While photography is one of my great passions, it is not my only great passion. One of my other great passions is aviation and flight. This is why I have a private pilot certificate and why I am incorporating aerial/drone photography into my business. It is also one the reason why I volunteer time with Civil Air Patrol (CAP). For those that are not familiar, Civil Air Patrol is the Auxiliary of the United States Air Force and has three missions; Emergency Services, Aerospace Education, and Cadet Programs. I joined CAP as cadet in the 80’s and through them I was able to solo and started the journey to getting my Private Pilot Certificate. As does happen in life, when I started college followed by my career I drifted away for some time. I rejoined as an adult member in 2010, and have been in various leadership roles in the Seattle Squadron for the last 10 years. I have had many opportunities to fly with CAP, and last Saturday was the latest.
Last Saturday our group commander asked the squadron commanders from the group to meet up at Spruce Goose Cafe at the Jefferson County Airport in Port Townsend, Washington. Since I am the Deputy Commander for Seniors for my squadron, and likely the next squadron commander, my squadron commander asked if I would attend in his place. For those that are not aware, the normal way of getting from Seattle to Port Townsend either involves a boat (ferry) or a lot of driving and traffic (drive south to Tacoma, across the Tacoma Narrows Bridge, then north to the north end of the Kitsap Peninsula), neither of which not are great (ferry is mildly fun, but involves a lot of waiting). However, for us aviation people there is an easier way, which is FLY THERE!
In the aviation community, such a flight is referred to as the “$100 hamburger”, as flying someplace for lunch is quite popular amongst the pilot community. As the reference implies, this is not the cheapest way to get a hamburger, but definitely one of the funnest. The cost of the “$100 hamburger” has probably gone up as the the price of fuel and such has gone up, and may now actually be in the $200-$300 range, but does depend on what type of airplane your are flying. For me, this was going to be a “$0 hamburger” as CAP was picking up the cost of the flight, and the Group Commander was picking up lunch.
My CAP squadron is based at Boeing Field in Seattle, and we are the custodians of two aircraft, a Cessna 182 and a Cessna 172, both of what are G1000 (glass cockpit) aircraft. For the flight I would be tagging along with the Overlake Squadron Commander, and since neither of us are current in CAP aircraft we enlisted the services of a pilot member from the Overlake Squadron to fly us up there. I expected that I would be in the back seat, so I made sure to take my “big camera” with me so I could get some shots during the flight there and back.
The flight from Boeing Field to Jefferson County Airport is pretty short, only about 30 minutes, if that. Boeing Field is an interesting airport to fly in and out of as it is essentially right next to Seattle-Tacoma International (Sea-Tac), the major airport for Seattle, and also right next to Renton Municipal Airport. Boeing Field is one of the busiest General Aviation airports in the country. When you operate at Boeing Field, you will most definitely have large jets bound for Sea-Tac going over you. Myself and the Overlake Squadron Commander arrived at Boeing Field about 10am where our pilot was waiting for us ready to go, since he arrived early to preflight the plane and get it ready. Since our pilot had the plane all ready to go, all we had to do was load our stuff and be on our way. As I expected, I was relegated to the backseat, which I was fine with as the this airplane has a “camera window”, a small clear door in the rear side window that opens so you are not shooting through the “plexiglass” that is the side window.
Departing Boeing Field, I got some shots of Boeing Field and a Piper Meridian that was piloted by a good friend of mine that took off after us. As we made our way past Seattle I got some shots of not just the Seattle Skyline, but the construction for the new west approach to the SR-520 Bridge. Using my fisheye lens I got some shots looking out the front while we were on the ground at Boeing Field, and on short final to Port Townsend. Took the obligatory photo of a ferry and saw some interesting color patterns in the water is it met parts of the Kitsap Peninsula.
After meeting some new people, getting lunch, and talking about issues relevant to the group, we left to return to Boeing Field at about 3pm. At that time of day the light reflects off the water a bit differently giving a very nice photo. We flew the “Green Lake Approach” which was new for me. While I did my private pilot training at Boeing Field, it has been a while since I have flown in or out of there, and this was a new approach. It is interesting in that it puts you really close to the buildings on the non-water side of Seattle. I have flown along the Seattle waterfront many times, but this was different.
All in all, it was a great flight. Weather was great, air was smooth, food was good, and camaraderie was great. See the slide show below for all of the photos.
Drones are becoming much more ubiquitous and easier to fly, and as technology advances drones are being used more and more in commercial operations. In those situations the answer to the question in the title is pretty obvious. It is “YES!” If you are using a drone to make money, you need to obtain an FAA Part 107 Commercial Remote Pilot Certificate, a.k.a. “Commercial Drone License” or “Part 107 Certificate.”
