Training Commercial Drone Pilots

N.W. Light Sport Aviation Training Commercial Drone Pilots

Doug Maas, President, Western Sport Pilot Association

Mark Martin, CFI, DPE President, N.W. Light Sport Aviation

The Western Sport Pilot Association has offered a 12 day accelerated Powered Parachute Sport Pilot training course for several years. Recently this course has drawn interest from a surprising and entirely new group of aspiring pilots. That is Commercial Drone operators. No longer just a new simple toy, these commercial drones and their use is exploding around the world.

drone 1The reasons for drawing commercial drone operators to a Powered Parachute training course is interesting and is a sign of an entirely new market for Light Sport instructors everywhere. Drones have become very sophisticated flying machines.  And  they do in fact share the airspace with everything else that flies.  Thus the Federal Aviation Administration is involved in establishing the rules and regulations for operating them.

Since late May 2014, the Federal Aviation Administration has been accepting petitions for exemption to fly unmanned aircraft systems commercially in the National Airspace System, which is allowed under Section 333 of the FAA Modernization and Reform Act of 2012. The agency granted its first exemptions on Sept. 25, 2014. Since the onset, the FAA has received over 1,000 petitions as of the end of April 2015 and granted about 250.

Under this grant of exemption, a PIC must hold either an airline transport, commercial, private, recreational, or sport pilot certificate. The PIC must also hold a current FAA airman medical certificate or a valid U.S. driver’s license issued by a state, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, a territory, a possession, or the Federal government. The PIC must also meet the flight review requirements specified in 14 CFR §61.56 in an aircraft in which the PIC is rated on his or her pilot certificate.drone 2

So the bottom line is that if you want to operate a Drone Commercially, you must have a real pilot’s license.  However, there is no specification for what type of aircraft your pilot certificate qualifies you to fly!  You can quickly see where this leads.  Most of the potential commercial drone operators have no pilot’s license.  And when they begin to investigate the time and resource requirements to earn a pilot’s license their interest naturally turns towards the quickest, and least cost.  And frankly there isn’t any better deal out there than earning a Sport Pilot License in a powered parachute.

N.W. Light Sport Aviation LLC, an affiliate of Western Sport Pilot Association was contacted by James Sykes and Jessar Nygard, owners of Aerial Pro Films, a Los Angeles based Aerial photo production company in July. Website: . After learning the price and requirements both signed up for the twelve day accelerated Sport Pilot powered parachute course.

3148 morning takeoffThe accelerated sport pilot course has sometimes been described as a “boot camp”.  Due to the amount of material, flying and ground instruction that is required each day usually starts just as the sun is coming up and can last well into the evenings. The course requires a minimum of ten hours of dual flight training with an FAA CFI (certified flight instructor), at least two hours of solo flight time, a successful passing score on the FAA Sport Pilot written test and finally a successful practical test with an FAA Sport Pilot Examiner.

A successful accelerated course is a real team effort. It requires a student who is willing to do the hard work, along with at least one qualified instructor to work them through the flying and ground lessons, and the availability of a Light Sport examiner.  N.W. Light Sport Aviation, based out of Arlington Washington is one of the few locations in the United States with the equipment, personnel and qualifications to be able to offer the course. Mark Martin is the owner of N.W. Light Sport and is the lead instructor and also an FAA Sport Pilot Examiner.  Mark currently has two instructor partners, Paul Beam and Grant Smith.

Here is an example of the content for the course.

sport pilot course

jessar and james and paul

Paul Beam, CFI (Center) with Jessar (Left) and James (Right)

 James and his business partner Jessar successfully completed the course and earned their Sport Pilot certificate in the two week schedule for the course and became two of the first commercial drone pilots on the West Coast to earn this achievement.

Drew Roberts, another commercial operator out of the Southern California area quickly followed James and Jessar.  And Drew earned his Sport Pilot license in September. And there are now two other applicants in the process of scheduling with Mark and his team.




Mark Martin, Examiner (right) congratulates James after successful Flight Test

Mark Martin, Examiner (right) congratulates James after successful Flight Test


The Powered Parachute sport pilot course offered by N.W. Light Sport Aviation is priced at $4795 and includes all materials, ground lessons, flight lessons, use of N.W. Light Sport aircraft and facilities, and the FAA written and practical tests.  Their cost does not include food and lodging.

Mark Martin "clips" the latest drone pilot student, Drew Roberts

Mark Martin “clips” the latest drone pilot student, Drew Roberts



You can learn more about the Western Sport Pilot Association at  and N.W. Light Sport Aviation LLCs website.


Washington, Arlington
Arlington Airport
N.W. Light Sport  
Mark Martin, SP, CFI, SPE  (206) 713-9007
Paul Beam, SP, CFI
You can learn more about drones and the requirements to operate commercially at or