Flight planning forms

12924536_10156648561705315_8694913495587424282_nPre deployment survey or pre- site survey

This is a form that is designed by you, with guidance from the NQE and details the location of where there is a request to fly. The full location map coordinates and details the contact details for emergency such as the air traffic control. This is where the NOTAM’s are recorded.

NOTAM this is Notice to airmen and on your ground school the training company will go into greater detail.  This informs you of hazards, planned military exercises and no fly zones. NOTAM’s can change daily and informs pilots of what is happening in airspace above the UK.

If you have been working in TV production for a while it is very similar to a call sheet. Details of all emergency numbers, local police, the address and contact details of the nearest accident and emergency.   It detail maps of the local area, diagrams of the site and my potential flight plan once on site.

Onsite survey form

This is when you get to see what the actual site looks like,  as you can only obtain so much info from internet and maps.  This is also when you assessing the other potential risks that are present when you get to the location such as telegraph poles. Or site restrictions. So together these forms are your plan, and your risk assessment of the drone flights.  Still a TV production company may require a separate risk assessment writing.

These I  submitted to my flight instructor before flight school.  Resource group ask you to write these forms yourself. It may be other training companies give you these forms as templates.

Advice would be to plan as many mock jobs in areas that you don’t know, using all the tools, websites and maps that the training company show you at ground school. Then when you get to the flight assessment part of this process you will have lots of practice and this will make you feel more confident.

Next up the flight assessment


Flight reference cards.

Once you have completed ground school, passed the exam, what then? Again I can only comment on resource group and my own experience.

Writing the Flight Reference Cards – FRC’s

You need to then write your flight reference cards FRC’s.   For each platform – UAV, Drone you fly or intend to fly commercially you need to write a flight reference card.

Depending on your training provider you may be given a template.  First of all we were just all sent off after ground school to write the FRC’s with no template! It was down to one of the group to ask head office for a template. Thank goodness we all decided to keep in touch one of the guys emailed it out. After a week or 10 days of frustration.    Even using the template provided it was bounced back to us all, this again caused a lot of frustration amongst the group.  Fonts, alignments, box sizes and then what seemed second seemed to be the content.   It seemed to be taking a long time far longer than required.

In many ways this suited me as it gave me lots of time to practice flying, I was getting up before work early flying in the field, going to work on edits and events all day and charging the batteries up, on the return home flying again in the fields at the neighbours farm or the dedicated model airplane field and then coming home and working on the paperwork.   This made for a very intense 4 weeks.

What content is in your FRC’s?  First of all its  where you write down all your technical specifications of your drone, you can get this from your hand book or if a DJI model you will get it from their tech specs section on the internet.   This is very detailed mainly in boxes as opposed to lots of words and explanations.  The tech specs of the RPA (remotely piloted aircraft), the batteries, and the the RC.  Plus the limitations of your chosen drone.  I found this quite a good process and really makes you understand how your drone works and what the terminology means.

A loading list, now this caused a lot of backwards and forwards as I wrote mine for actual use i.e Micro SD cards and other items I would want for a successful shoot.  I was told that was not needed its all about safety equipment and drone.   I have now added these back in. I can check them off before I leave for a drone shoot and I know that everything that I need for a shoot is present on that list.  I like to be organised.

 Check lists covering, pre flight, checking the platform, pre take off checks, Pre landing check list and post flight checks.

Emergency procedures – details of what you will do in different emergency situations.  Note for this you really need to know your platform, what does a green light flashing mean, yellow, red ? Do you know – and what happens if your flight app fails can you still calibrate your compass?  What will you do if your drone becomes rogue and goes off one its own.  What will you do?  You can’t write panic and make the air blue!  This is in part a risk assessment and emergency planning.

Now the FRC’s  will vary from UAV company / individual as others have different platforms that they fly.   Good news once you have done it, its pretty straight forward.  I now know I could write FRC’s for any UAV.  So perhaps in lots of bouncing back it taught me lots of lessons as apposed to just copying a document verbatim.

