4. PfCO Flight Test and Preparation
As part of writing the Ops Manual, you have to write your own procedures and checklists which you will use on your flight test and commercial jobs one you receive your permission. In brief, these define how you will plan a job and operate the drone. You must learn these procedures!
Next was to arrange insurance, which needs to be EC 785/2004 compliant - again there are lots of companies offering drone insurance and as you would with any insurance I shopped around to get the most suitable for my business.
Once the test is booked in you are given a mock job which shows you the location of the test - which you must plan as if it were an actual commercial job, from planning, risk and site assessments right through to the actual test itself. I used all the resources and maps we had been taught how to use on the course to plan and complete site and risk assessments for the chosen location - and submitted this paperwork to Uplift for review. The remaining prep would be done once on site and before the test.
Note the CAA only require 2 hours of logged flight time in the last 2 months and Uplift recommend 5-10 hours before the test, however I had 15 hours of flying time at this point. I would have liked more but due to the British weather over the winter, flight time had been limited, however I was confident in flying the drone at this stage.
Apps and websites
As part of the planning, I also used various website and apps such as NATS Drone Assist, UAV Forecast, WeatherPro, Windy, SD Light and AirMap
I also use DJI GO 4, DroneLogbook apps / websites.
For the test, and also to be used by me on commercial jobs going forward, I purchased the following required equipment - note the products aren't recommended, but you do need fire fighting equipment, a first aid kit, signs etc as a minimum. As you can see there is more than what you expect.
Here are links to the exact products I purchased;
As far as I know, there are no publicised guidelines on what type of extinguisher you need for a Drone, some recommend a C02, some recommend powder based. I chose this one as it was a general multi-purpose one, and if you do use it your drone will be a write off anyway.
I already had one from previous photography work. They are readily available online and in high street shops such as Halfords.
As good as apps and websites are, its always good to know the wind speed at ground level, to judge if it is within the drones limitations. It is one of the first things you check once on site, before even unpacking your drone.
Luckily Uplift provided the latest maps of the local area, although these do change every year and you would be best to purchase these when they are updated.
Other equipment (some not specifically required for the test, but I had anyway)
3 DJI batteries (2 extra on top of the supplied battery to give me about 90 mins max flight time, in reality its about 70-80 mins)
Flight Case - I already had this for the drone and batteries etc, and I chose this one in particular as it enables the drone to keep its props on while being transported.
Lipo Battery Charging Bags
Not required for the flight test, however I would recommend them for charging and transportation as Lipo battery fires can be extremely quick to start and the advice is to let them burn out, but put out the surrounding area. Search online for Lipo battery fire to see how bad they are...
Not required, but useful when landing on dusty or sandy ground, as it stops the dust entering the motors and drone.
The actual test
While driving from home to the test location, I was quite excited and not overly nervous at this point. The weather was perfect, blue skies with very little wind. Perfect flying conditions. I met Darren who would be my flight examiner at a nearby location and we headed to the test site. Darren put me at ease and we made a start.
The test is divided into 2 sections;
Darren explained what would be required and assessed such as pre flight, in flight and post flight procedures. Then asked me some questions around hazards, risks airspace and flight distances. I then briefed him on my operating procedures, and asked him to be my observer (as part of my Ops Manual, I would always use an observer where required).
Darren explained the layout of the test site, which I guess was around 100m x 100m. He asked me to continue to follow my procedures while carrying out various manoeuvres such as a continuous yaw (spin), a figure of 8, a square in GPS mode and the same square in ATTI (manual) mode and then at some unexpected point demonstrate my emergency procedures. Even though I was fairly relaxed during the test, nerves did kick in every so often - as to be expected. I did my post flight checks and packed up my gear.
The flight test is there for you to demonstrate you can safely and competently fly the drone in GPS and ATTI mode - its nothing to worry about providing you can. My advice would be... Know you drone, know how to fly safely, know your operating procedures and checklists and you will be fine.
Phew...the test was complete, and Darren debriefed me along with the words... "I'm pleased to tell you, you have successfully passed"
Result! All that hard work had paid off.
The final stage was to apply to the CAA for my permission and pay for the first year. This was straight forward again with help from Uplift. The estimated wait to receive the permission from submission is about 6 weeks, and so I was shocked when I received the email after just over 2 weeks!
"Please find enclosed your Permission for Commercial Operations (PfCO)..."
Thats it, I've finally done it!
Now to start earning some money.