In the Ask an Expert series, HeatSpring instructors and industry thought leaders answer a question on the minds of the HeatSpring community. This session, we are joined by Keven Gambold, instructor of the Drone Pilot Boot Camp. He answers the question – what is the quickest and cheapest way to get started using drones commercially? Tune into his answer below. 

Brit: All right, HeatSpring community. We are here with Kevin Gambold. He is an instructor for several of our drone courses on HeatSpring [including the Drone Pilot Boot Camp]. And today he’s going to answer the question for us – what is the quickest and cheapest way to get started using drones commercially?

Keven:  I think this question is the one that gets to the hearts of, you know, anybody that’s in a professional organization, or, you know, a profession and they want to expand into this new tech area, but it is pretty daunting. And especially when people start talking about that, you need a federal license and you need to be a commercial operator. And you’re like, oh, good lord, no, I’ll not bother. So the key is – it is the FAA, the Federal Aviation Administration, who run all the airspace on the planet from Boeing 767 through to tiny little drones, took nine years to come up with a rule.

And it is ridiculous. The rule is… and is ridiculous in a good way, in that it’s not difficult. It’s a real easy step, but it’s just the whole concept behind.. “wow. I’ve got to get these licenses. I’ve got to, you know, and these things look expensive and they look dangerous. And it’s whirling metal blades and, you know, death and plastic and who knows what? 

And they’re, you know, they’re not cheap. You can go and get a one for a thousand bucks, 500 bucks, maybe even, or I’ve got ones sat next door that are worth nine grand. I have one in a case. The aircraft itself is 20 grand. The camera is 20. All right, so it can be ridiculous. 

So the answer is how do you get through all of that? How do you, you know, go out, do an inspection, do a mapping job? And the answer is it’s actually really, really easy. 

So the first thing is to do it legally, you have to have a commercial small UAS license – small unmanned aircraft system license. It’s called a Part 107. It’s based on the Federal Aviation Regulation, 14 CFR, Part 107. That’s all. 

So if you wanted to be a pilot in a Cessna, you would follow up on 91 Rule and that was all the tests and everything that you need to take. And then you get your solo and you get your license.

So the Part 107 is way easier than all of that. It is basically a 90-minute multiple question test on a computer in an FAA registered office. There’s one near you. There is one of the local flying clubs nearby. You register it. You pay 150 bucks and you take this test. You’ve got to get like 70%. And in that test, there are things like weather and operating limits and air space and you know, can you be drunk when you’re flying these things and all these, you know much of it is common sense. But then some stuff, if you’re not an aviator, like what class of airspace are we in right now? What is the height of this tower on this map? 

So you do need to take a course and you can take any courses or you can buy books. You could go online. You can go sit in a classroom. We’ve done all of these various different types of classes. 

We are kind of happy – very happy – about this latest iteration, which is the HeatSpring class.It’s called the Drone [Pilot] Boot Camp and it’s in two parts. And that’s kind of the thing we’re really excited about. So the first part is literally, it’s about 20 hours. It sounds like a lot, but you know, you churn through it. It’s lots of practice tests – lots of practice test-taking in these things.Because that’s all you need. 

It will teach you all about the weather. It’ll teach you all about the rules in the Part 107, teach you all about how to handle the aircraft.

You don’t even… you could become a commercial pilot by taking this test without ever having bought a drone, seen a drone, been in the same room as a drone. That’s the ridiculousness of the Part 107. You can be a commercialized – with a little driving license type thing – and all you need to do is pass this test. 

So I would suggest you sign on. You take the first part of this course. You take all these practice tests. You go down to your local flying club. You take this exam. Boom. You’re done. Absolutely done. And they give you a piece of paper and you go out flying the next day. 

