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First Flight as Remote Pilot in Command

I flew my first official drone flight under my new Remote Pilot certificate today, to get some footage for a video.

Hartselle from the Air 2016

I only got my drone, Geary, a few months before the text of FAA Part 107 was released. The rule for hobby flight under Part 107 and for the rules that preceded it is that you must notify any airport within a 5 mile radius of your flight. However, all my flights prior to getting my certificate were no higher than treetop level, so I interpreted that rule to have something like this appended: “unless you’re flying so low that nobody wants to hear from you about your piddly drone flight and the only possible traffic conflict with a manned aircraft is from one that is already in the process of crashing into you.”

Today, I planned on going up to about 100 or 150 feet above ground level (AGL) to get some nice shots of the town, which is above the treetops around here. As a remote pilot certificate holder, that 5-mile notification rule is relaxed for me: I don’t have to notify anybody, so long as I’m not in controlled airspace (meaning, not near a larger airport) and am staying out of airport traffic patterns. I planned to fly at my parent’s house, which is near the middle of town and about 2mi NNW of the local small airport. Though I never saw a plane fly as low as 100ft over that house the entire time I was growing up there, I do occasionally see them pass over at maybe 1000 feet, possibly on their way to join the left downwind for runway 36. Two miles out is too far to be only 150 feet off the ground on landing, and I’d only be up for about 5 minutes, but it only takes moments to cause a problem in the wrong place at the wrong time, and it seemed the neighborly (and safe) thing to do to stop by the FBO at the airport and let them know I’d be flying a drone a few miles north later in the day. There is a phone number for them in the chart supplement, but I live nearby, so I just drove over.

This is a tiny FBO, the kind of place that only has one person on duty at a time, so the lady I talked to at the front desk was also the management on duty and manning the Unicom, and I’m pretty sure I’ve seen her out there mowing the lawn before too. She was very nice and had no objection to my flight, but she also had a deer-in-the-headlights look that told me receiving a notification of an upcoming drone flight was a new experience for her. Though I know there have been other drones operating within 5 miles of that airport (I’ve seen the footage), it is entirely possible that I’m the first person to try to notify them.

One example of how new these rules are, and how airport operators definitely should not be relied upon to know them yet, is that when I told her that I had a handheld radio I could use to monitor for incoming traffic (for those manned aircraft that bother to call their approaches), she suggested that I respond to anyone who calls to let them know there’s a drone up. This is definitely not the FAA policy — they are pretty clear that you’re to monitor, not transmit, if you’re monitoring CTAF on the ground during remote flight operations. She did also offer to warn anybody on approach to watch out for the drone herself, and per my understanding that would be the correct procedure since the FBO is licensed to transmit, while I am not. My plan for the foreseeable future is not to communicate with manned aircraft, but rather to get the heck on the ground if I see a plane coming my way, or hear a transmission that implies one will be soon.

By the way, the flight went off without a hitch and I got some nice panoramic shots of town for my video.

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