The Fastest Way to Obtain your Remote Pilot Certification Under the Small UAS Rule (Part 107)

The Fastest Way to Obtain your Remote Pilot Certification Under the Small UAS Rule (Part 107)

Welcome to the Raptor Maps guide to obtaining a Remote Pilot certification. You may hear the Remote Pilot certification referred to as the “Part 107,” as this certification enables you to fly small unmanned aerial systems (sUAS) as specified by Part 107 of the Federal Aviation Regulations. Passing the test and earning your Remote Pilot certification is a simple, straightforward process.

There are 2 steps to obtaining your Remote Pilot Certification:

  1. Pass a knowledge test at an approved test center
  2. Apply for a Remote Pilot Certification on the FAA website (this is also the background check form)

To be eligible, you must be at least 16 years old, English-speaking, in good health, have valid government ID, and pass the TSA background check.

Obtaining the Remote Pilot certification is a fast process

Pre-Test: Grab your driver’s license or passport, and call CATS at (844) 704-1487 to schedule the test as soon as you want. Most test centers have wide availability.

  • Day 1: Test day. Visit the test center and pass the knowledge test with a 70% or more.
  • Day 2-3: Your 17-digit Exam ID will have populated in the FAA database. Apply for your remote pilot license on the FAA ICARA web platform.
  • Day 7-10: Your IACARA application should be processed and you will receive your certificate.*

*You will receive a temporary certificate, and a permanent one will arrive in the mail.

Typical FAA test center setup.

Finding a test center. You can find your nearest authorized test center here. They are typically flight schools. It is helpful to know which centers are closest to you and inform CATS; otherwise, you may be directed somewhere inconvenient.

Who is CATS? CATS is a test company owned by PSI Services LLC that holds the contract with the FAA to handle the scheduling for the Remote Pilot knowledge test. Just tell them which test centers are near you and they will check the schedule. You will pay for the test when you schedule, so have your credit card handy.

Step 1: The Test

This aeronautical knowledge test (i.e. test) is meant to ensure that you can safely operate sUAS in the National Airspace System in a safe manner. Much of it is common sense (should you yield to manned aircraft?), and what’s not common sense is found on the test supplement that you’re given when taking the test.

Airspace is important to understand, but the actual numbers (altitude floor, ceiling) are available to you on test day via the chart legend in the supplement.

If you have no aeronautical knowledge, do not come from a science or engineering background, and have no familiarity with drones, plan on 10-15 hours total of study time to get yourself up to speed. Otherwise, plan on 5 hours or fewer.

  • The test consists of 60 multiple-choice (A, B, or C) questions.
  • 70% (42 correct questions) is a passing score.
  • The test costs $175.
  • If you do not pass, you can re-take the test after 14 days.

Upon passing your test, you will immediately receive a custom, 17-digit Exam ID number that is unique to the test you just took. This is the number that links your FAA application (Step 2) with your passing test score.

How to study for the Remote Pilot knowledge test

Disclaimer: This is the most efficient method we know for studying for (and passing) the Remote pilot knowledge test. Everyone learns differently, and it is your responsibility to learn the material to safely and legally operate sUAS in the National Airspace System.

  1. Skim the FAA knowledge test study guide, available here. Take note of what you are familiar with, and what’s new to you.
  2. Read the free 3DR study guide, available here. Every word. Especially the Regulations Cheat Sheet.
  3. Do the first 60 questions of the 3DR practice exam, available here. For every question you get wrong, go back to either the FAA study guide or the 3DR study guide and learn the material.
  4. Do the remaining 70 questions of the 3DR practice exam. If this feels comfortable, you’re already ready for the test.
  5. Download the study guide from Rupprecht Law, available here. Read the first 11 pages (until you get to the text blocks copied from the Code of Federal Regulations). Skip down to Part 107 (§107) and read this entire section. Do not do the practice test in the .PDF, as it’s available in a better, interactive format.
  6. Take the interactive 65 question test from Rupprecht Law, available here. You will need to scroll partway down the page to find it.

Do not bother with the FAA practice exam, available here if you’re curious. 3DR and Rupprecht used all those questions to build their practice tests, so you will have seen them already.

3 Myths about the Remote Pilot knowledge test

Myth: Scheduling the test is difficult.
Fact: Most flight schools and test centers are open on Saturday and Sunday, and will have immediate availability. We have seen customers schedule the test on a Saturday night and take it the following Sunday morning.

Myth: I need to buy expensive books and access to online classes.
Fact: All of the resources you need are easily accessible and free. See our links to the best free online study guides below.

