What does it take to be a professional drone pilot?

How to become a pro NC drone pilot or make sure you're hiring one

Tips on Getting Your Drone Pilot License

Posted by: Ken Huth

Whether we’re out flying, or chatting with photo friends — people always want to know about the process to become a pro drone pilot, drone laws, and how to not get in trouble with where they fly.

And clients are never sure if the person they are talking to just bought an expensive toy, or is really a pro who they can trust to safely fly on their property, following FAA regulations.

Hopefully this guide will give some insight, and point novice pilots toward resources to becoming the best pro they can be.

Since we’re drone photographers/videographers, this article also includes lots of extra tips and resources for getting the best images/videos from your drone as well.


So…ready for takeoff? Here we go!


aerial photo of a Duke University class group waving

Are you a “recreational” drone pilot?

After plunking down $2,000 for your shiny new drone, sure, you’re excited to fly… but there are some things to consider before you hit that little round takeoff button.

The FAA says, if you are not in any way profiting from flying your drone (including YouTube ads, social media promotion of your business, or certainly client gigs), and you are over 16, then you may fly as a recreational pilot.

First step:

Both recreational drone pilots and pros start at the FAA DroneZone to register their drone and get info.

Next up:

Let’s learning what’s most important, to get you started fast…

aerial view of young boy climbing a tall tower


Safety the #1 Issue:

Rather than asking, “will I get in trouble flying here?”, the real question that a new drone pilot should be asking is “how can I be a drone pilot with the safest flights possible?”

It may not sound fun exactly, but after all, we’re flying something that can cross paths with actual commercial airplanes!  We need to take this seriously.

…and the FAA doesn’t mess around. Think, the IRS, mixed with homeland security.

They are protecting the national airspace — people who fly recklessly ruin things for everyone.

Be a pro.   Be a student of drones.   Be safe.

If your focus is just on staying out of trouble, you might bump into the fact that you can’t fly:

  • near airports
  • too high, or too far away
  • over a large stadium

But you might totally miss that you also can’t fly:

    • over many state parks
    • over people *
    • over moving cars *
    • at local spots w/rules against drone flights (like in Durham NC at the ATC including DPAC.)
    • too near a prison
    • too near a college stadium during a game, or at many campuses ANY time (including Duke and UNC)
    • flying in twilight without proper training & lighting*
    • in any way that takes the drone beyond your line of site
    (* some of these things are in flux staring mid 2021, so research what the changes are)


    And this list goes on and on… to the point where if you live near a busy enough city, you should check maps for restricted airspace before even considering buying your drone… let alone flying it.

    And, as of 2021, even if you want to be only a recreational pilot, you’ll need to take an FAA test (and prove you did, to any authority that requests it.

    The good news is that this new FAA TRUST test is not only free, what you learn will honestly make you a safer, and more prepared pilot.

    See links in the Resources sidebar to the right, on the test and our favorite training site UAV Coach.


    Drone Pilot Resouces:

    Our favorite site with info on all aspects of drone flight, news, testing & training:

    UAV Coach Website HERE


    both recreational & pros:


    becomming a pro drone pilot:


    more drone sites we love:



    What to look for when hiring a drone photographer:

    There are a few ways to tell that a drone photographer/videographer is a true professional:


    do they:

    • have their FAA Part 107 pro certification
    • create unique images, not just boring shots from way up high
    • have a portfolio with a variety of images similar to your project
    • have certification to fly in your state
    • carry drone liablity insurance (business insurance doesn’t cover drones)
    • show you that your area is clear FAA airspace approved to fly in safely
    • discuss their ongoing training and safety practices


    Details on FAA TRUST requirements for recreational drone pilots:

    … so, are you still interested in becoming a pro drone pilot?

    aerial view of DPAC glass building with the historic American Tobacco Campus during sunset

    Not daunted by the cost of a decent drone, or the fact that lots of the coolest places near you might be off-limits to drone flying, or that the laws are constantly in flux — well then, welcome to the profession. After all that serious info… gotta say, it’s a TON of fun!

    Follow the HuthPhoto >air Quickstart Plan:

    This is how we worked through the process of getting our FAA Part 107 certification quickly, improved our eye for unique drone photos & videos, and trained for consistently safe flights.


    1. Research drones… tons of info all over YouTube like HERE and HERE.
    2. In a big city? See if your area is super-blocked in with no-fly zones by using B4Ufly
    3. Register your drone at the FAA DroneZone
    4. Check your state for registration requirements (NC has supplimental testing & 2 year renewal)
    5. Invest the time & money for a good class like Drone Pilot Ground School  (not an affiliate for them… it’s just what we did. It was around $300 when we took it)
    6. It’s fine to check out the cheat-sheet videos & info for review, but if you want to be a pro — please take this seriously & really learn the material to keep you, your drone and everyone safe. And, how cool is it that we get to learn how airports operate, what aeronautical charts show for our area, and how to safely fly at night.
    7. Schedule your test at a local FAA test center (in Durham it was next to RDU). Links to study materials in the sidebar.
    8. Practice flying basics like these from UAV Coach HERE.
    9. Consider Drone Liability Insurance (we use Skywatch and they give discounts for uploading your flight logs and proving you are a safe pilot.)
    10. Every two years do your FAA recurrent test (it’s free and online now!), do your state updates too
    11. Every three years update your info & the next drone you buy at the FAA DroneZone
    12. Commit to ongoing improvement of your flying, safety practices & image making

    And finally, now that you’ve done all the hard work… enjoy the ride.



    Looking forward to seeing you out and about in the skies.


    Ken & Colin

    HuthPhoto >air


    panoramic view of the Durham NC skyline with the historic NC Mutual building in the center
    HuthPhoto air logo with drone icon

    Learn more about us…

    We love to talk drones, and brainstorm with potential clients about ways to create striking drone images & video… or maybe we already have some stock images of Durham skylines, or landmarks that’ll work for your next project.

    Check us out and get in touch!

    overhead vies of YMCA teens in a circle of hammocks