If you are curious if someone has a Part 107 Certificate (or any other FAA certificate/rating for that matter), you can simply search for them on the FAA site at https://amsrvs.registry.faa.gov/airmeninquiry/ and see all of the certificates that they hold. For instance, if you search for me you will find that I currently hold not only a Remote Pilot certificate rated for “Small Unmanned Aerial Systems” (a.k.a. “Drone”), but I also hold a Private Pilot certificate rated for “Airplane Single Engine Land” and that my last Third Class Medical Certificate was in September 2015 and that it expired in September 2017 and that I currently fly as a Private Pilot under the FAA’s “Basic Med” rules (replacement for Third Class Medical Certificate). While I have done training for an Instrument Rating, I never completed it.
However, as you get into situations such as “I just use it supplement videos for my YouTube channel.”, or “I am just helping friend out and taking some photos and not getting paid.” In both of these cases you have to be very careful, and the FAA has made their position pretty clear.
As someone who also holds a Private Pilot Certificate, i.e. I fly small planes like a Cessna 172 for “fun”, when I did my Private Pilot training it was drilled into my head that “you CANNOT fly for compensation” and that the FAA’s view of compensation is different than what most people expect. As a Private Pilot you are taught things such as “If you are flying with passengers, you MUST pay for your share of the flight” and that your passengers are not allowed to cover all the costs of the flight (fuel, oil, flight time charges). For instance if I am flying with three passengers, I MUST pay for 25% of the cost of the flight, otherwise the flight could be considered “For Hire.” How they divide up the remaining 75% of the cost is irrelevant. Also the intent of the flight is important, and as a Private Pilot the flight can not be “in furtherance of a business” or “to gain favor from others.” For instance if my manager bought a car in Portland, and I decided to make a flight to Portland and offered to give them a ride to pick up their car, even though I paid for the entire flight, the FAA considers that “commercial” in nature as the intent of the flight is to potentially curry favor from my manager. Now, the order of events is very important in that example, as for instance if I had planned on the flight before finding out my manager bought the car and upon finding out about my manager’s purchase offered them a ride to pick up the car, that basically side steps the FAA’s rule, as I had intended/planned on the flight before finding out the information about my manager’s purchase and they are just tagging along for the ride.
In the YouTube channel scenario, if your channel is monetized, you are making money and thus you are required to have a Part 107 certificate. The FAA doesn’t care how much money you are making from YouTube, but the fact is you are making money and it is considered a commercial operation in the FAA’s eyes. Also, a lot of monetized YouTube channels are promoting products that the YouTuber is selling or endorsing products from other companies. Even though you may only get $5 (or less) from YouTube or if you get no monetary compensation from YouTube but you are using the drone photography or video to promote other products, they can also be deemed “commercial.”
In the situation where you have a drone and a friend asks if you would be a kind and take some pictures of their roof so that they can see what condition it is in, and you agree to do it at no cost. Even though you are not accepting a monetary payment, the FAA would still consider this a commercial flight. This reveals what the FAA truly considers “compensation.” The FAA has always considered things such as “goodwill” as compensation, i.e. I am conducting the flight to help someone out or get someone to think more favorably of me. In my spare time I volunteer with Civil Air Patrol (CAP), which is the non-profit volunteer auxiliary of the U.S. Air Force. CAP is known for flying small aircraft (Cessna 172s, 182s, 206s, etc.) for Search & Rescue and Disaster Relief missions, however as drone technology has been advancing CAP has been starting to incorporate drones into those missions. Now, you might think that if I am volunteering my time with CAP and flying a drone for CAP and obviously not getting paid that it would not be commercial and thus doesn’t require a Part 107 certificate. You would be wrong, as this falls under the “goodwill” position the FAA takes, and thus CAP requires all of their drone pilots to have a Part 107 certificate. In the Private Pilot world, the FAA has granted exceptions to certain organizations (i.e. CAP, Angel Flight, EAA, Pilots N Paws) so that Private Pilots can fly missions funded entirely by the organization (i.e. CAP) or for “goodwill” where they are donating their time, money, and aircraft (Angel Flight, EAA, Pilots N Paws), but these exceptions DO NOT exist for remote pilots and drone operations.
The easiest way to determine if your drone flight would be classified as “commercial” or require a Part 107 certificate is to ask yourself this question before the flight, “What is the intent of the flight?” If your answer is anything but “To have fun” (i.e. enjoy the scenery, racing, have fun with friends, etc.), then it is considered a commercial operation and requires a Part 107 Certificate. Now, if you take some awesome photos while you are were out flying “recreationally” and then later one someone sees the photo and offers you money for a print of that photo, that is NOT a commercial operation because your intent at the time of the flight was for recreation. Claiming a “recreational” flight, taking some cool photos, and then posting them on a site for sale or giving them to someone else for use for commercial use is bound to result in you having a chat with the FAA, if they were to find out, as the intent of the flight there was not really “To have fun.”
