Putting drones to work at your company can be a challenge. There are so many factors to consider: Will the benefits be worth the investment? How will pilots meet safety and compliance standards? What aircraft should you buy? There’s a reason a lot of early drone programs choose to consult with experts to mitigate as many challenges as possible.

I come from a background of almost 18 years in the military, where I qualified as a flight instructor. In 2019, I entered the drone realm by training with the RQ-11 Raven, a small, hand-launched, fixed-wing drone, which I now teach soldiers to fly. Many of the same principles that apply to operating small military drones also apply to commercial drone aviation.

Today, I’m a trainer on Skyward’s Professional Services team. I deliver training sessions to customers as part of Skyward’s signature Program Start Package. This package is designed to equip a company with everything they need to launch a drone program in a matter of weeks: a general operating manual, standard operating procedures, drones, hands-on flight training, a Skyward subscription, and more. Recently, I’ve trained several Verizon drone teams, as well as other Skyward customers in a variety of industries.

I’d like to share two quick lessons that can help you get started with drones, emphasize risk reduction, and get results faster.

(Please note that Skyward does not provide legal advice. This article is for informational purposes only. For legal and regulatory advice on drones or drone laws, contact an aviation attorney.)

1) First and foremost, focus on safety and standards

Aviation has safety at its core. That’s true for military and civilian aviation, and it should be true for drone aviation, too. That’s why the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) established Part 107, the rules and regulations governing commercial drone operations. Any business flying drones needs to know and follow these rules.

Beyond that, your pilots also need to understand and comply with your company’s own Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs). SOPs mitigate risk by making sure pilots perform operations the same way every time. SOPs put everybody on the same page, from the top down. The executives overseeing a program and the pilots actually flying missions have the same expectations for quality and performance.

How Skyward’s training focuses on risk reduction and drone standard operating procedures

Skyward’s Program Start training is designed to lay a foundation of safety and compliance. What does that look like? Well, every training looks a little different because it’s based on the client’s needs and wants. Typically, a training session is three days of on-site, in-person training, but I’ve also done two days of remote training before spending two days on-site.

Before we start the live portion of the training, Skyward provides all the trainees with access to an online Part 107 course. After they finish the course, they take an exam from the FAA to become Part 107 certified drone pilots.

Then I show up on-site or online, and we start with classroom-style presentations. Skyward’s material is modeled around Part 107, but we also put our own spin on things. We go over things like safety, understanding drone automation and its limits, LAANC, and planning operations in Skyward.

We also go over the customer’s standard operating procedures. For example, when I’m training Verizon teams, I’ll instruct straight out of Verizon’s SOP manual, choosing sections to read over together. We’ll cover things like ongoing pilot proficiency, flight currency, and even naming conventions for missions and hardware. By instructing Verizon pilots straight from their own operating standards, the trainees learn to run their operations the same way every time before they even start flying.

Of course, the same is true for any client we’re training: I’ll research their SOPs (especially if we helped put them together) and pull up sections in the classroom so we can look them over. The training experience is catered to each company’s standards and desired use cases.

2) Require hands-on drone pilot training to build proficiency

Concept training is important, but practicing skills in a controlled environment is just as crucial for building reliable pilots and operational practices. Unlike traditional aviation, where trainees build up hundreds of flight hours before becoming certified pilots, drone pilots can get certified under Part 107 without ever touching the controls of a drone. That’s why it’s so important to put new drone pilots through hands-on skills training with an experienced pilot.

What hands-on drone flight training looks like with Skyward’s Program Start Package

Skyward’s Program Start training builds in real-world flight instruction. After the classroom sessions, we take the drones into the field, weather permitting. We have the students set up collapsible cones in a roughly 50’ x 50’ square. We start by having the students just fly a square box pattern. Then we have them turn the drone 90 degrees toward us and fly the same pattern. They quickly learn that they have to invert their mind when the drone is facing toward them — a basic skill that they often haven’t thought about.

Some students are brand new to drones, so I think that they’re often surprised with how well these aircraft perform. They’re surprised to learn what all their drones can do: the camera features, video, and the autonomous modes like return-to-home and orbiting.

Once I see that they’re growing more comfortable and that they’re not jerky with the drone, then we can move forward into more complicated moves like figure eights or orbiting manually. It’s definitely cool to see their confidence level grow as I fly with them. That’s what I enjoy most about being an instructor: seeing those transformations in just a couple days.

Over the flight and training sessions, we work toward flying a sample mission. The students actually go into the Skyward application and plan their own operation. We try to do things like requesting LAANC, going through the whole process. Then we actually go out and fly those missions.

For Verizon pilots, this usually means going and flying a cell tower. We’ll have them do a full inspection while we monitor them and offer feedback. These controlled sample missions help them build real-world skills in a low-stakes environment before we let them on their way to do the jobs they need to do.

Skyward can support your missions, your way

On Skyward’s Professional Services Team, where I spend my time, we’re all professionals. We all have drone backgrounds. Some of us have crewed flight backgrounds, too. I think we’re a great team and bring a lot of knowledge to the table. We love serving customers with training sessions, standard operating procedures, equipment ordering, and much more.

I’ve been in uniform for a lot of my adult life. As an instructor in the civilian world, it’s nice to see that Verizon and Skyward are taking such important leadership in the drone industry. We take compliance seriously and model Part 107. I appreciate that, and I appreciate that I can teach and embrace everything that Skyward is doing.

And beyond training, Skyward offers many more cool products and services for the drone world. From a software perspective, the Skyward Drone Insights Platform helps companies operate drones more safely, and get faster time to data insight with things like Mapping & Modeling. And as a Verizon company, Skyward’s partnership to offer the first off-the-shelf drone powered by Verizon 4G LTE is a breakthrough.

From my experience, all of the things that we can do for customers are pretty remarkable — from software, to training and SOPs, to cellular-connected drones — and I’m proud to be a part of it.

Skyward Drone Program Start Package