically apply with this link.

With the $399 course fee (or $249, with my promo code), you’ll get:

  • Lifetime access to the complete drone mapping class, which will teach you exactly how to create maps and 2D models with your drone.
  • The option to join a cohort of other students who work alongside as you go through the course (that option is designed for people who want help staying accountable and on track to finish the course in just 6 weeks).
  • Access to Drone Launch Academy’s community of fellow drone mapping students, where you can ask questions, share your work, and network.

Drone Launch Academy has historically had a solid, consumer-first business outlook in all aspects of drone training.  For example, when it comes to the Part 107 class, Drone Launch Academy is so confident in its product that — if you fail your in-person exam — Drone Launch Academy will pay for you to retake it. That’s an $150 value in itself, on top of a course refund (an additional $199 value). Drone Launch Academy also has a prominent spot with the FAA as one of just a handful of TRUST administrators.

If you want to get more advanced, you might also consider enrolling in Drone Launch Academy’s Drone Mapping and Modeling Pro, which dives deeper into mapping and modeling software, as well as how to create detailed reports for your clients. Though, that course costs $599, which didn’t meet my threshold for recommended online drone mapping courses. There are just so many good budget-friendly options under $500.

Pilot Institute’s Drone Mapping, Modeling & Surveying Bundle (online: $299)

This course bundles together three separate but related topics: mapping, modeling and surveying. With about 10 hours of combined video instruction across all the topic areas, this is a better course for someone who wants a broad overview of lots of areas rather than a deep dive into one.

That’s not to say you won’t still get in the weeds. You’ll learn how to create models with drone mapping software such as Bently ContextCapture, and Pix4D.

The mapping specific portion spans 3.5 hours and includes practical flight planning strategies, while also teaching you how to process your imagery and create high-quality maps using Drone Deploy, Metashape, and Pix4D.

Sign up for the Pilot Institute course for $299.

Aerial Mapping and Modeling Live Virtual Workshop from DARTdrones (live, virtual: $750)

For the best of both worlds between in-person and online, you might consider the DARTdrones Aerial Mapping and Modeling Live Virtual Workshop.

It’s a live course, with a real instructor who talks to you and can answer your questions in real-time. Thus, it offers all the benefits of an in-person course. That includes the ability to ask the instructor on-the-spot questions with instant responses, more customization and higher engagement. And then there’s the added benefits of an at-home training course: no commute to the classroom (instead you get to stay on your couch). You don’t have to wear pants if you don’t want to.

Register for the DARTdrones live virtual workshop for $750 here.

Why drone mapping is a natural next step in your drone business

When most people initially launch their drone business, it’s fairly common to start by using drones to photograph standard visual images, like real estate photography, art or architecture photography, or event photography. In short, all things you can photograph with a standard visual camera.

But as drones get cheaper and more ubiquitous, the market has become somewhat saturated. Many drone photographers report losing real estate jobs to the 15-year-old kid with a drone willing to work for $15 an hour.

Perhaps more surprisingly though is, despite a “saturated market,” there’s still a shortage of drone pilots. But the shortage is in pilots who are capable of serious, enterprise drone flights, and who have dedicated knowledge that runs deeper than simply knowing how to take off and land a drone, and take some pictures with it.

DroneAnalyst, which is an independent consulting group covering the drone industry, found in its annual report that most drone service providers say they can’t hire qualified pilots fast enough. In fact, 10% of drone service providers in 2021 said that “difficulty finding pilots” is one of their top issues, up from just 6% who reported that in 2018.

And with that skillset, you could make serious money. In 2021, nearly half (46%) of providers made more than $50,000 annually, according to DroneAnalyst’s report. Most of the companies in DroneAnalyst’s survey are sole proprietors and teams smaller than five. For sole proprietors, $50,000 annually is pretty serious side hustle income.

Free ways to learn about drone mapping and modeling

Though the courses above are affordable, free is still better than paid. Here’s a few recommendations of ways you can learn drone mapping and modeling for free.

Sample Drone Launch Academy lessons

Drone Launch Academy is offering Drone Girl readers with a few freebie lessons from its drone mapping class. This not only gives you a sense of what the rest of the course is like, but it also serves as a great, free class to watch anyway — even if you don’t go through with the rest of the course. Free learning!

The three free lessons are (watch them at the link below):

Sign up for the Drone Mapping And Modeling Fundamentals course here. Enter promo code DRONEGIRLMAPS at checkout to save $150 and bring your price down to just $249.

Turn to books

There are also books out there that teach content similar to what’s taught online, albeit in paper format. Books aren’t for everyone, and they won’t give you some of the key learning tools these classes can offer, like downloadable datasets to try your hand at real-world work. There also won’t be the practice quizzes or certificates of completion.

But, some people like that written word they can break out on the train, on the beach or wherever else books are read.

One of my favorite books about drone mapping was written back in 2015 but is still highly relevant today. That’s “So You Want to Create Maps Using Drones?,” written by National Geographic photographer Kike Calvo. Written in the form of a field guide, this book explains, in easy-to-understand language, basic concepts of photogrammetry and spatial data, and techniques for mosaicking drone photos.

DroneDeploy Insider

DroneDeploy Insider is a streaming service owned and operated by drone mapping software company DroneDeploy. The service primarily airs past DroneDeploy Conference talks, plus videos made specifically for the service. Considering how expensive it is to attend a DroneDeploy conference, this offers an excellent opportunity to get the same content at no cost — all from the comfort of your living room. Visit DroneDeploy Insider here.

2 Comments

  • Robert says:

    I looked at several mapping courses and ended up picking Pilot Institute after returning this Drone Launch School course. It was too expensive with too little and the main instructor doesn’t map for a living. He never let the other guy talk. I want to learn from someone who does this, not from a marketer. I love the Pilot Institute course so far, best money I’ve spent in a while!

    • aparga
      Henry says:

      Hi, Robert,

      when you say that the instructor didn’t let the other guy talk, do you mean that it’s a live class that you took with Drone Launch?

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