GI Bill: what drone education classes are covered?

Next up in our “Ask Drone Girl” series is about the GI Bill, and what sorts of drone-related education it might cover. If you have a question for Drone Girl, contact her here.

I plan on getting my Part 107 license. What courses are offered 100% online, and how can I apply to use my GI Bill?

Getting your Part 107 license is an exciting step! Congrats on making the commitment toward what’s effectively becoming a certified drone pilot!

Now you’ve asked a two-parter question. The first part has a straightforward answer. The second part requires a little more parsing of fine print — on top of determining what exact GI Bill eligibility you have (as well as the specific benefits you qualify for based on your circumstances).

We’ll start with the easy one:

100% online Part 107 courses

What Part 107 courses are 100% online? Luckily, numerous reputable institutions offer comprehensive Part 107 license courses entirely online.

Some charge on a subscription basis, which typically means less money upfront (but the downfall being you won’t have access forever. Others charge a one-time fee for lifetime access, which is nice if you need more time to go through the materials — or you simply want to brush up on what you learned when it comes time to renew your Part 107 certificate.

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Drone Pilot Ground School TheDroneGirl

I’ve extensively reviewed all sorts of Part 107 training programs and have outlined the best Part 107 online test prep courses. In the spirit of saving you a click, here are some of my top picks:

That said, none of the above recommendations qualify to receive government funds through the GI Bill. The GI Bill can only be used at accredited institutions of higher education such as colleges or universities — or by non-accredited training programs that have been approved by the Department of Veterans Affairs.

But that doesn’t mean you’re out of luck in using your GI benefits to cover your drone education. Read on to learn more: 

Using the GI bill to pay for drone education and certification

If you’re a veteran or eligible dependent, you can utilize your GI Bill benefits to cover certain aspects of drone education and certification. As is the case for understanding your GI bill coverage for any sort of education, here’s how to understand what you qualify for and how to apply:

  1. Determine your GI Bill eligibility: Visit the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) website to determine your GI Bill eligibility, how much of your benefits you’ve used and how much you have left to use for your education or training (the website requires you be logged in to your verified account).
  2. Verify that the institution is approved: From there, ensure the program you’re applying for is actually approved by the VA for GI Bill funding. An easy way to do this is by using the VA’s GI Bill® Comparison Tool, which not only displays accredited schools, but allows you to compare them against each other on factors including cost, length and type of program, as well as cautionary information such as student complaints or other previous issues that have brought legal scrutiny. In addition, selecting a specific school under that tool allows you to get granular and calculate your individual benefits by inputting details about your specific scenario, such as military status.
  3. Actually apply for GI Bill benefits: You won’t get the money unless you actually apply, which can be done in person at a VA regional office or by mail. Learn more about applying here.
  4. Enroll in a program: Once your GI Bill benefits are approved, you can enroll in your course of choice. In some cases, the VA will directly pay the institution for your tuition and fees. In others, you’ll pay out of pocket and then money is paid out to you.

An 100% online drone courses covered by the GI Bill: Clemson Drone

Your best bet for an online, Part 107 course that’s also covered by the GI bill is over at Clemson Drone. They offer an online, self-paced Part 107 Exam Prep course that takes an estimated eight to 16 hours to complete. But that’s not all on their lineup of online courses — they’ve got five total. Their courses are:

  • Part 107 Exam Prep ($300): This online, self-directed course prepares you for the FAA CFR 14 Part 107 knowledge test to earn your remote pilot certificate. 
  • UAS Essentials ($1,800): This online course includes the Part 107 Exam Prep content, but adds on a more structured class format with additional teachings that aren’t so self-paced. That includes flight training via a simulator, plus training on 3D mapping, modeling and surveys in a format that’s graded by a human instructor who delivers customized, unique feedback.
  • UAS Essentials Plus ($2,300): This course offers all of the above, but also adds on weekly online zoom calls with the professor, with an add-on APSA flight proficiency exam (which might provide you a leg up in the job market when you pass it).
  • Applied UAS Thermography ($1,500): This is another self-paced, online course that digs deep into thermograms, post-production and image tuning. Coursework is reviewed by an actual professor.
  • UAS Vocation ($3,500): This course includes pretty much everything you need to get a job as a serious drone pilot, besides the job itself. When you complete the course, you’ll earn a FAA Remote Pilot Certificate, APSA BPERP Flight Proficiency Certification, and the Level 1 UAS Thermography Certificate. 