Myth: I need to be an expert in aviation to pass the exam.
Fact: You should memorize the NATO alphabet if you’ve ever conducted business on the phone and want to clarify M as in “Mike” vs. N as in “November,” but that will not be on the test. For weather, if you can remember TS means “Thunderstorm,” SH means “Showers” and RA means “Rain”, you’re 80% of the way there.

Step 2: The Application

Visit and register (gray box in the upper-right corner). Or log in if you’ve already done this before.

Click on “Start New Application” and 1) Application Type “Pilot”, 2) Certifications “Remote Pilot”, 3) Other Path Information, 4) Start Application

Fill out the form. Under “Basis of Issuance” you will find the area to enter your 17-digit Exam ID.

It takes 24-48 hours for your exam results to populate in the FAA database, so if you see this error, wait another day.

Submit your application, and wait for your TSA background check to be completed. No further action is required on your part, and your temporary Remote Pilot certificate will be emailed to you. The glossy card will arrive a couple weeks later.


Webinar Recap: Inspecting Solar Farms with Thermal Imaging Drones (Part 2)

Webinar Recap: Inspecting Solar Farms with Thermal Imaging Drones (Part 2)

In partnership with FLIR Systems, the world’s largest supplier of thermal imaging technology, Raptor Maps recently hosted a webinar to cover the basics of inspecting solar farms with drones. With 1,500 registered viewers, we reached an unprecedented audience interested in applying this technology to detect issues and optimize asset management.

The entire webinar can be viewed below for anyone who was unable to tune in live. The following are responses to questions that were received during the webinar. Part 1, a summary of the main themes, can be found here.

Webinar Q&A

Should I make a thermal map as the solar inspection deliverable?

Raptor Maps does not recommend creating radiometric orthomosaics (thermal maps) of solar farms as the deliverable for a solar farm inspection. Thermal maps require flights at higher altitudes, resulting in a loss of detail, which is exacerbated by the blending of radiometric images. Thermal maps of solar farms are also unable to provide the detail a client needs in order to identify, classify, and localize issues. The high sidelap required means additional time spent in the field. Raptor Maps has developed its solar software solution to deliver the analytics and reports that solar companies expect from a drone inspection.

Should we take videos or photos to capture images of a solar farm?

We recommend taking infrared and high-resolution color (RGB) photos with your drone.

What flight planning strategy does Raptor Maps recommend to produce the highest quality data?

  • Infrared images with a high overlap (in the direction of flight) and low sidelap (between passes).
  • Color (RGB) orthomosaic flight pattern at 250–400 ft to enhance report quality. Required if no satellite image of site.

Exact altitude depends on your camera/lens setup, but a minimum 5 cm/pixel ground sampling distance (GSD) is necessary for cell-level issues. If you are using a multicopter, maintain heading at all times. Fly in a grid pattern either parallel OR perpendicular to the rows. Confirm your images contain metadata (GPS location, relative altitude, etc.) and are free from motion blur and glare.

We recommend using the flight planning app provided by the manufacturer of your drone. This FLIR forum is a great place to learn more about flight planning apps for thermal inspections, link here.

How should we angle our camera for optimal data collection?

Start with your camera pointed nadir (straight down) and tilt up to 20 degrees to avoid glare and get the best view of the modules. However, your camera should not be aligned to the modules straight-on. See this technical note to understand why.

What is the value of the Raptor Maps’ solar software solution?

Raptor Maps eliminates the time-consuming process of turning your aerial data into actionable information for solar professionals. Raptor Maps has developed Raptor Solar™, the first Artificial Intelligence (AI) software solution, to help you process thermal images, color images, and site data generated from aerial solar site inspections with drones and/or manned aircraft. The software manages the identification, classification, and localization of every solar farm issue captured in the inspection dataset.

The software analysis includes finding and classifying​:

  • Major electrical issues (inverter, combiner box failure, reversed polarity)
  • Defect identification at the string, module, and cell level
 (e.g., activated bypass diodes, shattered and soiled modules, etc.)
  • Tracker and racking issues
  • Site issues (e.g. shading, vegetation, flooding, security risks, etc.)

You can learn more about the Raptor Solar™ software here.

What is the thermal certification requirement to conduct these inspections?

There are no thermography licensing requirements required to successfully capture data for qualitative assessments of solar farms. However, it is valuable to have be familiar with thermography basics and understand the science behind these inspections. If you are interested in learning more, we recommend attending a Level 1 Thermography course and/or familiarizing yourself with the science behind aerial thermography with FLIR Delta.

How is the price determined for a solar inspection using drone technology?