You submit your FRC’s  with your copy of a pre flight survey and pre- deployment survey paper work that you have written.  Then your get to do your flight assessment or pilot competency assessment.


My training experience

This is an account of my training experience, I have spoken to many people who have been through the process with other companies and it seems many are not happy.  I suppose its because the training costs so much and even for the training companies this is a new process for them a profitable process for them all the same.

Or perhaps its because many of the processes seem very frustrating but if this is what the CAA wants the standard to be then we drone pilots need to do this process, have the knowledge that they want us to have.   My main thoughts are that we are becoming commercial pilots and we have to be safe so this training is essential but over time it will get quicker and there are areas of the training / theory that will be dropped.

As previous blog post, this training arena is now a competitive business and so I am sure the delivery of this training will improve/ has already improved.


Web based Training

This may have now changed but with Resource Group there was web based training that I was given access to as soon as I had signed up for the course. This gave me 6 weeks to do this training.  I was keen I started it straight away, which is unlike me as I normally I leave my homework until the last minute. Each section – I think 9 or 10 in total with a small test at the end.   This was great at giving you a grounding in, airspace rules, weather, map reading, principles of flight and various other bits of theory.

It was not very well designed but as web based training it did the job.  At least you could switch off the irritating voice reading out the content that it was often distorted.   You could do the test and then it would not recognise you had done that section which was frustrating. At least it was not adding to an overall mark somewhere.  The tests also highlighted to me where I just had not retained the information enabling me to go over that section again. Some of the animations and diagrams were brilliant at explaining the theory.

You could go back over items again and again as much as you liked, which I found very useful.  Some of the guys on my course  had not completed the training as they had been told it would take a day. There was no way you could do it in a day and I am so glad I spent the time reading and making notes.

Ground School

With Resource group the first thing you do is take a theory test on the subjects you had covered in the web training, this enabled you and the instructors to find out where you needed to have extra explanation.  Ground school went into more detail with subjects covered in the  so this background was needed.

My course had 14 people in it.  From all walks of life some ex- military, photographers, film makers, construction company employees and surveyors plus entrepreneurs.

 The instructors ex military themselves, both had been flying UAV’s for 10 years in the Army. One obviously very experienced in training others and made it a fun learning process. The other seemed to forget we had paid  a lot of money for the course and were not army recruits and I am glad that the more experienced one of the team was leading this course.   If someone has invested time and money, they are listening don’t you worry about that.  

The ground course in effect lasted only  2 days although you are there for 3 full days.  You cover so much on day’s 1 and 2 – because the actual theory test,  ground school assessment happens on the morning of day 3.  Which you needed to pass with at least 70% (if my memory serves me correctly). 

There was a good student handbook that was laid out very well and I needed this when I was writing my ops manual, and revising what I had learnt in the day.  The instructor leading the course was very good at helping us all understand the concepts, the theory and highlighting the bits you really needed to understand to complete the ground school assessment.     I am someone who finds it very difficult retain facts and figures but I got 83% in this test.  So the instruction must had been good.

The 3rd day after the test, one instructor marked the tests and the other covered how to write the flight reference cards and the Ops manual.   All the practical things you will need to do on site were covered.  Deployment task demonstrations and then we got to put that in to practice that we were given flights to plan.

Then we found out if we had passed or not.  On this course we all passed.  I have heard from other people who have been through this process not everyone passes.  Don’t worry about this, but my advice would be in every class room situation. Ask questions even if you think its a silly question,because there will be someone who sat there thinking they would like to ask that question.    The lead instructor was always checking we understood and he used some great techniques to check if we did all indeed understand.

Once you have completed ground school you loose access to the web based training, and actually it would have been handy tool to refer back to.

I really enjoyed meeting all the people on this course and I am still in touch with many of them.  Some got their PFWA really quickly and some have decided not to go any further. One very quickly after the ground school and others because it seemed like too much hard work in addition to their jobs and have decided they are just flying as a hobby.

