Ever wonder about the words: “remote pilot certificate with a small UAS rating”?

Why not simply “Remote Pilot Certificate” and what is a “rating”?

Let’s look at certificates and ratings in the manned aircraft world.  The FAA certificates everything.  Pilots, airplanes, crew, repair facilities, fuel truck operators – if it touches flight, it is certified.  But since we’re discussing certificates, let’s look at the airman’s certificate.  Here’s mine (it’s an old one – I’ve moved since then):


Note first, the word “license” does not exist on the certificate, though everyone would call this a pilot’s license.  The FAA doesn’t issue licenses.  (Well, the FAA does license one aeronautical activity, but I’ll save that for a trivia question in the future).  On the front is my identifying information and my certification category as a commercial pilot.  On the back are my category and ratings: Single Engine Land and Instrument Airplane.

Other possible ratings I may add include “multiengine”, “seaplane” or an aircraft type-rating. What’s a “Type Rating”?  The FAA requires model-specific training for any aircraft with a takeoff weight over 12,500 pounds or when an aircraft is so unique or challenging to fly that a model-specific training is required. Each different model of aircraft has a separate type rating that much be achieved before the pilot can fly that aircraft.

Trivia: The most FAA aircraft pilot type ratings awarded to an individual is 102 and was achieved by Robert Blaine Briggs from Miami, Florida.

Robert spent 32 years flying with the Flying Tiger Line (which merged into Federal Express in 1989) between 1978 and 2010. He is now retired from the airline, but is still active in aviation. In 2016 he received his two most recent type ratings, allowing him to fly a Sikorsky SK-92 and a Boeing 777.

So, what is the FAA up to with the “Small UAS Rating”?

I think that in another year or so we will see another NPRM to add to Part 107 rules for UAS weighing 55 pounds or heavier.  Possibly model-specific type ratings as well.  For now Lockheed will just have to use Part 61 certified pilots with Grant of Exemption letters and COA’s to fly their civilian version of the Predator aircraft.

When I get my Part 107 remote pilot certificate with a small UAS rating, it will be a separate certificate.  I don’t know why the FAA couldn’t have just added “Remote Pilot” as a category and “Small UAS” on the ratings on my existing certificate.  (Pilots like to brag about their list of ratings).

Any questions? I like questions.

Steve Mann

Part 107 Final Rules – my take.

As I’ve said many times, I will not curate the news, but I will comment on it. The FAA published the anticipated Part 107 rules at 11:00 AM yesterday (6/21/16) and I was reading it at 11:05AM. I stopped at 3:00 PM and was only halfway through the preamble. The whole document is 624 pages, but the actual rules are the last 24 pages. The news sites are mostly correct but many leave out a few significant points. The most important being that these rules do not become effective for 60-days. There are already sites online selling training courses for the remote pilot airman certificate written exam.

You CANNOT operate under these regulations UNTIL they go into effect 60 days after the rule is published in the Federal Register. That would be late August, 2016.

The final rules differ from the NPRM very little, and every change is a win for us, the users.

Now, I shall toot my own horn. If you think an individual’s comments to the NPRM have no effect on the final rule, you would be wrong.

The following quotes are from the preamble:

In the proposed NPRM, external loads would be prohibited, but in my comments, I pointed out in my comments to the NPRM that many off-the-shelf drones do not have a camera, or that the operator may need a different camera or sensor pack, and this prohibition of “no external load” might prohibit the attachment of high-resolution cameras or LIDAR sensors. The FAA responded in the preamble with this: “External load operations are allowed if the object being carried by the unmanned aircraft is securely attached and does not adversely affect the flight characteristics or controllability of the aircraft.”

In the NPRM the FAA asked if “operator” was an appropriate term as they wanted to avoid using the term “pilot”. I commented that “operator” in other areas of the FAA rules always referred to the owner of the aircraft, such as United and Jet Blue, while “pilot” refers to the person operating the controls. Consequently, the FAA has changed the name of the airman certificate issued under part 107 to a “remote pilot certificate with a small UAS rating.”

