Last week, you met Michelle Madaras, Chief Customer Officer at WingXpand. In the first installment of this interview series, she shared an inside look at her company’s unique, telescoping drone design, which transforms into a 7-foot wide autonomous airplane (yet also fits into a backpack). And this week, she shares a little more insight into how her company is hiring — and the skills you need to get hired as a drone pilot.
WingXpand’s drone is a fixed-wing aircraft. This drone can fly, on average, 5x longer and carry 10x more weight than most quadcopters. While WingXpand sells its drones, it also offers drone-flying services. If you’re an enterprise customer who just wants aerial data, WingXpand promises to deliver reports without actually requiring the customer to touch the drone themselves. Because of that, WingXpand wants drone pilots to conduct those flights.
And now that her company is hiring, Madaras shares what skills and personality traits she’s looking for. If you want a job in the drone industry — and specifically how to get hired as a drone pilot — Madaras’ advice is worth listening to.
This interview with Michelle Madaras about how to get hired as a drone pilot was edited for clarity and length. Do you know an awesome drone girl I should profile? Contact me here.
Drone Girl: Your company, WingXpand makes a unique and patented, customizable 7-foot autonomous airplane that expands from a backpack. It centers around enterprise applications, whether it’s helping farmers grow more yield or public safety crews respond to emergencies faster. You also support military applications, which we talked about last week. And given your growth, you’re also hiring for all sorts of roles.
Michelle Madaras: WingXpand is hiring for a range of positions across different disciplines, including software engineering, aircraft hardware engineering, composites manufacturing, finance, business development, and Part 107-certified drone pilots.
Drone Girl: It’s interesting that you’re hiring drone pilots! That makes it seem like — while some customers prefer to buy the drone outright — many others want your pilots to just fly the drone for them.
MM: Our drone is a reliable yet easy-to-use system. We’ve shown that you shouldn’t need to have a PhD to be able to approach this capable, powerful drone.
But even still, our drone isn’t a consumer drone, and we serve professional needs. And the marketplace is designed in a way that you have to understand where you can operate the drone, you need a license, and you still need to learn how to operate the drone. While our drone is easy to fly, the landscape is still unapproachable for so many people.
That’s why we operate as a service. So if you just want the data, we can conduct the flight for you and deliver you the report you need.
DG: And that’s where the need for Part 107-certified drone pilots comes into play. So what qualifications does someone need to have to get hired as a drone pilot? Do they need a specific degree or certification, or some sort of other experience?
MM: All our pilots must be Part 107-certified (editor’s note: that means you have passed the Part 107 test — officially called the Aeronautical Knowledge Test — and earned your Remote Pilot Certificate from the Federal Aviation Administration).
There are also a lot of other different certifications out there, as well as other FAA safety courses you can take. Those things would make you more competitive. Once hired, you’d also go through our own internal WingXpand training program to learn how to operate our drone.
DG: So what would a day in the life be like for a drone pilot who works at WingXpand?
MM: I would like to think it’s a paint-your-own-adventure type of job depending upon your interests and where you’d like to go.
If you really like surveying and you really excel in that, you’ll be able to explore that and lean into areas like mapping. If you’re great at analyzing data, you can do that. At WingXpand, you’re empowered to grow your skill set and explore your passions to find the right fit for you.
DG: What cities are you hiring drone pilots in?
MM: For the right candidates, it’s flexible. That said, right now we have things that are pretty hands on around manufacturing, which we do in St. Louis. But we are looking to hire drone pilots all over the country as we continue to grow and scale.
DG: As far as work experience, what are you looking for in drone pilot candidates?
MM: It’s not a one-size-fits-all. Whether you’re applying with us or another drone company, the amount of experience needed can vary depending on the size and scale of the job. Certain people have so much experience and excel in their own industry, whether it’s knowledge of oil pipeline inspections or LiDAR and photogrammetry or GIS.
We would try to make sure the experience of the folks we’re hiring aligns with the needs of our clients in that space. But in general, the more experience you can get in a variety of work environments, the better you’re going to get in all your work.
DG: Is there any sort of expertise in particular you’re looking for?
MM: That’s the beautiful thing about drones. We all come in with our own backgrounds. You don’t necessarily need to be super-hyper-technical as, say, a GIS expert. With drones, you learn through doing. Find your niche. Whether that’s working with us or not, that’ll bring you success within the drone industry.
DG: What advice do you have for folks putting together a resume and other application materials?
MM: Make sure you have a really good ‘demo reel’ of sorts. It’s not just videos of you flying, but your reel should showcase a portfolio of datasets you’ve gathered and also convey how many flight hours you’ve had.
DG: What about softer skills and personality traits? What do you look for when hiring drone pilots?
MM: You have a good attitude, you’re a team player and you show up.You have to be responsive, and you have to be nimble. If something new pops up but you’re willing to try it, that’s the key.
DG: Speaking of being nimble, your company straddles both the commercial and military side of the drone industry. And that’s exactly what we’ll talk about next week.
Next up is Part 3, where Madaras shares how her small business is supporting defense innovation (and how other businesses might land major contracts). And read Part 1: “How to make a 7-foot wide drone fit in a backpack” here.
If you know an awesome drone girl I should profile, contact me here.