The second part of the course, another sort of 20 hours, is designed to make you make money. That’s the key. So having this license means you’re legal. But making money means you have the right equipment. You can approach the client. You can say the words that the client wants to hear. You can then fly the equipment, take the pictures or the image or whatever you’re doing, the mapping program, produce a report, hand it to the client, take the check, go woohoo, and do it again. So the technical stuff there and about another 20 hours, loads of simulator practices, so you get the whole hands on throttle and stick. It’s all muscle memory. 

And the crazy thing is now the highest end drones. I mean, the ones that have all encompassing, sensing, auto mapping, all of that sort of stuff, used to cost,, the first set of drones that did that were $120,000. I mean, I never bought a car that’s been that expensive. I have houses that are cheaper than that. And we had like three of these things. That was 8-10 years ago. Now, a thousand dollars, $1,500. And yet with the press of a couple of buttons, we’ll map an entire field to like two-centimeter accuracy, and spit all of that imagery into a software program, which will throw out a 3D map for you. And you’re almost just pressing buttons. I mean, literally you could take a map on your phone, a smartphone, and you just go, I want that area mapped – that accuracy – go! And it will just take off. It’s insane. 

You did that two years ago. I’d have been like, yeah, I don’t think that’s going to happen. I think that’s just, you know, that’s just advertising. 

Now, I did it last week, you know. Admittedly, the drone is like $6,000 and it’s still not as good as the DGI ones, because the camera’s on the DGI ones are insanely good. 

So that’s it. You take the HeatSpring course. You get your 107 license. And then my suggestion is you take the second part of the course. It’s all included. Take the second part of the course. You can cherry pick it, but it gives you advice on which drones, you know, you probably want to buy Google it. It changes every… it’s like buying a laptop. So these things improve their safety, their capabilities. You know, you wait six months, they’re insane. 

So that’s the short answer. Now there are, you know, people are like, well, what about insurance? What about clearances and flights and all this sort of stuff. Well, believe it or not, we spent – I’m not kidding. I hate to say this – $80,000 one year on insurance. We were a big company doing commercial enterprises – $20 million worth of coverage – doing bridge expansion, power lines, power stations. You need all that. Okay. 

You don’t need that. I have an app on my phone. There are many of them. You just add… The one I use is called Verifly, but there are many of them. And you literally just click on it. You draw the same level map. You say I’m flying for the next hour. I want a million dollars worth of coverage. Boom. 

Now it is liability coverage. It doesn’t cover the drone itself. And you would have to get separate whole insurance for that. But you know, you probably spend a couple of hundred bucks. You’ll be alright. Some of them, some of the DGI ones come with a replacement warranty out of the box.

Right. Insurance. Bang. $10 for an hour. Let’s go. Not kidding. 

For understanding, you already took the course. You’re aware your air space was good, but you know, you’re not really sure. And you’re out in the bondu. There’s… call it a LAANC, a Low Altitude Notification [Capability] authorization application that sends – that you’ll learn about this. 

But it’s another app. I use one called Airmap. There are like 20 out there and you literally just click on Airmap. I do the same thing and I go, “I’m flying for the next hour.” It tells me the weather. It tells me the checklist. It says, “did you do this? Did you screw the rotors on? Have you checked the weather? Have you looked at this? All right. You are cleared to fly or you are not cleared to fly because…Yes, but this is wrong. Or you wanted to go to 400 feet and actually you’re only allowed 200 feet in this bit of airspace.. and you’re like, bonehead, I should’ve thought of that. 

So I do both of those things stuck in traffic on my way to the fly site.

All right. It’s insane. But you know, I was getting permission from local airfields six weeks out in advance, not five years ago. So we’re in a really good place. So with the license, with a drone, with a bit of practice, you know, you don’t want to look like a clown in front of the client. He’s going to come out and ask you what you’re doing. You know? His wife is going to bring the kids over and they’re going to go, “let’s see.” You don’t want to go, “I think this is what makes it go up.” 

So you can get insurance, you can get the authorization, all on a smartphone. Just charge the damn thing before you get out there. 

So that’s it. Cheap and easy.