In my comments, I said that ‘The 500 foot ceiling is sufficient for almost all anticipated uses of small AUS aircraft. However, it makes uses like tower, building or bridge inspections problematical because the tops of those structures are often higher than 500 feet above ground level. Allowing higher altitudes when within 100 feet of tall structures should be allowed. This would allow a small UAS aircraft to ascent to, for example 1100 feet to inspect a 1,000 foot radio tower. If a manned aircraft is within 100 foot of a tower or other structure, a small UAS aircraft is the least of his problems.‘. The FAA responded in the preamble to the new rules with: “… this rule will allow a small unmanned aircraft to fly higher than 400 feet AGL as long as that aircraft remains within a 400-foot radius of a structure up to an altitude of 400 feet above the structure’s immediate uppermost limit. Allowing higher-altitude small UAS operations within a 400-foot lateral limit of a structure will enable additional operations (such as tower inspection and repair) while maintaining separation between small unmanned aircraft and most manned aircraft operations.”

I was commenting for night flight, but this is a good compromise that allows photography during the “golden hour” of twilight: “One commenter [that would be me] compared UAS to ultralight vehicles, citing precedent in § 103.11(b), which allows ultralight vehicles to be operated during civil twilight, provided the vehicle is equipped with an operating anti-collision light visible for at least 3 statute miles.  To minimize the increased risk of collision associated with reduced lighting and visibility during twilight operations, this rule will require small unmanned aircraft operated during civil twilight to be equipped with anti-collision lights that are visible for at least 3 statute miles.”

The proposed five-minute “reserve power” requirement was dropped in the final rules. “One commenter [me] asserted that some small UAS have only five minutes of total available flight time. Commenters suggested that a small UAS should simply be required to have enough available power to operate for its intended time and then land safely, which could require significantly less than five minutes of total power…”

I can take credit for the minimum age change from 17 to 16:
“One commenter [me again] argued that the NPRM does not provide any justification to support why the operator of a small UAS must be older than a sport pilot, recreational pilot, or private pilot airman with a glider rating, or a studentpilot of a glider. NBAA stated its belief that a lesser risk exists for small UAS operations conducted within the confines of the rule when compared to glider and balloon operations conducted within controlled airspace.”

I also commented that for many areas of the country, the nearest official weather reporting could be so far from the operational area that their weather observation would be significantly different from the local weather. “One commenter [me again] recommended the removal of “official” from “official weather sources,” saying that operation of a UAS calls for assessment of “local” weather conditions, and, furthermore, that there are no clearly identified “official sources of weather.”

In my comments I asked if the FAA really wanted a report of every band-aid injury? I suggested that if the accident and injury statistics were to be meaningful, they had to be held to the same metrics as other segments of aviation. And here is what the FAA said in the preamble: “In determining the threshold at which to set injury reporting, the FAA agrees with commenters who suggested that the threshold should generally be set at serious injury. A serious injury is an injury that qualifies as Level 3 or higher on the Abbreviated Injury Scale (AIS) of the Association for the Advancement of Automotive Medicine. The AIS is an anatomical scoring system that provides a means of ranking the severity of an injury and is widely used by emergency medical personnel. Within the AIS system, injuries are ranked on a scale of 1 to 6, with Level 1 being a minor injury, Level 2 moderate, Level 3 serious, Level 4 severe, Level 5 critical, and Level 6 a non-survivable injury. An AIS Level 3 injury is one that is reversible but usually involves overnight hospitalization.”

Here’s the most gratifying text in the preamble.
“An individual commenter [me] questioned an apparent contradiction in the NPRM, which would allow knowledge testing centers to verify an applicant’s identification for the purposes of administering a knowledge test but would prohibit knowledge testing centers from verifying identification for the purposes of submitting an airman application. The commenter added that if the goal of this rule is to achieve the least burdensome process, then knowledge testing centers should be permitted to verify a person’s identification for both testing and application submission to the FAA.”

When the FAA quotes my comment almost verbatim in the final rules, then I feel like my time spent studying and preparing my comment to the NPRM was time well spent:  “… if the goal of this rule is to achieve the least burdensome process, then knowledge testing centers should be permitted to verify a person’s identification”.  I did good.

