I’m back at my Mum and Dad’s… in a single bed… alarm goes off… it’s time for school!
Man this sucks! So many school memories. Will the bigger boys pick on me? Will my packed lunch yoghurt burst in my bag? Not today! Lunch is provided!
Anyway, let’s move away from the teenage analogies… It’s Drone School time!
This isn’t any ordinary school, let’s get the venue review out of the way fist of all… Cringletie House Hotel, just outside Peebles in the Scottish Borders. Lovely! Small (compared to big hotels), but a beautiful old manor house (I’m guessing here). We were set up in the Garden Room (small bar area, with leather sofas / seats / a fire place and views out over the putting green and croquet lawn) and the conservatory. Not like a normal conservatory, an old one, back when conservatories were actually cool. Anyway, we set up. Just me and 1 other guy Alan. In flew our instructor Tom from Flyby Technologies (I’m going to name check during this one, as they deserve to be mentioned and promoted!)
I’m not going to go into the actual syllabus of the Groundschool, but let’s just say it was information overload for 2 days! We covered, Air Law, Aircraft Knowledge, Flight Planning Human Performance and Limitations, Meotorology, General Navigation (aeronautical charts and stuff), Operational Procedures and Pilot Skills.
In at the deep-end, because we’re adults. No, pass a beach ball around and tell the class what you ate for breakfast here (usual media intro’s) we get stuck in.
LUNCH! Sticky toffee pudding. That’s all you need to know here.
Afternoon, more heavy learning.
Head spinning, I drive back to my folks house, where they’ve gone out for a lovely meal and not invited me! But this does give me time to review all of the days learning, take notes, read notes, eat a chippy (which they’d never let me do anyway), read notes and paperwork again.. then hit the hay (read single bed).
Alarm, up early and back to Cringletie house. Today is Exam day! We’re all ready early, so hit the books early and today I make sure I’m making the most of the bottomless flask of tea and cakes the hotel provide. I need to be sharp!
LUNCH! No sticky toffee pudding. Sad times. Was too nervous to eat anyway… exam loomed.
Forgot to say, by this point we’d been joined by another Flyby Technology trainer, Gareth. He’ll be doing our flight test tomorrow. Both trainers were amazing! Full of professionalism, knowledge and tons of useful nuggets that were interjected through-out the day.
So, exam time. Time to remember such words and acronyms as Vortex, NOTAMS, VLS, CAP95, CAP 241, SUA, Aviate, Ops manual, ATC, TAFS, METAR, Longitude, elevation, height, altitude, Amps, incursion and other such words I’d noted down in the last day and a half. Gulp.
Multiple choice paper. I could get 15 wrong and still pass… this should be fine… shouldn’t it?
Exam conditions. Answer sheet, pen, aeronautical chart, rulers, and a lunch fuelled brain that’s about to burst. Turn the page. Slowly answer the questions. Wow, this isn’t like school at all… I think I know the answers… but don’t get too cocky Stuart… concentrate. Have a drink of tea (also allowed on table, so definitely not like school). I think I’m right in saying we got 2 hours for the exam. 25 minutes in, I finish. Shit. What have I missed out? OK, go back over it again. Sneak a look to Alan, he’s finished it too, ok, not too bad. I’ll go over it again… answering all questions like it’s the first time. Alan hands in paper, I’m not too far behind him.
I retire to the warmth of the Garden room (because in a property this grand, you don’t just “go”, you “retire” to a room). Tom marks and comes through. He looks chuffed. Have we passed?
“There was 1 question wrong between the two of you”! Nice one! We passed… then Tom looked at me and continued “and that was just a complete brain fart”… oh brilliant! I got 1 question wrong, that was an easy one! Silly farting brain! Anyway, ground school passed! Tick. Get in. Now for a bit of a rest, then straight back in to some lesson on our practical tomorrow. Wow, this sounds complicated, I have to make my drone do what?
So, I decide to stay back after the course and speak to Alan and we decide to work together on creating our paperwork for the flight… and there is a lot of it! I won’t go into it, but let’s just say it took us about 4 hours to complete everything to be satisfied we can achieve our 20-30 minute flight the next day. On the plus side…
DINNER! Sticky Toffee pudding.
Day 3. The flight test.
I drive to the hotel in what can only be described as horrific f-ing weather. Surely we’re not going to be flying today. It’s my flight, I’m in charge, I will call it off if I have to.
I arrive nice and early to make my “on the day” risk assessment. Wind Sock… horizontal. Flag… horizontal. Rain… horizontal. Shit…. Horiz… no, that’s just an exclamation.
