Want to discuss May 4 Memorandum? Educational Use of Unmanned Aircraft Systems?

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As a high school teacher, I am very excited about the May 4 Memorandum from the FAA regarding Educational Use of Unmanned Aircraft Systems. Unfortunately, my jail-house lawyer skills are lacking, so I am curious to see what others get from reading it. https://www.faa.gov/uas/regulations_policies/media/Interpretation-Educational-Use-of-UAS.pdf

My take-away is:

If I am a public school and

  • The course using the UAS is not specifically a course on UAS, but uses the UAS only as a part of the curriculum.
  • Students involved are enrolled in the class.
  • Students or staff are not directly compensated.
  • The instructor doesn't fly the UAS, except to avoid calamity

then, :

  • Students fly as hobbyists
  • Staff only flies in event student loses control. (not sure how I save the UAS, if I never get to practice)
  • The program can be compensated as long as student and staff are not.

Still hazy on whether I need come type of FAA certificate or does the memorandum say I am good to go based on the memorandum?

I registered my UAS as "Public Entity" instead of "hobbyist" as per advice of FAA UAS hotline.

What is your take-away?

PS. at some point, it might be nice to have and "education" category.

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@Bill Kaiser


So here is my take away after going through and reading the memorandum:

As to your understanding of the course curricula, section 336(a) outlines five major points that must be fulfilled be to covered by it, First is that it is strictly for hobby or recreational use. Second it is operated under a community based rule set (AMA, etc). third is the size limit (55 lbs), than comes non interference with manned operations, and lastly the 5 mile radius of an airport stipulation.  

The FAA goes on to define "hobby" and " recreational" use "... students operating UAS as one component of a curricula pertaining to principles of flight, aerodynamics, and airplane design and construction promotes UAS safe use and advances UAS-Related Knowledge, understanding and skills."  So your interpretation on the course is pretty close, to have a course that solely focuses on flying UAS would require a 333, and COA, however, if the course is instead designed as an introduction to flight, flight mechanics, or design; than utilization and learning to fly the UAS become part of the curriculum. If the course for example covered the history of flight, principles of flight, and applications of these principles utilizing UAS, students would be under section 336 and would be considered utilizing the UAS for "Hobby" or "recreational" uses. 

As to the level of faculty interaction the FAA goes on to say "... Faculty teaching a course or curricula that uses unmanned aircraft as a component of that course may provide limited assistance to students operating unmanned aircraft as part of that course without changing the character of the student's operation as a hobby or recreational activity, or requiring FAA authorization for the faculty member to operate. The FAA finds that de minimis limited instructor participation in student operation of UAS as part of coursework does not rise to the level of faculty conducting an operation outside of the hobby or recreational construct."

If you have designed the course so that it meets the requirements set forth in section 336 than you should not need any 333, or COA as you are operating under the shelter of 336 for hobby and recreational uses. If however you would like to be able to do research, have the students do research, or operate more hands on during class a 333 and COA will need to be met. It should be noted that it is the students responsibility to ensure that all provisions in section 336 are being met. (especially notifying local airports!

In terms of you getting your practice in, this clarification of section 336 stipulates that you may not operate while being compensated, this means for the time you are officially working at school, however after you have finished the day and are no longer being paid to work there is no stipulation that would prevent you from flying at your school so long as you are also complying with section 336. It should be noted that this time would be for you, and should not be educational time or with the students as this very quickly could become non recreational usage, however, if it is you getting your hours in under 336 following the rules as prescribed you would be under the hobby and recreational use clauses.

This is an interesting section as they give an example in another section that an instructor taking over to prevent a crash is ok; you are not limited to this alone. the goal is to have the teacher interaction maintain a level of de minimis participation (this essentially means trivial, or so small it is not noteworthy). This does not preclude you from taking over to show the proper execution of the maneuver the student is attempting, so long as your control is limited to that ("faculty at these educational institutions teaching such curricula may assist students with their model aircraft operations under section 336, provided that the operations are used to teach such curricula to students enrolled in those courses and the faculty member's participation is limited to de minimis participation"). 

It may not be ideal but it is at least a step in the right direction for educational use!

I will check in with @Alan Perlman about adding a tab to the forums specifically for educational purposes,




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Thanks Scott, I think my program should be in very high compliance. The drones are a unit of a computer science curriculum. It is not a "learn to fly drones" class. Any other classes that use them will be part of the curriculum, but not THE curriculum.


