Do You Need a License To Fly RC Planes in the US?

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If you’ve recently acquired an RC plane or drone, you probably want to start flying it immediately. But you might not be sure what the regulations for flying these planes are, especially if you live in the US. With the popularity of drones rising, regulatory bodies have to update their rules, and it’s your responsibility to stay up to date.

You need a license to fly an RC plane or drone for your business, and as of June 2021, those flying RC planes recreationally must take a free knowledge and safety test online through an FAA-approved partner. You must carry proof that you have taken and passed the test while out flying your plane. 

Do You Need a License To Fly RC Planes in the US?

Even though new technology is constantly changing the laws, knowing where to look for these changes is half the battle. This article will go into the different rules surrounding licenses and registrations of RC planes and drones and offer the appropriate links to the required test sites. 

RC Planes That Currently Need a License

Radio-controlled planes can be controlled by a hand-held remote transmitter and are classified as Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS).  UAS includes not only RC planes but drones and anything else over .55 pounds (249.47 grams) that flies. UAS are required to be registered with the United States Federal Aviation Administration, or FAA.

If you own a UAS, it must be registered under either Part 107, if you’re using your drone in your business, or the Exception for Recreational Flyers, if you just want to fly for fun. 

Let’s explore both of these regulations below, but keep in mind that these rules often change, so it’s best to do a quick search of your own before you take your RC plane out for a spin.

Currently Requires a License: Part 107

Part 107 applies to drones that are used for commercial enterprises such as businesses and nonprofits, as well as for educational purposes. Essentially, if it’s meant to generate profit or business, you will need both a license and registration under Part 107 to operate your plane.  

Furthermore, if your drone is being registered under the Part 107 rules, you’ll need to get a certification or a remote pilot license. Most RC planes will fall under the Part 107 regulation, but not all of them, so consider what you’re using your RC plane for before taking the test to get a license.

What Kinds of Planes & Drones Fall Under Part 107?

If your plane is being used in your business, Part 107 rules will apply to you. 

However, there are other instances where a drone or plane will be used in a non-business capacity but will still be subject to Part 107, including but not limited to . Some instances where Part 107 will apply are:

  • A wedding or event videographer
  • A filmmaker
  • An appraiser or landscaper
  • An educator (using a plane for instructional purposes)
  • A student making a school project
  • A hobbyist who flies their plane for events or shows

If you’re still unsure if Part 107 applies to your drone or plane, check using the FAA’s User Identification Tool.

How To Register RC Plane & Obtain License Under Part 107

To get clearance to fly your plane under Part 107 regulations, first read through the summary of regulations that tell you what kinds of planes fall under Part 107, which can be found here.

Next, you’ll need to become an FAA-Certified Remote Pilot. There are a few simple steps to receive your certification:

  1. Study for the test. There are several resources on the FAA’s website that will help you pass, including their Policy Document Library.
  2. Get an FAA Tracking Number (FTN). You’ll need to create an Integrated Airman Certification and Rating Application (IACRA) to enter yourself into the FAA’s system.
  3. Make an appointment to take the test with your local FAA-approved Knowledge Testing Center, which you can find here. You’ll need an FTN to access the site.
  4. Pass the “Unmanned Aircraft General – Small (UAG)” test with a qualified test administrator.
  5. Complete FAA Form 8710-13 to receive your certificate.

Once you have your certification, you can go ahead and register your RC plane with the FAA using the following steps:

  1. Log on to the FAADroneZone.  
  2. Click on the Register button under “I Fly under Part 107 or as a Public Aircraft.”
  3. Follow the instructions on the website, which will include a confirmation email.
  4. Mark your plane with its registration number.

Now you are all set to fly your plane!

If you exclusively use your plane for recreation, this won’t apply to your plane. The Exception for Recreational Flyers will be explored more in the next section

Currently Does Not Require a License: Exception for Recreational Flyers

If you own an RC plane just for fun and never plan on using it in a professional capacity, you currently don’t need a license. 

However, you do now need to pass a safety and knowledge test through an FAA approved partner in order to fly your plane which will leave you with a certificate that needs to be on your person when flying. 

The FAA announced plans to begin administering a recreational RC plane and drone pilots test called the Recreational UAS Safety Test, or TRUST in 2020, and it went into effect in June 2021. 

The test is completely free of charge and must be taken by an approved partner. The certificate can be printed out or downloaded, but if you lose it, you will need to take the test again.

What Kinds of Planes & Drones Fall Under the Exception for Recreational Flyers?

If you are a hobbyist only, your drone will likely fall under the Exception for Recreational Flyers. 

You can find instructions on how to register the plane on the Exception for Recreational Flyers page.

Again, if you are using your plane in any professional capacity at all, such as using it to take photos for your website or a charity, you will want to get a certification and registration under Part 107.

The only instance that you’ll register your plane under the Exception for Recreational Flyers rules is if you’re using the plane for your own personal use and enjoyment with no intent to use it in a business capacity.

How To Register RC Plane Under Exception for Recreational Flyers

Once you have taken and passed the TRUST exam, you can register your RC plane for recreational use. 

The process for registering your RC plane as a recreational flyer is just as simple as registering for your plane under Part 107. Register your plane by following these steps:

  1. Log on to the FAADroneZone.  
  2. Click on the Register button under “I Fly under The Exception for Recreational Flyers.”
  3. Follow the instructions on the website, which will include a confirmation email.
  4. Mark your plane with its registration number.

And now you’re all set to fly your plane!

Recreational UAS Safety Test or TRUST

Now that this new law is in place, you can find the resources available on this page. As mentioned before the test will be available to take online at no cost and you can take the test as many times as you need until you pass.

For more information, check out this video which features information on who should take the test and how:

The test should take no more than 30 minutes and will cover basic safety guidelines for flying RC planes. You’ll need to pass four quizzes, but again, you can retake this test as many times as you need to.

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