There are many variables that impact the costs of performing this inspection, as well as the price that a solar company is able to pay. These variables include: size of the solar farm, the amount of work included in the project (multiple sites, multiple inspections a year, etc.), the location of the site and travel time/distance, the country/region of the drone inspection, the country/region of the solar company hiring for this service, type of client hiring for this service, etc. We strongly recommend structuring costs for this service based on the size of the solar farm and/or size of the total volume of work the client needs done.

How does Raptor Maps present a solar farm inspection report?

We offer a sample PV system inspection report here (link to be updated shortly). Raptor Maps solar software analysis delivers results through an online portal as well as standard digital and downloadable formats including .PDF, Excel, and .KML. You can also learn more about the software’s analysis capabilities here.

Are there any chance of misreadings from inspection results?

Infrared inspections capture effects such as shadowing, for example, which may appear as hotspots or damaged modules from thermal data alone. While the pattern can help to distinguish these types of effects, high-resolution color photos are an important complement to thermal imaging and will help you identify the root cause of issues, and help you avoid delivering false positives to a client. It is important to capture this imagery of the solar farm within the same timeframe/day that you inspect the site with a thermal imaging camera.

What does Raptor maps charge for software/processing?

Raptor Maps solar analysis and reporting software is priced per MWdc of site data processed. The costs include complete post-processing of infrared and color (RGB) data sets, inspection analytics, and comprehensive reports available in digital and downloadable formats. If you need a quote, please contact us here.


Webinar Recap: Inspecting Solar Farms with Thermal Imaging Drones (Part 1)

Webinar Recap: Inspecting Solar Farms with Thermal Imaging Drones (Part 1)

In partnership with FLIR Systems, the world’s largest supplier of thermal imaging technology, Raptor Maps recently hosted a webinar to cover the basics of inspecting solar farms with drones. With 1,500 registered viewers, we reached an unprecedented audience interested in applying this technology to detect issues and optimize asset management.

The entire webinar can be viewed below for anyone who was unable to tune in live. The following is a summary of the central themes discussed in the webinar. Part 2, a recap of the most frequently asked questions during the webinar, can be found here.

Commercial Drone Operations for Solar Farm Inspections

Drones are more accessible than ever before, and the market for thermal imaging is rapidly expanding. A remote pilot certificate can now be earned through a knowledge test, and the drone/camera hardware has become more integrated and user-friendly. As the photovoltaic (PV) solar industry experiences double-digit annual growth, drones have become an effective and efficient means to analyze PV assets ranging from utility-scale power plants to community and industrial installations. The majority of operations and maintenance (O&M) companies are either flying drones themselves or contracting drone services, and asset owners are also realizing the benefits.

Value of Thermal Imaging in PV System (Solar Farm) Inspections

Aerial thermal imaging detects PV system anomalies from the inverter (large) level down to the string, module (panel), and cell levels. When areas in the PV system are defective, the energy from the sun is not converted into electrical energy, resulting in an increase in temperature. Additionally, changes in the surface properties of a module manifest as a difference in emissivity, which is detected with a thermal camera. The results of aerial thermal imaging inform asset management, and save 2–5 times the labor cost in the field. Every single module is analyzed, and site condition is quantitatively tracked over time.

Planning Inspections

It is important to know the purpose of the PV system inspection and understand the level of detail a client needs prior to data collection. You should also check to see if there is satellite imagery of the PV system; if not, plan on capturing color (RGB) images to for an orthomosaic. Even if there is satellite imagery, color (RGB) images improve the quality of the report. Make sure to note the module technology (e.g., polycrystalline, CeTe), wiring (e.g., number of modules per string), and other pertinent information.

Collecting High-Quality Data

Fly on a sunny day, and avoid glare and motion blur. Take radiometric images with your thermal camera, as well as a color (RGB) dataset.We recommend high overlap (in the direction of flight). Low sidelap (between passes) is acceptable, as this will save a considerable amount of time in the field. Fly either parallel or perpendicular to the rows (not diagonally). A high-altitude site overview is helpful for detecting larger issues. Ensure your images contain metadata (GPS, altitude, timestamp, etc.). Verify your data before leaving the site.

Creating Valuable Deliverables

Raptor Solar deliverables are optimized for asset owners, performance managers, field technicians, and other solar professionals. Managers need summary statistics, grouped logically, and analysis to facilitate decision-making. Technicians need to quickly and accurately locate an identified module. Deliverables should integrate into the existing workflow. The client should be able to security share the results with their customers and within their own organization to participate in the decision-making process. Changes to the site should be quantitatively tracked over time.


