Here in Australia we are fortunate enough to have an aviation authority that understands the significance of the future of UAVs. CASA (Civil Aviation Safety Authority) have created qualifications for remote pilots and associated companies planning to use UAVs.
Recently I decided it would be a valuable qualification to have, so I looked around the net for a suitable certifier. Because I live near to Sydney it was important they operated courses within the Sydney region. RPAS Training although based in Kiama NSW, run regular tuition and certification in Sydney. I enquired when, where and how much. The cost was not going to be trivial.
Two choices of tuition were on offer for the Remotely Piloted Aircraft (RPA) certificate, online and face to face. The online was $300 less than the face to face but still required 2 days of testing, while the face to face is a week. What to do?
I broached the subject with my wife who is keen to see an economic advantage in my obsession. She said “do it and don’t welsh on the money”. I don’t like parting with money unless there is a chance I may get it back. I procrastinated until the week before the course was about to commence, finally biting the bullet and choosing the face to face option.
My RC background and science qualifications made some of the course a bit slow. I hadn’t thought about what the content maybe but was please with knowing most of the stuff presented on the first day. There is plenty of info about multirotors and power systems that the other students seamed to find new and entertaining. Battery care and the meaning of the specs for batteries, motors and ESCs. RC enthusiasts who use electric power, LiPo batteries and brushless motors, would generally understand, most of this stuff. I began to think I could have saved myself $300. I was soon to be convinced otherwise.
The course contains a radio operators certificate section and qualification, as well as everything to do with engaging air-traffic and air-traffic control. Using Visual Terminal Charts, weather and cloud interpretation. There is a lot I didn’t know about what’s going on the the skies. But there was more to come as the practical was the last day activity.
I have done a lot of flying over the years and I thought the flight test would be no issue. I fly often and these days, FPV is one of my favourite pass times. My fleet of aircraft (all scratch built) is extensive. I design planes and multirotors to my own liking and they do mostly what I want and what I like. This was to caused me grief because I only practise flying fast and smooth. No hovering or mechanically inspired motions but banking rolling, looping style. The tests were slow ridgid flying using attitude mode( I had to look that up) as I only ever use acro/manual mode. The exercises are about hovering right angle turns, straight and level flying.
The result was, I failed the last exercise. So embarrassing and deflating. Matt the instructor assured me it was OK and I could return in 3 weeks to try again, at no extra charge.
Three weeks meant I had time to setup one of my drones to be ideal for the task. I’m not usually concerned if my multirotors don’t get perfect GPS lock or the barometer is a bit dodgy. This time it would be important and I needed something that would fly like a a DJI Phantom. So I retuned the PIDs and adjusted the air flow to the barometer and replaced a couple of dodgy wires to the GPS/Magnetometer.
The most lacking of all my preparation was practise. Not practise doing the 60kph circuits of the oval or loops or rolls but fine movements. These hover and sliding manoeuvres, back and forth, side to side staying at a constant altitude the whole time. Compensating for the breeze while trying to stay in position over a coloured cone. This was the new challenge that I had never practised and it was a challenge. It took most of those 3 weeks to get it right, especially using throttle stick centred. Holding the craft steady, face-in, as well as applying yaw without roll. Braking to a perfect hover over a cone then sliding back on a straight and level line to the next cone. All these fine movements are like water-ballet for drones. While I may never fly like this again, it was a valuable experience. I passed the test on my second attempt. Now, all I need to do is accrue five hours of recorded flight time.
Although a little glitchy, RPAS Training provide a neat app for recording your flight times. The app works fine on my android phone and it’s been very handy, however it had mixed success for students with their iPhones. I expect that RPAS Training will get this sorted soon.
All in all this course could turn out to be a valuable investment. The number of certified UAV operators is expanding by the day, as are the applications for UAVs. Opportunity to become part of one of these operators is expanding with their number. I feel no doubt that I have not wasted my money.
I need to explain that becoming a UAV certified pilot (RPC), does not certify you as a UAV operator or UOC. The UAV operators certificate is a different qualification with different specifications. At this stage its not my intention to start my own business in this field.
It’s important to note that any company or business in Australia who is profiting from the operation of UAVs, requires an operators certificate (UOC) and persons with RPC qualification to operate any UAV used for profit.