Ask Drone Girl: what’s the best drone education path for a young adult?

Next up in our “Ask Drone Girl” series is about sorting out the best path for drone education geared toward young adults. If you have a question for Drone Girl, contact her here.

I have a 14-year-old daughter who is enthusiastic about learning how to fly a drone and contributing to our local marine mammal center through videos and pictures.

I’d like her to obtain FAA’s Part 107 certification to grasp the basic rules, and I also need to purchase a suitable drone for her. Fortunately, my daughter has received a $1200 voucher that she can use for educational purposes.

  1. Should I prioritize getting the drone first, the FAA’s Part 107 test, or both simultaneously?
  2. Are there any schools around here where she can learn how to fly a drone?
  3. What type of drone would be suitable for my daughter?

So much great stuff here! I absolutely love your daughter’s enthusiasm for not just the drone industry, but what sounds like a passion for conservation! Plus the $1,200 voucher toward her drone education sounds like icing on the cake.

Particularly when it comes to drones in the world of marine conservation, the use case of using drones to count whales — something I documented way back in 2013 — comes to mind. DJI has even endorsed the concept of what’s now referred to as the “Snotbot,” and the drone making giant worked with agencies like the Ocean Alliance to provide drones to research whales.

Even oil and gas giants like Exxon Mobil have sought to be better about minimizing their environmental impact — which has included bringing in drones to better understand marine life before conducting offshore operations.

What’s compelling about drones in the world of marine life is that it’s not just limited to drones flying over water to take pictures. One drone called the Bathydrone is being used to drag sonar units to log underwater data. Then there are also underwater drones such as the Gladius Mini and the PowerVision PowerRay that glide below the surface to gather data via waterproof cameras.

Regarding your questions, here’s a deeper dive to help you and your daughter embark on her drone education journey:

Should you learn how to fly drones first, or get a Part 107 license first?

You don’t need a Part 107 license to fly drones — it’s only required if you’re flying them for commercial purposes — like, for example, your daughter wants to take on a side hustle flying drones for customers.

(For the uninitiated, under the Federal Aviation Administration’s Part 107, anyone wanting to operate a drone commercially needs to obtain a drone pilot license, formerly referred to as a “remote pilot certificate with a small UAS rating.” In order to get that, you will need to pass an in-person written exam, which many people refer to as the “Part 107 test.”)

The knowledge you acquire in studying for the Part 107 test is less about how to actually fly drones, and more about how to navigate airspace, containing questions about things like airport operations, airspace classification and weather effects on drones. It’s all good information to have, but it’s generally not going to provide information on how to actually fly the drone.

Given that, I’d typically recommend that most people learn to fly the drone first before studying for the Part 107 test. It’s more practical, and it’s more fun!

Once she’s fired up about drone-flying, she’ll likely be more gung-ho about studying for the Part 107 test, which is perhaps a little less exciting given that it’s entirely theoretical rather than practical knowledge (though studying for the Part 107 test is nonetheless interesting to people who appreciate learning).

Part 107 age requirements

What I stated above applies to any sort of drone pilot, but there’s another reason why your daughter shouldn’t prioritize getting that Part 107 license first: she can’t even get it right now.

To be eligible to even take the Part 107 FAA Drone Test, you must be at least 16 years old. Given that your 14-year-old daughter has two years ahead of her, she can certainly start studying for the test now purely to acquire the knowledge — but being able to even get certified is a fairly long way away given her age.

Drone education: what drone schools teach kids how to fly drones?

drone education Phantom

While I love the convenience of Part 107 online courses, the act of learning how to fly a drone is best done in-person.

Now some drone pilots never take an in-person course. Particularly for people who have experience in related RC fields like video games, then flying a drone can be pretty intuitive. For those folks, just read the manual carefully first, and go fly on your own, trial-and-error style.