Luckily Gareth has turned up super early too, so we can get started when the weather eases off. In a childish shy stand-off that could have been sorted by a simple game of Rock, Paper, scissors, we decide Alan will go first. Turns out… lucky Alan.
He completes his flight… and get’s the Paul Hollywood style Hand Shake afterwards. Nice one. He’s passed…. And the rain starts…
We sit and wait… tick follows tock, follow tick follows tock, follows tick… we wait, that’s what we do…
Let’s go! I call the troops and we head out. It’s blowing a hoolie! (technical term). It’s calmer than it’s been for a while, it’s not raining… I believe it’s inside the aircrafts limitations, so let’s do this.
I brief, I take flight, I control check, then “blue sky fly” off. (Blue Sky Fly…. In Scotland, we need to change that wording!!) Anyway, I complete my client task, disorientation recovery, emergency and a few other maneuvers. Then there’s 3 specific flight skills you need to show. I start the 1st one… the weather is getting worse. I complete it, then instantly find a safe place to land and call a halt to proceedings. This is about 10:30am now. I only need 5-10 minutes more in the sky, but it’s not safe to do so.
We retire to the Garden room…. The rain starts… properly. Back to the Guinness ad boys…. Tick follows tock, follows tick follows…
LUNCH!!! Sticky toffee pudding. Yaldie!
Back outside, it’s still awful weather. We wait. I actually do some radio work while waiting.
We regale jokes, stories, we even got onto showing clips on youtube! This weather was taking it’s time. The weather aps and METARs (yes! Used correctly!) say it’ll brighten up, but they’ve been saying that for hours now. Anyway, about 15:30 GMT I decide it’s fair enough to head back out.
Out we trot. 2 more specified air skills, 1 simulated emergency landing then a safe power down, checks and pack away. I look longingly into Gareth’s eyes… I get a hand shake! You dancer! It’s a pass! I’m so frickin chuffed with myself! It it hadn’t of started raining again, I’d be whipping out my aviators trying to look cool… but I’m not, and it did, so I didn’t.
There was even more paper work to complete including my Operations manual, which is basically my contract with the Civil Aviation Authority on how I will fly safely and appropriately on all flights. It’s checklists, emergency procedures, and a whole lot more! If you ever want to book me, you are more than happy to have a read of it! It took me long enough to create for no one to read it!
But once that was sorted, Flyby Technologies send it off, along with their report of my Flight Skills Test to the CAA and ask for my PfCO (my Permission for Commercial Operations), which if you’ve been following from the start of this process, you NEED to be able to fly a small unmanned aircraft commercially. The pilot must also have relevant insurance. If you’re booking a drone pilot, (even if it’s not me, but it should be me… ok!) please make sure you ask to see their insurance documents and that they have a current PfCO. Promise me you’ll do that! It’s legal!
And just to blow my own trumpet for a few more seconds, the Flyby Technology report they sent to the CAA contained words such as… “positive”, “efficient and controlled”, “well controlled”, “excellent”, “very nice”, “very good”, relaxed and appropriate manner”, “very good performance”… I’m super super chuffed at this!
So, I’m now waiting for the official paperwork to come through. I can’t legally fly commercially until the paperwork does come through (hopefully by end of April 2018) , but what I can do it start to work on projects for when they do. I am already working on a few amazing projects and am immensely looking forward to flying some more too. So <advert time>, If you’re looking for a fully qualified, CAA approved, Insured, relaxed and appropriate pilot for your project, then please get in touch. Full video production or give me a flight task and take the footage yourself. Promotional material, Golf Courses, Estate Agents, TV production, Insurance damage footage / inspections, farming, social media content, Weddings, Music Videos (why not), or anything else you think where a drone flight might be useful, let’s chat!
And now with the drone added to our arsenal of video apparatus, our full promotional / marketing videos are now that little bit more special!
So there you have it. Can I fly it? Yes I can! (and I can legally charge you for it).
Now I know this is a blog post, so I’ve tried to keep this light hearted, but this was a full on 3 days of mental and physical challenges. I’d really really like to pass on my Thank You’s to the whole team at Flyby Technology, especially Tom and Gareth. Absolutely bursting with knowledge, enthusiasm and professionalism. Would I recommend these guys to a future pilot, yes! I already have (and he’s in ground school as I type this!) They’re not just there for the course either, they’re there for me in my journey from here on in too! So, thank you. 5 stars (Reminds me, I have to write a review for them! I must)
My new ND Filters arrived today, so I’m even more eager to get out flying, but as I’m in Scotland, it’s raining and I’m surrounded by a blanket of mist! It will have to wait in it’s cosy bag for now!
To the future and beyond! Book me!