Now, some people may say “Well, I don’t want to fly my drone under Part 107 because it is too restrictive, I will just fly as a recreational pilot and I not have to worry about those rules.” This is simply not true. For those not aware, “Part 107” is short for “Title 14 Code of Federal Regulations, Part 107“, and those are all the rules that the FAA has set Drone operations, and can be found here. When Part 107 was put into effect, Congress carved out an exception for Recreational Pilots via Title 49 US Code Section 44809, commonly referred to as “Section 44809.” If you look at the requirements for recreational drone pilots compared to Part 107 pilots there aren’t a lot of differences. The first requirement for recreational flyers is obvious, you must be flying only for recreational purposes. Recreational pilots must still follow the a lot of the same rules as Part 107 pilots, and these include “Keep your drone within visual line of sight”, “give way to and do not interfere with manned aircraft”, “Fly at or below 400′ above ground in controlled airspace, and only with authorization (LAANC or DroneZone)”, “Drones that weigh 250g/0.55 lbs or more must be registered and marked with registration and must carry proof of registration with you”, and “Do not operate your drone in a dangerous manner. i.e. Do not interfere with Emergence Response or Law Enforcement.”
There are two other requirements that many recreational flyers miss and they are “Follow the safety guidelines of an FAA-recognized Community Based Organization (CBO)” and “Take ‘The Recreational UAS Safety Test’ (TRUST) and carry proof of test passage.” The first one people typically ignore because the FAA has not officially recognized any CBOs yet and thus think it doesn’t apply, but if you look on the FAA Recreational Flyers page they do acknowledge this fact and direct recreational flyers to follow the safety guidelines of existing “aeromodeling organizations” or use the FAA provided safety guidelines in FAA Advisory Circular 91-57B. If you go through these safety guidelines, you will find that they are pretty much the same safety guidelines that are outlined in Part 107, which includes guidance around “flight over people and open air mass gatherings” and night flight. The TRUST safety test is one that many may not be aware of because the test was not available until recently. The TRUST safety test in my opinion is a good thing, and you can not fail, and once you pass you will get a certificate that you can print and carry with you (put with your drone) and you only need to take it once. If you are confronted by either law enforcement or the FAA you must be able to produce the TRUST certificate and state which safety guidelines you are following. As a Part 107 pilot I only have to produce my Part 107 certificate, which indicates that I should be aware of and following the safety rules of Part 107. So, in some ways flying as a recreational pilot is more of a hassle this case.
Others will argue that “I don’t want to register my drone and be tracked by the FAA” or “The drone registration is an FAA money grab.” People will argue this because under Part 107, each drone you fly under part 107, regardless of weight, MUST be registered and have their own registration number and as a result you pay the registration fee for each drone. As recreational flyer you only need to register a drone if it weighs 250g/0.55 lbs or more and as a recreational flyer you use the same registration number on all your drones and thus you only need to pay the fee once. This also means if you are flying a sub 250g drone, i.e. DJI Mavic Mini, Mini 2, Mini SE, you don’t have to register the drone. I don’t really buy the “money grab” argument as the registration fee is only $5 and it is good for 3 years! If you bought a drone that needs to be registered and you can’t afford the $5 to register it, you probably should not have bought the drone. People will argue that they fear the FAA is going to track their flights. That is not possible, but what about “Remote ID” to which I say “Right now Remote ID is a ways off and nothing more than ‘This is what it should look like.’ Remote ID implementation is couple years off.” The FAA Registration is basically as “Tail Number” for your drone, and due to people doing stupid stuff with their drones (i.e. crashing into the top of the Space Needle while people were setting up New Year’s Eve fireworks up there), the FAA rightly so implemented a rule requiring drone registration. There is currently no way for the FAA to track your flights, and the only situation where the FAA will track you down is if you did something you probably should not have been doing in the first place. So I don’t really buy “registration” a valid argument of Part 107 being too burdensome.
Some may say, “I want to fly at night or over a group of people, and to do those things under Part 107 you need to file for a waiver, and that is a lot of work I don’t want to do…” Well, new rules that went into effect in April 2021 allow Part 107 pilots to flight at night WITHOUT a waiver as long as you have completed the new recurrent training, available on the FAAST Safety Team site. Flying over groups of people is also now allowed under the new rules, but this one is bit more complicated and wasn’t really allowed in either case in the past, but it is much easier to do for the sub-250g drones and “loitering” over a group is still not allowed for either Part 107 or Recreational.