Live Webinar: Inspecting Solar Farms with Thermal-Imaging Drones

Live Webinar: Inspecting Solar Farms with Thermal-Imaging Drones

The 5 Fundamentals of Inspecting PV Systems with a Drone

Are you using drones to inspect solar farms? Solar farm inspection is the leading industrial application for infrared (IR) thermal imaging with drones. Solar power is the fastest-growing source of new energy in the world, with 2018 expected to be a record-breaking year.

That’s why FLIR & Raptor Maps are teaming up for a live global webinar on Tuesday, March 6th to help you fully understand the basics of how to use this technology, and the few simple steps you need to get started.

Tune into the webinar to learn:

  • The basics of operating a drone for business purposes
  • The value of aerial thermal imaging for PV system inspections
  • How to plan your inspection flight for different sites
  • How to collect high-quality data in the least amount of time
  • What the most valuable deliverables are for solar technicians and site owners

Drone infrared imaging is a critical tool for O&M, EPC, owner’s engineers, and drone service providers. With an emphasis on providing cost-saving, reliable, and labor efficient inspections; aerial inspections improve the longevity of infrastructure and overall energy output. Solar inspections are one of the many ways drones are making game-changing impact in the workplace.

Find out why solar companies with gigawatt portfolios are making drones a part of their regular inspections.

Live Webinar: March 6, 2018 at 1:00 PM EST
Followed by a 30-minute Live Q&A


How to Inspect Solar Farms with Drones

How to Inspect Solar Farms with Drones

The solar industry is growing exponentially. There are now over 300 GW of capacity in the world1, including 47 GW in the United States2. Operations and maintenance (O&M) providers are responsible for the upkeep of large photovoltaic systems (solar farms), and they are increasingly turning to drones to reduce maintenance costs and increase power generation.
Scroll down to read the full guide.

Why Drones are Useful for Solar

Faults Detected Using Aerial Thermal Imaging

According to the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL), there are 3 major categories of faults that can be detected using aerial thermal imaging3:

Example of an offline string. Image courtesy Jon McBride, RMUS.

  • Module faults: These include individual hot spots on the cells, diode failures, shattered or dirty modules, coating and fogging issues, and junction box heating.
  • String and system faults: Wiring issues (reversed polarity, frayed cables), charge controller issues, and inverter and fuse failures.
  • Racking and balance of system: These are major issues with how the modules are mounted.

Drones are also useful in spotting major site issues, such as vegetation management, poor drainage, and soil erosion underneath the racking.

Communicating with Your Client

It is important to discuss the goal of your solar asset inspection with your client beforehand. Some clients may simply want verification that a newly-built site is operational and are interested in larger defects, such as offline strings and reversed polarity. Others may be evaluating warranty claims, and request a thorough assessment (including cell-sized faults). And some clients may be interested in incorporating drones as part of a longer-term O&M strategy and may wish to evaluate changes in the asset over time.

Report Generation

Solar O&M providers need actionable data. They should be able to hand your report directly to repair crews and their clients. Elements of a good report include:

  • High-level summary. A summary of defect types and number of defects allows O&M providers to prioritize which arrays need immediate attention. Remember, they are typically responsible for many solar farms.
  • Localization. Crews need to know exactly which string or module they need to fix. Your report should save them time and allow them to do their job better.
  • Data reduction. The report should be reduced to the images that highlight specific faults. Most inspections will produce well over 1,000 images. You client only needs to see the important ones.

Raptor Maps prepares reports for solar asset owners and maintainers. Send us your aerial thermal imagery, and we take care of the rest.

Raptor Maps aerial thermography service

Scroll up to download the Solar Farm Inspection Report

Pricing Solar Farm Inspections

Drone service providers think in terms of acres, but solar asset managers pay for services by the megawatt (MW). Older solar installations typically require 7-9 acres/MW, while newer installations only need 5 acres/MW. You should price according to the nameplate capacity, which will typically be in DC power at peak wattage (MWDC). You can read more about DC-AC and conversion losses here.

Thermal Imaging Equipment

FLIR Duo Pro R with thermal and RGB capability. Check with your integrator to ensure telemetry is in the metadata.

Your thermal camera should have a 640 x 512 resolution with a 13 mm lens. A shorter lens like the 9 mm has a slight fisheye effect, and we have to apply a correction factor to localize defects. 19 mm lenses have too narrow of a field of view for this application. You should set the camera to capture radiometric JPEGs (R-JPEGs).

