Squirrel
I'm a pilot

A generous gift certificate from George and my income tax refund were burning a hole in my pocket. And I had been lusting for a drone to take panoramas of the Mackenzie Delta and pingos near Tuktoyaktuk this June and images of us hiking this fall along ridges and cliffs above the fjords of Norway.

Recently, DJI released its Mavic 2 Pro with a mini-Hasselblad camera. Very tempting. But then Costco put the older Mavic Air on clearance pricing. Fantastic specs for a one pound flying camera—4K Ultra HD, twenty-one minutes of flying time a four kilometre  range, Active Tracking and the possibility of controlling it with hand gestures. Sold.

It wasn’t until after I bought the drone that I began researching the regulations around flying them.

I learned that you can’t fly a drone in Vancouver without a Special Flight Operations Certificate from Transport Canada (TC). And that effective June 1, 2019, new regulations will require all drones weighing more than 250 grams to be registered. For $5, I got mine registered.

SkyVector.com not only shows aerodromes, airspace restrictions and weather stations, but also have a special DROTRAN feature for notices to Drone Operators

But horrors—I also need a Basic Pilot Certificate! To get one you, must write an on-line (open book!) multiple-choice test of thirty-five questions and complete it within ninety minutes. To pass, you must score better than 65% or else take the test again after waiting more than twenty-four hours, each time at a cost of $10. If you pass, your drone must stay thirty metres away from bystanders, and never over them.

BUT HORRORS! For the Basic Pilot Certificate test, TC has a forty-two page Examination Guide summarizing the required knowledge areas, but not the answers! In the Amending Regulations published in December, TC estimates that it will only take three hours to study the following material to prepare for the exam:

  1. TC Aeronautical Information Manual—459 pages
  2. Canadian Aviation Regulations (CARs)—1,025 pages, but the right half is in French, so you don’t need to read both
  3. Study Guide for the Radiotelephone Restricted Operator Certificate—35 pages
  4. TC Transportation of Dangerous Goods Regulations—477 pages (to save time, I recommend you just focus on transporting squirrels, acid, explosives and lithium-ion batteries)
  5. From NAV Canada, various documents dealing with flight navigation charts, Canada Flight Supplement for aerodromes and Best Practices for dealing with Remotely Piloted Aircraft System
  6. Be able to reference METAR (Meteorological Terminal Aviation Routine Weather Report) and translate the standard format as shown in the top line below into English, including the remarks regarding Stratocumulus clouds and contrails:

By comparison, the BC Handbook to study for a Driver’s Licence is only 184 pages and written in plain English supported by many diagrams. That licence will allow you to drive a 1,800,000 gram car in really close proximity to people and other vehicles.

Where to start? As an engineer, I’m somewhat familiar with Newton, the apple-pie guy from the UK and Bernoulli, the Italian pastry chef who first blew whipped cream out of an aerosol can. Center of gravity and center of pressure are concepts that Boeing could have done a better job with on the 737 MAX, along with redundancy. But what about those squirrels?

After skimming through half of the TC reference material, I stumbled upon Don Joyce’s Droner’s Guide to the 2019 Canadian Drone Regulations where 72 minutes of video capture most of what you need to know for the Basic Pilot Certificate test. He has another 168 minutes of video to prepare for the Advanced Pilot test that I chose to watch—why not?

Hours, well four days later actually, it was time to write the test. The TC reference material in pdf format was carefully arranged on my computer with the Acrobat FIND feature at the ready. I had a second screen set to GOOGLE in case there were any questions on topics I didn’t study—say, helicopter control systems—there were!

My final screen was set to the Exam. To credit TC, the test has a really nice interface. You can skip questions and come back to them later, there is no penalty for wrong answers so if you don’t know, it’s wise to guess, and there is a clock showing your remaining time. It took me only sixty minutes to complete, and after pressing FINISH, it took only two more minutes to be awarded my Basic Pilot’s Licence with a 94%.

Now it’s time to figure out how to turn this drone on.

30 replies
  1. Avatar
    Elaine says:

    Did the squirrel take the exam too? Good for you for getting flight certified! It took a far amount of training, good thing, and congratulations.

    Drones are being used more frequently for research as you can mount various other sensors on them as well as cameras. I’m part of the Global Water Futures projects and drones are being used for many aspects, such as glacier, vegetation, water flow characteristics. Here’s a sample of their work: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5mb5POxDZF0

    Reply
    • Magellan
      Magellan says:

      It’s truly amazing what scientific equipment can be mounted on the larger drones to let you quickly survey an area at minimal expense and time. In your work sample it appears that the video may have been combined with a secondary measurement to create a virtual surface? Hence the appearance of flying off the edge of a flat earth!

