The National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) has developed standard test methods for sUAS that can be used to evaluate drone capabilities and remote pilot proficiency. These tests have been adopted by ASTM International and NFPA 2400 to support training with measures of remote pilot proficiency. They have been replicated across the country for credentialing the Civil Air Patrol, statewide departments of public safety (Texas and Colorado, Virginia is likely next), and Canada along with several other countries.
The NIST sUAS tests include:
Open Test Lane for flying at safe altitudes in open environments to identify objects on or near the ground. This is the most basic test lane for evaluating maneuvering and payload functionality.
Obstructed Test Lane for flying in closer proximity to objects to inspect detailed features.
Confined Test Lane for flying indoors or in other confined spaces as appropriate for specific missions (like post-fire scene investigation)
The most basic NIST Open Test Lane and related operational scenarios are incredibly cheap and easy to fabricate. There is an online overview course hosted on the FAA Safety Team (FAAST) website with an associated certificate of completion for those that pass the online quiz.
NIST’s sUAS test methods are currently the only standardized approach to train emergency responders and others to safely operate their drones, and then quantitatively measure their resulting proficiency. Many organizations have incorporated these NIST tests as part of their process because of the quantitative, repeatable, and trackable results. The NIST tests are used to develop basic maneuvering skills, and they fortify key aviation concepts such as Crew Resource Management (CRM), Operational Risk Mitigation (ORM), and Aeronautical Decision Making (ADM). The sequence of increasingly difficult and complex test lanes provide evaluations of advanced skills applicable to various mission specific flight procedures. Pilots learn how to safely conduct test trials to develop Tactical Beyond Visual Line of Sight (TBVLOS) by flying instruments only with their back turned to the test lane (with a visual observer), and to conduct night operations with illumination from the drone while performing the tests. The results support credentialing of remote pilots at every skill level and enable safe and effective use of drones during emergency responses of all kinds.