Becoming an International Drone Pilot

Becoming an International Drone Pilot

I jumped through a whole lot of hoops and paperwork to become an international drone pilot. Getting clearance to fly as a foreign operator in Canada meant I had to pass an in-person verbal and practical exam at the airport. I had to prove I was knowledgeable about airspace restrictions and demonstrate safe flying techniques in front of an instructor. Thankfully, I passed with flying colors and was able to complete my paperwork. Two days later I received my permit to fly as a foreign operator and in restricted airspaces. I was ready to fly by the middle of my second week in Halifax.

Landing a DJI Matrice 300 drone at Shannon Park Lookout near The Narrows in Bedford Basin.

My first test flight went well. I scouted out a launching area at a public park overlooking The Narrows – a section of the Bedford Basin where my collaborator Dr. Ruth Musgrave predicted we would find interesting mixing features in the water. This came with a few potential hazards – the park was right next to overhead power lines and beside a bridge (Figure 1). With very careful planning, and safety procedures in hand, I was able to launch and land the drone safely. For my second test flight, I attached a camera to the drone and collected my first drone imagery in Canada.

Three weeks later and I’ve finished up my field work! I’ve flown two drones, with two specialized cameras, and at four different sites around Bedford Basin in Halifax, Canada. One of these was a dive boat that required hand launching and catching the drone!

In the end, I completed 53 successful drone flights, collected 11 hours of footage, and trained 6 different field partners to be my ‘visual observers’ for air traffic and crowd control. I couldn’t have done any of this work without the help of fellow graduate students at Dalhousie University who volunteered to come out with me in the field. Thank you everyone!

Thermal drone image of a warm plume with turbulent features, collected in The Narrows section of Bedford Basin.

I’ve compiled a few quick look videos of my footage so far that show small scale turbulent features (1 to 10s of meters in size) in the Basin (Figure 2). There’s still a lot of work to do: I need to figure out how to ship all of my equipment back and analyze all of my data to describe the time scales and length scales of these features.

While not working I’ve spent most of my time eating my weight in local oysters and socializing with some incredible people in Halifax. I joined a city softball league and learned that Santa Barbara isn’t the only city with a housing crisis! I’m certainly going to miss my daily walk to work past the Heritage Houses with their charismatic trim and markets with all the fresh seafood and blueberries I could possibly eat. Thank you Halifax!

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