The preamble continues:
“The FAA acknowledges the positive identification conducted by the knowledge testing centers, and has determined that there is no need to repeatedly identify a person who has already been positively identified for the purposes of taking the knowledge test. Accordingly, as discussed later in section III.F.l, this rule will allow an applicant to submit his or her remote pilot application without having to be positively identified a second time.  This rule will, with one exception, allow an applicant who has passed the aeronautical knowledge test to submit an application for a remote pilot certificate directly to the FAA without having to travel to a Flight Standards District Office (FSDO), designated pilot examiner (DPE), airman certification representative (ACR), or certificated flight instructor (CFI).”

I just saved future generations of UAS Pilots millions of dollars in unnecessary CFI fees just to check the applicant’s ID again.  (Sorry, NAFI).  Seriously, when the Part 107 NPRM was published, I just studied the issues raised in the proposed rules and made an informed comment to the FAA.  Anyone can do it.

If you want to see my 30-page comment to the NPRM, it’s a public document on the FAA website.


The process for issuance of a remote pilot certificate will be as follows.

First, an applicant will have to take and pass an initial aeronautical knowledge test.

After taking the knowledge test, the applicant will be provided with an airman knowledge test report showing his or her test results. If the applicant passed the test, the applicant will then fill out an application for a remote pilot certificate using either the FAA’s electronic application process (referred to as the Integrated Airman Certification and Rating Application (IACRA) system) or a paper application.

The FAA will then forward the applicant’s information to the TSA for security vetting to determine whether the applicant poses a security risk. Once TSA notifies the FAA that the applicant does not pose a security risk the FAA will issue an electronic temporary remote pilot certificate to an applicant who applied through the IACRA system. This temporary certificate (valid for 120 days after receipt) will be issued within 10 business days after receipt of an electronic application, and it will allow the applicant to exercise all the privileges of a remote pilot certificate with a small UAS rating. Once all other FAA internal processing is complete, the FAA will issue the applicant a permanent remote pilot certificate.



Please ask questions – it gives me something to research and blog about.

Stephen Mann


‘107 is coming

There’s news about a Drone Photographer in Minnesota has been fined $55,000 for his photography for a ceremony for Cecil the lion. the FAA has not charged that it was a commercial flight, instead they are charging him with flying an uncertified aircraft, plus their rubber-stamp charge of 91.13, Careless and Reckless. It’s a rubber stamp charge because the FAA adds it to virtually every letter of violation and the NTSB rarely overturns a 91.13 charge.

This is an example of not understanding what the FAA means by “commercial”. The pilot’s defense is that he was not compensated for the flight and many think “commercial” means that money changed hands”, but profit or lack of it has no bearing on whether the flight is commercial or not. If you take photos or video from your drone for a charity, then good for you. But if the charity uses one of those photos in promotional material or an ad, it’s a commercial flight.

The FAA’s main task is the safety of aviation – not just the airspace. This is why everyone who touches an aircraft or support infrastructure is certified by the FAA. Most visible are the flight crew and ATC personnel. But the airport workers including baggage handlers and fuel trucks and their operators are also certified as are all maintenance technicians and the aircraft and equipment inside.

There is no exception for personal drones, but in 2012 the Congress threw the fledgling drone industry a bone in the FAA Modernization and Reform Act of 2012 (FMRA) where Section 333 gave the FAA Administrator the authorization to not require aircraft certification if the Administrator believed that it was not necessary for small UAS aircraft. Congress did not give the administrator authorization to waive airman certification which is why drone pilots seeking Section 333 exemptions are required to hold a pilot’s certificate of some kind. Further, Section 336 of the FMRA defines hobby flight which the FAA largely ignores. Unless the operator does something stupid and gets the attention of the FAA.

The FAA is not regulating commerce, as some argue. The agency is applying the law with the tools they have. The soon to be published Part 107 rules will provide more clarity, but an airman’s certificate will still be required for commercial flight. Fortunately Part 107 rules creates a new airman’s certificate that is obtained by passing a written examination. No flight test or training is required. The Part 107 NPRM also changes a handful of other FAA rules to accommodate small UAS. Most significant is 14 CFR Part 101 which codifies AC 91-57 into the rules. Hobby flight will no longer be governed by the Advisory Circular; hobby flight will be defined in a change to Part 101 (definitions). Any operation that does not meet the new Part 101 definition of hobby flight is commercial.