With resource group at this time you had just 90 days to move to the next process. Which is after ground school are released into the open to go off and write your Flight Assessment cards FRC’s, ready for your flight test. I will cover this in my next blog post.


The Training….


I am sure you all know to operate commercially you need CAA Permission for Aerial Work, you can only do this is you attend a course with an approved training company.   The industry calls the training company National Qualified Entities (NQEs)

To get the CAA Permission for commercial (PFCO) operation you will go through the following process :-

Ground School , Creation of your FRC’s – Flight Reference Cards, Flight Assessment and submission of Operations Manual (Ops Manual)

When I looked at training companies listed on the CAA website April 2015 there were just four companies listed


EuroUSC LtdResource Group LtdRheinmetall Technical Publications UK Ltd (RTP-UK) and Sky-Futures Ltd.


I contacted all four and only one called me back and that was Resource Group, I spoke to a great guy who gave me, good advice. There was no pressurised sales pitch.

I had no one to ask, was this a good company to go with?   All I could go with was that every single question I had, I wrote down and after two lengthy conversations he answered them. He also responded to my email and so I booked it.

SO really I did not have much choice in my training provider, my thoughts at the time when the training is £1600 or so why did I only get one response? Now if your reading this the likely hood is that you are planning on going on a course to enable you to get your CAA PFAW.   Also the chances are that you will pay less than myself as the market has competition, the chances are more than one person will call you back!

Each training company should be able to take you through all the stages and quote you a price for all the training.

What questions should you be asking?

  • The cost each company tells you the amount but what is covered it is an all in one price? Some break it down you need to know the total cost. Ask does that include the ground school, does that include support whilst creating  the paper work and the flight test?
  • The location. This could mean extra costs, overnight hotels or distant travel. The training days are very full you need to be well rested.
  • Where will I take my flight test? Is there more than one site available with the training company to take the test.
  • Will I have a dedicated flight instructor?
  • How soon can I be qualified? This is a tricky one, because that very much depends on you and how quick you work and how much support you get from the trainers.
  • How many people fail the ground school? People do believe me, is there a cost to re-siting ground school exam?
  • How much to re-sit the flight test? If you fail, which could happen if you don’t have the time to practice flying.

Taken from the CAA Website correct as of 5/3/2016

At the present time there are no RPA pilot licenses recognised in aviation law. However, it is essential that pilots of any aircraft have at least a basic understanding of the applicable regulations, in particular the Air Navigation Order and Rules of the Air Regulations. Therefore, the CAA will require a potential RPA operator to demonstrate pilot competence before any operating permission is issued.

There are a variety of means of demonstrating pilot competence, the most common being to complete a course where the applicant demonstrates the necessary skills and knowledge by passing a ground exam and flight test. The CAA does not run these courses directly but instead approves commercial National Qualified Entities (NQEs) to conduct the training and assessment on the CAA’s behalf.

CAA approved NQEs:

  • 3iC Ltd
  • Aerial Motion Pictures
  • Atec-3D – Restricted
  • Cambridge UAV
  • Commercial Drone Training Ltd
  • Cyberhawk – Restricted
  • Drone Pilot Academy Ltd – 1360
  • EuroUSC Ltd
  • Heliguy
  • Hexca, – Restricted
  • Resource Group Ltd
  • Sky-Futures Ltd
  • The Great Circle
  • UAV Air (ways)
  • Whispercam
  • Cyberhawk – Restricted
  • The Aerial Academy (Hexcam) – Restricted 
  • UAV8 Ltd

So that is 20 training companies now, which shows you how the industry is growing, how much demand there is for training but also means a lot of people securing their CAA PFCO. As they always say don’t focus on what others are doing, but what you are doing and how you are doing it.  If you have decided to get your CAA PFCO, go for it!  I can’t say you won’t look back, because you will be looking backwards, forwards  upwards and all ways round!