All five of those classes are entirely online, which fits the criteria you laid out.

Just note that only Clemson’s UAS Vocation course has been approved by the SSA for VA Chapter 33 benefits (so enrolling in just the $300 Part 107 course won’t cut it for coverage). The UAS Vocation course is also eligible for tuition assistance through the Army Ignited program. 

That said, I haven’t reviewed any of the Clemson courses. I opted out of reviewing it in my Best Part 107 test prep guide because — besides already being more expensive than the others — it didn’t have as robust offerings as the others on my review list. Even the most expensive drone course I recommend, Drone Pilot Ground School, costs just $249 with coupon code DRONEGIRL50 but includes more practice exams (five versus two through Clemson) as well as longer access (two years versus 10 weeks with Clemson).

Given that, I wouldn’t recommend Clemson’s course for most people — but for folks who have GI Bill coverage, it’s a different ballgame considering you’ll likely qualify for coverage to enroll in the $3,500 UAS Vocation course.

Using VA benefits to cover the Clemson Drone UAS Vocation course

The Clemson UAS Vocation course is approved as a Preparatory Course for eligible students using Chapter 33, post 9/11 Department of Veteran Affairs (VA) education benefits. The course is 100% reimbursed to veterans upon completion.

If enrolling in the UAS Vocational course from Clemson Drones feels like the right move for you, then take these four steps to be reimbursed: 

  1. Confirm that you are eligible for Chapter 33 “preparatory course” benefits and have remaining entitlement to cover the $3,500 tuition fee either online or by calling the VA at 1-888-442-4551. Just note that the Clemson Drone Course is listed as “LACAS-UNMANNED AIRCRAFT SYS VOCATION” which is a different facility code than Clemson University. 
  2. Enroll in the course on the Clemson Drone site and select the dropdown option indicating you are “Eligible for 100% VA reimbursement.” Save your receipt.
  3. Complete the course over eight weeks (Clemson Drone will provide you with an enrollment verification letter).
  4. Complete and submit VA Form 22-10272 and VA Form 22-0803 for reimbursement.  

Other ways to learn about drones under the GI Bill

You specified online Part 107 courses, but that’s not all the drone training you can find through the GI Bill.

There’s also the Drone Workforce Solutions Drone School, which is based out of Wilmington, Delaware. They offer a range of in-person drone training courses that are largely specified to certain industries. For example, the Agriculture and Forestry Drone Collected Imagery Training Course teaches students how to use cloud-based systems and remote sensing to monitor and manage crops. The course entails 20 clock hours and has a tuition fee of $3,850.

University of Missouri senior Jaime Cooke participating in the university’s Drone Journalism course in 2013.

Then there are other major universities that offer their own drone courses. For example, you might enroll at the University of Missouri (yes, I’m a graduate) and take the very class I took in drones (that’s Drone Journalism Course 7442). That course is specific to teaching students how to use drones for journalistic use but it also prepares students to pass the Part 107 test and involves hands-on flight training. That’s not the only drone course at the University of Missouri. You might pursue a degree (or at least take classes) in the field of Agricultural Systems Technology, where there are courses that teach about using drones for precision agriculture, or for precision pesticide application.

Should you opt to use your GI benefits to enroll in an advanced degree, like a Bachelor’s of Journalism from the University of Missouri for example, you could very well find yourself enrolling in a drone course.

Other universities have also offered drone courses, including Colorado State University’s 2-week online drone training program (though check if such programs are covered by your GI Bill benefits before enrolling).

Then there are other benefits you might also be able to take advantage of, including tutoring assistance (up to $100 per month, for an aggregate total of $1,200). If you’re seeking a career in drones, you might find it beneficial to not just have the knowledge from the Part 107 courses and actual drone flying experience — but to augment it with other digital skills, such as software development. The VET TEC program, which stands for Veteran Employment Through Technology Education Courses can cover tuition for approved courses in high-demand training areas such as computer programming, data processing and information science. Find out if you’re eligible here.

Have any veterans out there had success using their GI Bill benefits to further their drone education? Share your experiences in the comments below!

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