Do You Need a License to Fly FPV Drones in US?

The question of whether or not you need a licence to fly FPV drones has always been a problem for beginners. In the United States, navigating the skies with these innovative devices is not as simple as simply launching your drone into the air. Both hobbyists and commercial operators need to be aware of the licensing requirements set by regulators to ensure safety and compliance. Whether you are flying your drone for recreational or professional purposes, it is important to understand if you need a licence and which specific licenses are required.

This guide examines the various licensing requirements enforced by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) for FPV drone operations, as well as the additional Federal Communications Commission (FCC) licenses required for the use of certain communications equipment.

An FAA License to Fly Drones

Do You Need an FAA License to Fly FPV Drones?

For recreational use, you do not need a license to fly an FPV drone. However, if you are using it for commercial purposes, you will need to obtain a remote pilot certificate from the FAA. The recreational flyers regulations are roughly as follows, to learn more you can check the official FAA recreational flyers guidelines.

Recreational Flying

For hobbyists flying FPV drones recreationally, the rules are relatively straightforward. If your drone weighs more than 0.55 pounds (250 grams) and less than 55 pounds, you must register it with the FAA. Registration can be completed online for a nominal fee. Once registered, you receive an identification number that must be displayed on your drone.

Recreational flyers are expected to follow the FAA’s safety guidelines, which include:

  • Flying at or below 400 feet.
  • Keeping the drone within visual line-of-sight.
  • Never flying near other aircraft, especially near airports.
  • Never flying over groups of people, public events, or stadiums full of people.
  • Flying only in Class G airspace unless authorized by the FAA.
  • For FPV drones, maintaining visual line-of-sight typically requires a spotter who keeps the drone in view while the pilot wears goggles.

Commercial Flying

If you plan to use an FPV drone for commercial purposes, such as filming for a project or inspecting infrastructure, you must obtain a Remote Pilot Certificate under FAA Part 107. The process involves passing an aeronautical knowledge test at an FAA-approved testing center. This certification covers understanding of airspace classification, weather sources, radio communication procedures, and emergency procedures.

Fly an FPV Drone

Do You Need a Ham License to Fly FPV Drones?

Beyond the FAA’s requirements, FPV drone pilots often use powerful video transmitters that exceed the power limits allowed for unlicensed use on the 5.8 GHz band typically used for drone video feeds. To legally operate these transmitters, you need an Amateur Radio (Ham) License from the Federal Communications Commission (FCC).

The official answer to the question of whether you really need a ham license to fly FPV is yes, you need at least a Level 1: Technician’s licence to legally operate an FPV drone.

Most FPV VTX (Video Transmitter) systems function in the 5.8 GHz ham radio frequencies, which are commonly found between 5650 MHz and 5925 MHz. The FCC Part 97 rules, also referred to as amateur radio or ham radio regulations, govern these frequencies.

If you use these frequencies without the proper authorization, you risk fines and possibly even jail time.

Certain FPV systems make use of FCC Part 15 approved hardware. It is not necessary to have a ham radio license to use these systems. For example, the DJI FPV drone uses particular channels on Part 15 to function. But even with these devices—like the DJI FPV—if you want to operate them in high-power settings, you’ll need a ham radio license.

The Video TX/RX system is the main part of FPV drones that can call for an amateur radio license. Typically, these parts function on the 900MHz, 5 GHz, and 2.4 GHz frequencies. It might be permitted to use some devices in these frequencies without a license. Nonetheless, the FCC’s Part 97 regulations grant amateur radio operators unique rights that permit the modification and augmentation of equipment operating on these frequencies. This implies that you can lawfully operate over greater distances and with greater power.

Apart from ensuring your legality, this will enhance your skills in the pastime and provide you with an opportunity to delve deeper into the realm of amateur radio. Before using any FPV drones, we advise that you pass your ham radio license exam. In the majority of cases, you will need to have at least your Technician Level license.

Which Ham License Do You Need for FPV Drones?

Ham radio licenses for FPV are granted at several levels. But all you really need to do to legally fly an FPV drone is obtain a Technician Class license. In the 2.4 GHz and 5.8 GHz bands, licensees of the Technician Class are granted full privileges. This makes it possible for you to employ transmitters with up to 1 W of output power. The kinds of ham radio licenses offered are as follows:

  • Technician Class license: VHF and UHF access is provided by a technician license, which is ideal for beginning to use handheld radios.
  • General License: An hamradio license at the General Class level provides access to numerous HF bands, enabling both domestic and international communication.
  • Amateur Extra License: The FCC’s highest amateur level is called Amateur Extra License. Along with other exclusive rights, it grants you access to all frequencies allotted to the Amateur Service, including extra high-frequency bands.
Do You Need a Ham License to Fly an FPV Drone

Benefits of a Ham Radio License for FPV Drones

There are numerous benefits to obtaining a ham radio license, particularly for FPV drone enthusiasts. Here are some of the advantages:

  • Enhanced Communication: With a ham radio license, you can communicate with other pilots, especially useful when flying in groups or navigating through areas with restricted airspace.
  • Improved Range and Reliability: Ham radio frequencies offer better range and reliability compared to traditional frequencies used by most FPV equipment, ensuring clearer and more consistent communication.
  • Legal and Responsible Operation: Operating with a ham radio license demonstrates a commitment to legal and responsible drone operation, fostering positive relationships with other RC enthusiasts and the general public.
  • Exploration and Experimentation: Obtaining a ham radio license opens up a world of possibilities for radio communication and experimentation, allowing you to explore various frequencies and modes of operation.
  • Access to Exclusive Frequencies: Licensed pilots gain access to certain frequencies and modes of operation that are not available to unlicensed individuals, expanding the scope of your FPV drone activities.
  • Technical Skill Development: Pursuing a ham radio license provides an opportunity to develop technical skills and deepen your understanding of radio communication principles.

In summary, acquiring a ham radio license for FPV drone flying not only ensures compliance with FCC regulations but also enriches your flying experience and unlocks exciting new opportunities for exploration and enjoyment.

How to Get a Ham License for FPV Drones?

Obtaining a Technician Class Ham license involves passing an examination that covers basic regulations, operating practices, and electronics theory. With this license, you can legally use the higher-powered transmitters necessary for enhanced FPV drone operations, allowing for greater range and reliability.

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