What amazes me is that the FPV industry doesn’t see the prohibition of FPV as a problem.
For a recap, here is what rules are affected by the Part 107 NPRM:

14 CFR Part 21 “Certification Procedures For Products And Parts” changes to exempt aircraft operating under Part 107 rules.
14 CFR Part 43 “Maintenance, Preventive Maintenance, Rebuilding, And Alteration” changes to exempt aircraft operating under Part 107 rules.
14 CFR Part 45 “Identification And Registration Marking” is changed to exempt aircraft operating under Part 107 rules.
14 CFR Part 47 “Aircraft Registration” adds the requirement that small unmanned aircraft weighing less than 55 pounds must be registered.
14 CFR Part 61 “Certification: Pilots, Flight Instructors, And Ground Instructors” is changed in two areas.
Flight time accumulated under Part 107 flight rules cannot be used to meet the flight time requirements under Part 61.
Flight Instructor privileges are changed: “authorized to accept an application for an unmanned aircraft operator certificate with a small UAS rating and verify the identity of the applicant in a form and manner acceptable to the Administrator.”
14 CFR Part 91 “General Operating And Flight Rules” changes to exempt operations under Part 107 rules and Hobby Flight.
14 CFR Part 101 “Moored Balloons, Kites, Amateur Rockets And Unmanned Free Balloons” is modified to define “model aircraft”.
14 CFR Part 107 “Small Unmanned Aircraft Systems”
14 CFR 183.23 – “Pilot Examiners” adds the provision for a Pilot Examiner to perform the identification of sUAS operator applicants.

Got questions? Ask me. I am not a lawyer but I do have the time to research your questions.

Disney Petition for Section 333 Exemption grant

There’s a lot to digest here, but here’s the basics. Disney (Disneyland, Disneyworld) wants to get a Section 333 exemption to allow them to fly up to 50 drones in a nightly aerial performance. On the plus side, Disney would bring more public acceptance of drones and promote safety. They want to break a lot of the restrictions that all Section 333 grant letter operators follow. One operator for up to 50 coordinated drones, a remote observer network using two-way radios to the operator and only a 100 ft buffer to non-participants.

What could go wrong?

The comments to the Disney petition are mostly negative. Mostly because of the Disney TFR, more on that later, and the others are opposed to granting Disney more privileges that all others are specifically prohibited from, such as night flight. The TFR is a sore point for California and Florida pilots. After 9/11 Senator Disney (Ted Stevens) added 65 little-noticed, highly technical words directing the FAA to create the Disney TFR’s tucked into a foot-thick, 3,000-page spending bill approved by Congress. Not one of those words was “Disney”.  It should be noted that the TSA, Homeland Security nor the FAA did not want the TFR.  For more history see: How the Disney TFR’s got started

I would like to see Disney get the approvals they seek for the technical boundaries they can push, but not until the Disney TFR’s are completely removed. In fact, the wording of the Disney TFR law passed by Congress specifically prohibits the FAA from exempting any operations in the TFRs unless an operational necessity exists. Operational necessity means a Med Flight helicopter may obtain ATC permission to operate inside the TFR. A sheriff’s helicopter may ask ATC for permission to follow a suspect car through the TFR. It’s going to be hard to say that nightly entertainment is an operational necessity.

If the FAA says yes to the Exemption but no to the operations in the TFR, my bet would be that Disney will scrap the plans before the agreeing to remove the TFR.


June 16

I really don’t know why I trust the information, but June 16 looks like the date that the FAA will publish Part 107 rules. and the accompanying other rules changed by the NPRM.

If you fly a drone – hobby or professional, the rules will affect you.  (See my post: what part 107 means).

If you are a pilot with an FAA airman’s certificate flying under a Section 333 exemption grant letter, nothing changes.  You may continue flying until your exemption expires.  You can probably even renew the exemption. Complete with the COA and NOTAM hassles, requiring an observer, limited to the sUAS aircraft listed on your exemption grant letter.  For you, your Section 333 exemption grant letter are the rules you must fly by.  To fly under the liberalized rules that Part 107 brings us, you have to become a Part 107 sUAS operator by passing a written test.