      Reply
  2. Avatar
    J. says:

    How could it be that a squirrel, yes, a squirrel in a wannabe hockey helmet -garners the most comments from any of your hundred plus postings?
    Maybe something to do with the wonky engineer behind those goggles?
    Interesting eh?

    Reply
    • Magellan
      Magellan says:

      As the junior writer with Latitude65, I confess to stooping to photoshop my feature image to attract attention to my Post. At least I removed the flying squirrel’s tail, rather than threatening to expose it as National Enquirer did with Jeff!

      Reply
  3. Avatar
    Colleen says:

    Congratulations on passing the exam! Looking forward to seeing pictures from your next trip. I hope you’ll come and take a bird’s eye photo of my acreage this summer.

    Reply
  4. Avatar
    Pat Pennell says:

    Know there will be more spectacular photos to add to your already impressive, wonderful albums to come! Can’t wait.
    What fun you both will have taking birds eye views of whatever vistas and pockets of terrains your hearts desire.
    Congrats 🌷🌺💐🌾 on the marathon studying and writing multiple choice exams to to become a licensed PILOT.
    BRAVO KERRY

    Reply
  5. Avatar
    Wade Blaser says:

    Wood pellets is a great idea. Not only from the ecological viewpoint but also it has a greater weight advantage over coal or Bunker C vs. Batteries..

    If you really thing we should pursue this We could put you in touch withSheryl’s cousin in Piteo Sweden; who has a computer controlled wood chip hopper and feeding system on his burner that heats all his dairy barns as well as his two houses on his farm. You might even want to take a detour and check it out when you are in Norway .

    Reply
  6. Avatar
    Marsha & Georgia says:

    Congrats on passing!!!! Never was a doubt you could do it. Now we can all look forward to even more amazing photos and videos.

    Reply
  7. Avatar
    Wade Blaser says:

    Just further to Pat’s comments regarding sources of power for your drone…

    I have a toy steam engine, that I got when I was six years old, that I could lease to you on a (very reasonable and attractive) cents per revolution basis. You could use any number of petroleum products to fire it..

    As another engineer and farmer I could throw in help with the design and set-up..

    Might take a while, but I’m sure we could get it to work…

    Wadda ya say??

    Reply
    • Magellan
      Magellan says:

      With almost a hundred years of engineering experience between us it shouldn’t be too hard to get it recertified? But could we design it to use wood pellets? I’d prefer it to be rated as green-steam!

      Reply
  8. Avatar
    Barry MacLeod says:

    Sometimes rules and regulations go beyond reason and this appears to be another choice example.
    I understand the need to regulate drones especially in conflicting airplane zones and also privacy concerns but my first and last question is who is going to enforce the rules, and at what cost. Possible we can hire unemployed eagles and hawks to run roughshod over this group.
    Yikes indeed. 🤬🤬🤬🤬🤬🤬

    Reply
    • Magellan
      Magellan says:

      I agree 100% with your comments.

      But something that impressed me in this pursuit is an understanding of what it takes just at the written examination level to get a private pilot licence in Canada. Their exam is also multiple choice with 100 questions over three hours, but without access to any written material or THE GOOGLE.

      Reply
  9. Avatar
    Pat Christiansen says:

    Fantastic! Can’t wait to see the pictures. Now some further planning is needed….

    First – this thing needs a name. You could run a contest or do what new parents do with a new arrival – wait to meet it and then pick a name that suits its personality.

    Second – with your “wandering eye” you will have to make sure this new addition to the family does not stray more than 4 km from home base.

    Finally – it will be easy to get caught up with the “view” but seeing it is battery powered and (as we know) anything battery powered will not run as long a something powered with oil – so you will have to have a stop watch to make sure your new baby makes it home in time.

    Fun times ahead – Pat & Dallas

    Reply
    • Magellan
      Magellan says:

      1. Hopefully we don’t have to nickname it “Crash”!
      2. And the Basic Licence isn’t for instrument flying, only unaided VLOS (Visual Line of Sight) which isn’t very far for someone my age!
      3. Maybe some little solar panels on the fuselage?

      Reply
      • Avatar
        Pat Christiansen says:

        1. Traditionally all vessels that fly or float are referred to in the feminine so we never would name anything female “crash” (and live).
        2. Does the VLOS include looking at things via a Hassleblad camera vs our own aging weak eyes?
        3.Now that would make Andrew Weaver happy

        Reply

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