In terms of you getting your practice in, this clarification of section 336 stipulates that you may not operate while being compensated, this means for the time you are officially working at school, however after you have finished the day and are no longer being paid to work there is no stipulation that would prevent you from flying at your school so long as you are also complying with section 336.

I hadn't thought of the instructor section like that. Believe me, I need a lot of practice. I suppose I could fly during school hours too, as long as I am "testing" the "flight readiness" of the UAS.

What do you think of the notion, that students and staff cannot be directly compensated? It looks like there is wiggle room there for donations to be made to the program. For example, a local non-profit might want us to shoot some aerial video to promote their cause. i.e..Habitat for Humanity or something. Do you think I can send my computer science student out to get some footage, give it to the non-profit and the non-profit donates to the computer science program. The memorandum doesn't seem to rule out compensating somebody as long as it is not the students or the staff directly.

Here's some links I found where lawyers and such address the memorandum.

Hey, If we can get that Education thread going, I can tell you how, last Friday, two students crashed two drones in 3 minutes. Luckily, both survived, even though one got wet and the other fell about 15 feet. Oh, and the students survived too.

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@Bill Kaiser i had another thought that will help with the demonstration of maneuvers and things that hadn't crossed my mind, you could create a series of videos of you performing the videos as well as explaining them so the students can still see the demonstration ( i plan to do this now).  Also, if you are flying during school hours, but it is not in any direct relation to the course you should be alright as this would constitute your own hobby use; say if your school would let you practice, or for that matter lesson plan during a prep. Since there is no implicit/or explicit compensation for this time utilizing a drone (you're on a prep and not flying for the course with students).

I would be concerned about any kind of quid pro quo set up involving a student; even though the funds are technically a donation and in theory could have nothing to do with the flight it is dangerously close to compensation as the funds will work their way back to the student (at least in terms of the money being spent on materials for the student). There may be wiggle room, i am not sure, though in most states to truly be considered a donation there can be no expectation and/or transfer of goods or services. To be honest this can also be a bit confusing as buying say a $10,000 table at a charity event could be considered a donation; even though you are technically receiving dinner, and what ever else occurs. That being said i am all for active student involvement in the community and that seems like it lends itself nicely to a cumulative project so may be there is a way you can work this out as part of community outreach/engagement. It might also be able to be accomplished through grant funds...

Yikes sounds like a good story ill get on that so we can hear all about it.

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Great write-up by the way. I tend to read these things with rose colored glasses. I agree with you about the  compensation part.


UAS may be used to conduct demonstrations at schools Or other community-sponsored events provided the person operating the aircraft is (l) not compensated, or (2) any compensation received is neither directly nor incidentally related to that person's operation of the aircraft at such events.

I tend to stop reading things when I see what I want to see. Part 2 pretty much puts the kibosh on any dreams of funding the program with drone money. Soliciting donations would certainly get one in hot water.

Side note: I wrote a draft press release today. We plan to notify the local media of our program and get some attention for the program. It's exciting because I think we are the first high school in Montana with a drone program.


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Fantastic idea! Especially the angle on being the first, this not only paints your district in a great light as an educational innovator; but it also puts you in a spotlight and prime place to ask for donations. Love it, Now with the exposure you may find that that is the right time to go out and contact possible donors, think drone companies, tech companies, and others in the STEAM fields that are local as they may want to be able to help out , donate time or money or materials in an effort to give back to the community as well as gain some nice good will and publicity. Dont exclude smaller ones and photographers as well youd be surprised who has strong  ties to the community and is looking for a way to give back. Reaching out to your local chamber of commerce is also a good idea as they are a community based organization with lots of contacts in the business world locally. If you were to get donations and develop a relationship with these companies (it may not be a lot but every cent helps) this may naturally lend itself to having a student go out and a do a real world project at a company that you have a relationship with, heck you might even find one to sponsor a field trip or time at their office (any software, hardware, or aviation companies, local airports around?) If the donation has nothing to do with the later event it should not be an issue as there is not a quid pro quo.

The business could donate its property to allow the students to do field work that contributes directly to their understanding and comprehension of their software at work in real world applications. Also let us know when the press release goes live that may be a great little article to feature on here.

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