How low can you fly?

It seems that every day I read of some community somewhere deciding to create rules about where you can fly. These laws, all of them, would fail in a court test.

49 USC § 40103 – “Sovereignty and use of airspace”:
(a) Sovereignty and Public Right of Transit.—
(1) The United States Government has exclusive sovereignty of airspace of the United States.

Only the FAA can create a “no-fly” zone.
Only the FAA can regulate flight.

Many amateur legislators will misread the Causby decision and make interpretations that simply aren’t supported in the Causby decision. (For a detailed explanation of the Causby decision, see my blog post: There is no Unregulated Airspace in the US )

US v. Causby, 328 US 256, 264 (1946) held that a landowner owns as much of the airspace above his or her property to which he or she can reasonably use, and any invasion of that airspace is a trespass subject to damages. Likewise, that airspace above the “immediate reaches above the land” is part of the public domain, not subject to trespass.

What can the lawmakers do?

A town can regulate where a drone may take off and land on property they control. That’s all. A public park, for example. One of the most published restrictions is by the National Park Service prohibiting “takeoff, landing or operating” a drone in a National Park. Takeoff and landing are pretty obvious, but is “operating” the same as “flight”? Not according to the FAA. The FAA calls a takeoff or a landing “an operation”. Ideally an even number. But once the aircraft is in flight, it is the exclusive authority of the FAA.

The FAA is concerned with this patchwork of local laws and recently published this Fact Sheet to explain what local legislators can do. [link]

Flying 50 to 100 ft over private homes is not illegal,  but other general laws may apply to the drone operator. For example, if your drone is hovering to take photos of the nude neighbor getting an all-over tan in their back yard, then you may likely have violated privacy or “peeping tom” laws. Those laws apply regardless of the method – a drone, a camera on a kite or on the end of a long stick. If you attach a loudspeaker to your drone and play “The Ride Of The Valkyries” by Richard Wagner at 6AM with maximum volume, then you could be charged with general noise violations. You could be in violation of the same law if you parked on the public roads and shook the neighbors windows with whatever they call that eardrum smashing noise the kids like today. But the hum of a drone hovering is likely quieter than the lawn mower across the street, so noise or nuisance laws probably won’t apply.

Some will say, if it bothers the homeowner, just go somewhere else to fly. This approach bothers me. A lot. What it says is that “your non-existent right to be annoyed trumps all of my legal rights”. Besides, it’s pretty hard to take a photo of my home from a mile away.


I am not a lawyer. Anyone who relies on my blog posts as legal advice is an idiot.

Drone Jammers – a problem?


A recent article in Make Magazine described how to make a drone jammer using a Raspberry Pi and a DIY cantenna.  The jammer in the article, while illegal to use, is unlikely to work because of the low power of the Pi WiFi.

In order to disrupt the control of a drone you have to overwhelm the flight control receiver in the aircraft with a really strong signal. (The technical term to Google is “desense”). If just transmitting on the same frequency were enough to disrupt communications, then can you explain how hundreds of teenagers at a concert can use their cellphones to tweet about the entertainment, all on the same cellphone frequency bands. The microwave control link used in drones is that robust.

The aim with the cantenna in this article has to be very precise, and you have to be closer to the aircraft than the controller. As soon as the aim from the cantena is off by a few degrees, the controller resumes control.

Most drones that use a 2.4 GHz control link have to lose the signal for a preset time before deciding that it needs to go into a failsafe mode. Usually one or two seconds. This accommodates the occasional signal dropout that is normal in controller-aircraft links. It’s not unlike listening to a weak FM radio station in your car that is occasionally interrupted with a burst of static.

If the aircraft is flying a pre-programmed route, such as in a land survey flight, the aircraft is not depending on maintaining a control link. It will continue to fly the programmed route even if the controller is switched off.

As with most other “anti drone” technology, besides being illegal to use, it’s unlikely to work except in very controlled conditions and with a very small subset of drones.

Notwithstanding that interfering with an aircraft in flight is a federal offense (18 U.S. Code § 32), there will always be venture capital money to throw at a non-existent problem.