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Fly me to the moon, well, to 400ft anyway

Fly me to the moon, well, to 400ft anyway
I recently attended a Remote Pilots Course (Theory) staged by RUSTA (Rheinmetall Unmanned Systems Training Academy). The course, although intensive, was a real eye-opener to the laws pertaining to piloting an unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV)

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RUSTA is the new centre of excellence for commercial UAV, UAS and drone pilot training in the UK. The company, which was conceived in 2014 to counter demands for SUAS training requirements due to the exponential growth in the industry, conducts training of the highest safety standard in the UK for Small Unmanned Air Systems (SUAS) operators that wish to obtain Permission for Commercial Operation (PfCO) from the CAA.

According to my instructor and Head of Academy, Sion Owen Roberts, RUSTA’s goal is to ensure every UAV, drone or SUAS operator can confidently fly within the safety standards and legal requirements set by the CAA. I gather that the team of experienced UAV instructors and assessors are all from ex-military Aircrew Instructional backgrounds, and if evidence is anything to go by with Sion, they all have a passion for what they do.

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Our course in Lincoln. Instructor Sion Roberts is pictured left

No previous UAV flying experience was necessary for me to join one of the courses. The syllabus is divided into three sections: Theoretical, Operations Manual and Practical Assessment. The theoretical side cover topics that concern all aviators – Meteorology (weather), Principles of flight, Air Law, Human factors/Crew Resource Management, Navigation and Flight Planning. In addition, we studied topics pertinent to UAS operations, including civilian aviation publications, LiPo batteries and emergency procedures.

The theoretical phase culminated in flight planning exercises, designed to bring together all the areas we had covered over the two days. This critical, but enjoyable part of the phase helped establish a better understanding of the operating procedures and safety of flight as laid out in the CAA regulations.

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The flight planning exercises are designed to bring together all the areas covered in class

The theoretical phase ended with an examination of all that we had (hopefully) absorbed. I normally get as twitchy as the next person when it comes to exam time, and this was no different. With the room laid out with individual seating at desks, the clock was set and a 75 per cent pass mark was expected from the multi-choice paper. One thing I hate after an exam is when, during the marking stage, the candidates congregate in a huddle and discuss the questions. Listening to some of the answers, you can end up kicking yourself because you had answered incorrectly, then realising that you knew the answer all the time. Ah, that lightbulb moment! As it happens, I slid by with 91 per cent, and our small group left feeling both motivated and empowered. Within days the Remote Pilot Certificate Theory – RPC(T) certificate was duly received.

Right, stand by your beds, because that was just the beginning of this three-phase operation. The second phase dictates that I compile all the information I have learnt to date and incorporate it into a concise Operations Manual. Everything has to be detailed, from how my prospective business will be organised, to how I would handle an emergency in the field. Fortunately, a RUSTA instructor is available by telephone or via email to answer any queries and steer me in the right direction.

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Higher end UAVs come equipped with a high resolution video camera

Once the Ops Manual is completed to the satisfaction of RUSTA, the third and final phase is the practical assessment, when I will be assigned an academy evaluator. I will be given a scenario which, in essence, will accurately reflect a normal task I could expect in the future. I am expected to plan the mission exactly as I did during the flight planning exercise, taking into account such things as real-time weather, airspace issues, hazards and risk assessments. Providing I operate safely, within regulations and within my own Ops Manual, I will receive a pass and be awarded with the Remote Pilot Certificate SUAS (RPCS). Only then may I apply for Permission For Commercial Operation from the CAA.

The SUAS industry seriously took off in 2013. In order for the industry to continue its momentum, the CAA recognised that operators needed to be trained safely by qualified and trusted organisations. As a result, through issuing permissions, the CAA can ensure pilots have the appropriate qualifications before carrying out commercial UAV work.

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Drones come in useful for numerous commercial operations, including carrying out building and agricultural surveys

In case you are wondering how I got to here, my interest in UAVs was sparked while watching television documentaries, and particularly those with amazing aerial footage of wildlife and stunning landscapes. As a video blogger, I thought how interesting it would be to include such footage on the films I produce on the website and via Social Media. Having trawled the Internet and purchased a number of magazines, I read up on the subject, and chose RUSTA after a recommendation.

DronesI am writing this with RUSTA’s  ringbound aide memoire on my desk. It was to prove an essential piece of the jigsaw, and yet I fully appreciate that being a professional drone pilot is not just about passing a test, but about how one applies that knowledge in practice. As I see it, the exam was merely the key to unlocking the door through which I can begin my journey into aviation.

I still need to purchase a drone specific to my needs, and then find a competent flight instructor who can help me apply the groundworks knowledge that are already embedded in my mind. Prior to my flight test, I need to be well practised, legal and safe, so quality mentorship is of paramount importance. Now, where did I put Sion’s number…

For further information on courses, visit http://www.uastraining.com

About The Author

Mike Cowton

Michael Cowton, an outdoors writer, editor and photographer with a passion for nature-based travel and wildlife. He is a former editor of EcoTravel, Outdoor Pursuits, Camping, Lakeland Walker and Which Motorcaravan magazines, and national newspaper journalist.

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