Intro to drone safety and videography (AV 101)

Coastal Drone Academy students are currently employing mapping drones to assess coastal towns, forests, wetlands, bays, and beaches. In our first course, however students learn drone safety and film making. For example here we are aboard the OSU R/V Pacific Storm on station five miles off Newport, deploying a drone to monitor grey whale migration in the Spring of 2018 (click here for story).

Our training and certification program uses a curriculum accepted by the Federal Aviation Authority (FAA), endorsed by major aviation insurance providers, and evaluated and recommended for college credit by the American Council on Education. The program is built on a comprehensive ground and flight school using Unmanned Safety Institute curriculum with its aviation emphasis.


The four aviation courses in our state-approved program are:

  • Aviation 101.1: Introduction & Drone Safety
  • Aviation 101.2: Phantom Film School
  • Aviation 102: Coastal Drone Mapping (Operations) (see details)
  • Aviation 103: Natural Resource Management Using Drones (Missions) (see details)

All courses work through experiential, hands-on learning, and collaboration with local marine scientists, my pilots fly missions where they develop knowledge of the several key aspects of coastal resource management. Here is an example of technical education using research projects as we learn boating, fixed wing drone flying, and seagrass ecology in the Spring of 2018 with our entire Operations and Missions classes having a role:Boat based drone operations with ODFWI use a research-based curriculum that involves students working on longer-term projects directly with industry and government collaborators, building on their knowledge of drones and how they apply directly to their coastal habitat missions.  Advanced student pilots have acquired knowledge and can challenge the FAA Remote Pilot Certificate (drone license) test.

107 license


Coastal Drone Missions (AV 103)

Throughout Spring 2018 ten of our student pilots and four of our instructors helped carry out our Netarts Bay Seagrass Mapping Mission. Our collaborator on this mission is the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife and it was led by our instructor Dr. Tony D’Andrea. It culminated in three days of flying together, producing over 25,000 images, and beginning a summer of analysis by “Einstein” (our supercomputer).


Tony, Dave, Jason and Chuck with eBee + RTK on maiden flight
eBee RTK inaugural flight with Tony, Dave, Jason and me

Boat based drone operations with ODFW

This course helps student pilots fill their log book with commercial flight time doing significant projects for our collaborators, including megafaunal (salmon and whale) surveying, and coastal (beach, shore, bay, marsh, forest, and city) mapping.

With continuous missions (we are booked out several months) student mastery results in application for Drone PRO™ rating where pilots log their first 50 hours. Level of rating may increase with hours and years flown:

USI ProPRO™ Basic Certification 50 hours (specific UAS) 1 year
PRO™ Level 1 250 hours 2 years
PRO™ Level 2 500 hours 3 years
PRO™ Level 3 1000 hours 3 years

The emphasis of Advance Missions is to complete the USI Safety Course, complete a USI Drone Pro rating on the student’s fleet of Phantom drones, and pass the FAA 107 test.


In Drone Missions they show proficiency in enterprise level drones (the eBee RTK and the Matrice 600).


Our mission pilots do useful work while training, and before flying they are visual observers, data managers, and/or battery technicians.

All classroom, field training and deployment are carried out while working for our dozen or so collaborators, including:


Missions has another 100 hours of ground school focussing on the following modules:

  • Ground school (Part 107 and USI Safety)
    • Regulations
    • Operations in the national airspace
    • Human factors
    • Crew resource management
    • Aeronautical decision making
    • Safety policy
    • Risk management
    • Safety assurance
    • Safety promotion
  • Map Making
    • Pix4D Mapper

Coastal Drone Operations (AV 102)

Before being allowed into Coastal Drone Operations (AV 102), beginning students must be interviewed by our director, instructors, collaborators and pilots, and then once accepted must complete “Drone Boot Camp” (Introduction to Unmanned Aerial Systems (AV 101)), that requires 50-100 hours of ground school and flight arena training using a trainer drone assigned to each student (below is our indoor flight facility at the Oregon National Guard armory and the Hubsan X4 Spider (far right below)).

In addition, each pilot is required to complete a Red Cross/CPR course. Students are recommended to have 20/40 corrected vision, be physically fit, in academic good-standing, and express a desire to advance in the aviation field of endeavor (expressing advancing levels of work ethic and maturity) to advance to operations. This is the curriculum of AV 101.2:

  • Phantom Flight School School
    • Phantom and Mavic editing school
    • How to tell aerial stories
    • Killer shots & 360 panoramas
    • Stunning aerial videography and photography
    • Start an aerial photography drone business

Once they survive Intro to UAS (about 1/2 do) they move on to Coastal Drone Operations course which introduces students to unmanned aerial systems (UAS) and surveys current UAS platforms and sensors (visible, near infrared and Lidar):


Students then learn terminology, challenges to integrating UAS to the national airspace system and operations under FAA (Federal Aviation Administration) regulations for small unmanned aircraft (Part 107). Field trips are taken to an airport, a flight museum, and a flight service center. Operations students are required to join the AMA to promote professional drone flying activities and activities within the school and community.

I then focus on building and executing drone field operations. The first step is assisting pilots with field efforts including placing ground control points. Then students fly a quad copter

used to create photo mosaics, topographic, vegetation, and 3D aerial maps while following lesson plans in radio communications, performance, physiological factors, decision making, airport operations, maintenance and pre-flight procedures. In addition students experience flying a fixed wing drone over larger areas (below is a sample plan for a flight to map a large seagrass bed (shown in a dark green).

Students test and gain the following areas of proficiency in operations.

  • Ground school (Part 107 and USI Safety)
    • Foundations of unmanned aircraft
    • Robotic aircraft
    • Datalinks
    • Control stations
    • Payloads
    • Applications of unmanned aircraft
    • Elements of UAS applications
    • Professionalism
  • Map Making
    • Drone Deploy
  • Part 107 Test Preparation (Passing not required to pass, but this or USI Safety certification is required to advance to Missions (AV 103))
    • ASA knowledge testing workbook