You may want to consider a camera setup with both RGB and thermal, such as the FLIR Duo Pro R from a distributor like RMUS or a custom build from ICI. Thermal camera providers in Europe include Workswell and Optris. RGB imagery can be useful for determining the cause of defects (e.g., shattered panels) and may reveal the cause of a thermal anomaly (e.g., debris or bird droppings).

Flight Planning


Fly at 300-400 ft. AGL if you want to create a radiometric thermal map of the entire site. This is generally done for marketing purposes or viewing strings that are offline. Fly at 200-220 ft. AGL if you are looking for defects at the string or panel level. Fly at 120 ft. AGL or lower if you are looking for issues with individual diodes or cells.


Orient the long axis of your thermal camera (i.e. the 640 pixels) along the string. Use high overlap (in the direction of flight), and low sidelap between passes (enough so you will not miss a string on your next pass). For more information, watch our webinar hosted by FLIR here.

Fly “sideways” to align the long axis of your camera with the strings.

Flight Planning Software

You can use the DJI GS Pro app to execute your mission. If you have the time, “Hover at Waypoint” mode will yield slightly better picture quality (no motion blur). Set the angle of the flight path to be parallel with the strings. Do not simply outline the entire solar farm and press “go.” Most large solar installations have large sections with “natural” boundaries that can be flown with 1-2 batteries. Several flight planning apps (including DJI GS Pro) offer the ability to upload shapefiles. Raptor Maps can provide you with several 1-battery shapefiles for your entire solar farm in advance of your flight.


High levels of solar irradiance (i.e. a sunny day) are good. The sun accentuates the difference between defective and normal components. Modules that are functioning properly convert this solar energy into electricity, while malfunctioning modules heat up.

With the sun, however, comes glare. Glare will cause a “whiteout” effect on your images, as the panels will reflect the sun right into your camera. To avoid this, the best times to fly are morning and later in the afternoon. If you are flying over a system with fixed-tilt racking, do not match the angle of the panels with your gimbal.

Checking Your Data

Clients care about the data, not your flight. Use 2 memory cards and swap and backup during each battery change. Ensure that you are collecting radiometric images (R-JPEGs) after each flight. The thumbnails will typically be greyscale, the resolution will be 640×512 (not 1280×720), and you will be able to manipulate the temperature slider in FLIR Tools or the Raptor App. You can also use the Raptor App to check for any gaps in coverage.

Movable color bar in Raptor App indicates the presence of radiometric data (R-JPEG or thermal .TIFF)

Localizing Defects

Frayed cable discovered after localizing defect from aerial thermal inspection via drone

Several methods can be used to localize defects when we receive the data. If you are flying at a high altitude and looking for large defects (e.g., offline strings), then typically there is enough context in the image to localize the row where the defect is occurring. For module-level defects and smaller, Raptor Maps uses a combination of latitude, longitude, altitude, gimbal heading, and gimbal pitch. If your R-JPEGs do not contain this metadata (e.g., FLIR Vue Pro R), then you will need to provide flight logs. RTK GPS will improve the accuracy but is not a requirement.

Incorporating As-Built Drawings

The “as-built” is the engineering drawing that reflects the actual layout of the solar farm. As-builts typically contain a designation number for each string, and these numbers are (hopefully) incremented in a logical manner. Raptor Maps georeferences the as-built drawings and annotates the defects directly on the document so that solar O&M providers can direct their crews to the specific location of the issue. This also helps keep track of changes in the asset over time.

If your client cannot provide an as-built drawing, then you should survey the site in RGB with 80% overlap and sidelap. The orthomosaic generated from this imagery can serve as the as-built drawing. When using an RGB orthomosaic as an as-built, Raptor Maps can either (i) create a logical numbering scheme to help your clients localize defects, or (ii) you can provide the numbering scheme as seen in-person via the labels on the strings.

Solar Terminology

As with humans, the most basic unit of a solar power plant is a cell. Cells are approximately 6” x 6”, and 60 or 72 cells comprise a module. This is what industry outsiders may refer to as a solar “panel,” but panel can be a confusing term and should be avoided. A string is a group of modules that are wired together. Besides major site issues (e.g., racking issues, flooding, shading, etc.), a string fault is the largest fault that can be observed. It is common for solar asset owners to contract with companies to perform operations and maintenance (O&M) on solar farms to diagnose and fix any issues.

1. Source: “Snapshot of Global Photovoltaic Markets.” International Energy Agency.

2. Source: “Solar Industry Data.” Solar Energy Industry Association (SEIA).

3. Source: “Best Practices in Photovoltaic System Operations and Maintenance: 2nd Edition.” National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL).