Cellpic Sunday – 3 October 2021

Fargo, North Dakota.

The drone in today’s Cellpic Sunday is under the control of a licensed drone pilot. I got involved with flying drones through the Civil Air Patrol (CAP) as these unmanned aircraft are becoming part of the search and rescue tools that can be deployed by members of CAP. Technically, our drones are defined by the Federal Aviation Administration as sUAS aircraft (small Unmanned Aerial Systems.) Note the capitalization or lack thereof, is correct in the acronym. Aircraft that weigh less than 55 pounds (25 kg) fall into this class.

So what’s with the buckets? Inside each bucket is a target. The bucket sets are placed 10 feet (3 m) apart, a launching pad, start point, and endpoints are also spaced at 10 feet intervals providing a 50 foot (15 m) course. The purpose of the system is to certify that a drone pilot is capable of maneuvering through a specific sequence of altitude and direction changes and in the process deliver multiple takeoffs and landings, and over 30 images of the targets in the bottom of each bucket.


Members who wish to fly CAP drones must accomplish this proficiency test once a year to continue to be authorized to operate drones at CAP activities. Those who wish to use the drones in search and rescue activities must also have a current FAA-issued Part 107 license (FAA certification to fly sUAS aircraft).

At the beginning of the CAP exercise, the examiner starts a timer and the applicant launches the drone. At altitudes of 10 and 20 feet (specifically), the examiner calls out buckets by number and letter. The image of Bucket 4A, above, is an example. I took this photo with my cell phone, but the applicant must use the camera in the drone from 10 feet and in the right angle to capture the entire target.

The maneuvers and 36 images must be completed in 10 minutes. Deductions for improperly captured targets, missed landing points, or failure to complete the course in 10 minutes result in a lowered score. Perfection is not required, but a minimum standard is defined for a passing score.

If you fly a drone and wish to improve your skill and precision, you can build a set of these buckets using 2x4s, standard hardware, and 5-gallon paint buckets. Details on the course are available at the National Institute of Standards and Technology. The Basic Proficiency Evaluation for Remote Pilots is available here.

Processing was the usual trip through Adobe Lightroom. To get a better view of the image in 2K HD, click on the image to see it on my Flickr site.

I encourage fellow bloggers to create their own Cellpic Sunday posts. I never have a specific topic for this feature, and the only rules are that the photo must be captured with a cell phone, iPad, or another mobile device… If you have an image from a drone, that’s acceptable as well. The second rule is to link your challenge-response to this post or leave a comment here with a link to your post in the comment.

John Steiner


  1. Fascinating stuff, John. Glad to see this sort of program exists. In my prior professional life I produced webinars for large military-style UAS systems and the proliferation of consumer-grade drones offers exciting applications such as search and rescue. Good stuff. Best, Babsje

    • Recreational drone pilots now also have a smaller written test governing basic rules and courtesies, but it’s a little more work for those who might use their drone for commercial purposes.
      I don’t use my drone commercially, but use for Civil Air Patrol requires the commercial license.

    • The local Civil Air Patrol unit has a complete set for giving the evaluations. Routinely, a small group of remote pilots set up the course for practice, especially when getting ready for the competency test.

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