That said, in-person drone flying courses make for an excellent way to guarantee you’re getting the information you need from experts. If you can afford it (and it sounds like your daughter’s $1,200 voucher might help), then definitely go for the in-person drone training course.

In-person drone training sessions can sometimes cost less than $200, particularly for a one-time session.

UAV Coach (which also happens to offer an incredible online Part 107 training course too) offers two-three hour, personal drone flight lessons for individuals or small groups. The training courses are offered in more than 20 cities around the U.S. including Atlanta, Miami, Boston, Denver, Chicago and — not too far from you — either in Los Angeles and San Diego (view all the available cities here). These classes can offer your daughter tons of 1:1 attention, and come with plenty of scheduling availability to work around her school schedule.

drone education Part 107 test drone pilot ground school

For more options on where to fly drones, I’ve put together a more complete guide on the best in-person drone flying schools.

As far as learning how to pass the Part 107 test (which your daughter can certainly do now, with the understanding that she can’t actually take the test for a couple years), check out my guide to the best Part 107 online test prep courses.

One more reason I love UAV Coach: they offer a high school scholarship program. If granted the scholarship, she’ll get free access to their online Part 107 test prep course. To apply, she’d need to answer a few essay questions and receive a letter of recommendation for her school.

The next application period opens on Jan. 1, 2024 and runs through Feb. 28. But now for the bad news: Drone Pilot Ground School requires you to be at least 16 years old to receive the scholarship. Luckily she’s got the $1,200 voucher to cover the $299 course fee — though you can use coupon code DRONEGIRL50 to save $50. Or, if you move really fast, you can take advantage of the Drone Pilot Ground School Black Friday 2023 sale, which will save you an even bigger $107 (just note that you can’t double up and use my coupon code on the sale).

What type of drone would be suitable for my daughter?

As far as the best drone for your daughter’s drone education, it really depends on your budget and what she’s looking for. I have a guide to the best drones for kids, but this is really more geared toward younger kids, and your 14-year-old daughter sounds pretty motivated and mature that she might be past those. You might also check out my guide to the best drone for a STEM program, though those tend to focus on teaching people about building and coding.

Since she’s focused on learning how to fly, you might check out my guide to the best camera drones. After all, most people start with camera drones. Then they might move into higher end drones with LiDAR units or thermal cameras once they’ve got a grasp for what specific use cases they want to use the drone for.

The Drone Girl staffer Caroline Dobrez flies the DJI Mini 4 Pro.

With a budget of around $1,200, I’d probably recommend the DJI Mini 4 Pro. It starts at about $750, which gives you wiggle room to buy the upgraded Fly More Combo or save some money for the Part 107 course.

If you really want something top-of-the-line, you could splurge on the DJI Mavic 3 Pro. Admittedly though, that might be overkill.

There’s also one more thing to consider when it comes to drone education. I often recommend absolute beginners start off with a cheap practice drone. These types of drones tend to actually be more difficult to fly than expensive, high-end drones with automated control software — and that’s a good thing. Pick up a toy drone for cheap, make sure it’s a hobby you like, and then invest the multi-hundred-dollars into a truly excellent quality drone.

2 Comments

  • Jessika Farrar says:

    Hi, Jessika here from Lake Anna Drone Company. I would say there is absolutely no reason to prioritize getting the 107 before she has become comfortable and confident with flying the drone. You only need the 107 once she is ready to begin doing work with her drone, which could honestly be at least several months away because learning to fly a drone is a lot like learning to drive a car, or play an instrument. The book knowledge does not transfer into muscle memory or decision making. Those are things that take time and consistent practice to get good at. You wouldn’t start playing concerts the day you got your first guitar. And you wouldn’t start driving for Uber the day you get your first car. Once she is doing well with the drone then she can shift her focus onto take the 107 test. But honestly that test is very easy and only has a 9% failure rate so anything more than 2-3 days of studying would be unnecessary. The only thing she would need right away would be the TRUST certificate.

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