The last argument that people usually put forward for not getting their Part 107 certificate, and I am slightly sympathetic toward is the required Knowledge Test. Where this can be a bit “burdensome” is for those people that do not currently hold a Part 61 Certificate (i.e. Private Pilot, Commercial Pilot, Airline Transport Pilot, etc.) with a current “Biennial Flight Review” (BFR), which is a fair number people. Basically if you don’t hold a pilot certificate (Part 61) to get your Part 107 certificate you have to study for and take a knowledge exam. The knowledge exam is going to cover things such as “Aviation Weather Sources & effects of weather on aircraft performance”, “Emergency Procedures”, “Crew Resource Management”, and “Aeronautical Decision Making” to name a few. Yes there are questions about being able identify certain things on aeronautical charts, questions about being able to decipher “METARs” (Weather info reported by an airport), various classes of airspace, along with all of the Drone questions. This information can be intimidating and for some hard to understand but with some work it is pretty straight forward.
The FAA doesn’t state specific methods for learning the material. So, if you are good with self-study you can find some free resources on the internet (YouTube videos), or you can buy a book off of Amazon and take free practice tests on the internet, or you can invest in an online course that teaches the material. Costs for online courses can range up to $150 or more and that doesn’t include taking the actual test. Once you feel confident to take the test, you make an appoint to take the test at a testing center where the test is proctored (you are only allowed a blank scratch pad, pen/pencil, and a calculator). The cost of taking the test is around $160. If you go with an online course and take the test you are looking at just above $300 as an all-in investment. Considering what it costs to get a Private Pilot certificate, this is a bargain. Some will say that this is yet another “Money Grab” by the FAA, when in actuality the FAA receives no money from the knowledge tests. The fee you pay to take the test is determined by the testing center and that all goes to them. If you chose to do an online course, that money obviously goes to the people doing the course. The FAA gets none of this, and the FAA is just merely determining what questions are on the test. Some will argue “Why do I need to know about different classes of airspace” or “Weather” or “Dangerous Attitudes”, and my response is “Knowledge is Power. No matter where you are, you are operating in environment with manned aircraft and it is powerful to understand some of the rules around how they operate.” Whether your are Part 107 or Recreational, you MUST be able to understand the airspace and the environment you are operating in so that you can be sure that you are following the rules and operating legally.
As a Private Pilot with a current BFR, getting my Part 107 certificate was very easy and thus if you are a Part 61 certificate holder with a current BFR I don’t know why you wouldn’t get your Part 107 certificate. As a Private Pilot to get my Part 107 certificate the only cost to me was my time as the FAA allows Part 61 certificate holders with a current BFR to simply take an online course through the FAA Safety Team website followed by an online test. After that, I submit my application, have a Flight Instructor validate my Private Pilot Certificate, my BFR, and sign the application and after that I am done and have a temporary certificate to use until the permanent one arrives in the mail. The online course and test took me about two hours. Since I am a Private Pilot the online test is focused on the Part 107 (drone) operations and rules as the FAA is assuming that I still remember how to read a chart, the classes of airspace and rules around them and all of the other general aeronautical information.
Now the non-Part 61 (non-pilot) people would say they don’t to spend $150 every two years to renew their certificate, and I would agree that would really suck as the Part 61 people could renew via online course/test like they did for their initial certificate. Well… for 2021, the FAA has changed this and now anyone can renew their Part 107 certificate by taking an online course and test through the FAA Safety Team site, which is free.
So, to answer the question in the title, “Do I REALLY need to get a drone license?” I would say if you have the means to get the certificate, YOU SHOULD! You will learn information that will help you operate in safe manner and be aware of what you can and can’t do. While the FAA does not actively police things such as YouTube or other venues, most of their enforcement actions are a result of tips that are reported to them by the public. You should especially get your Part 107 certificate if you think you may ever operate a drone in a non-recreational manner. Once you have your Part 107 certificate, the “burden” to fly under Part 107 is not that much different than flying as a Recreational Pilot. Renewal of the certificate is only going to cost you a little bit of time, and in the long run flying under Part 107 you are going to be a more knowledgeable and safer pilot and may save yourself an awkward conversation with the FAA!
It is always nice to head home, where ever that might be. Whether it is where you are currently living or where you grew up as a kid. As my wife and I were working to get the website ready to launch, we made a trip to my hometown of Great Falls, MT, to visit my father and step-mother, and my brother and his family. My father and step-mother still live in the house that I grew up in, which is now 50 years old. Due to the pandemic, other than via Zoom or FaceTime, we have not seen my family since the 2019 holidays. Our plan was to make it a bit of a “working vacation”, as we were working to get the business and web site ready to launch (photo hosting, client relations management, contracts, etc.). One of my other goals was to get in some “photographic practice”, which involved practicing with the drone and getting family members to pose for portraits to use in my portfolio.
If you are not familiar with Great Falls, it is one of the larger cities in Montana, and if you live in a bigger city like Seattle you would consider it a “small town.” It has population of close to 60,000 and is on the front range (east side) of the Rocky Mountains. It gets its name from the set of five waterfalls that Lewis & Clark had to portage around during their expedition to the Pacific Ocean. The Native Americans that Lewis & Clark encountered during their expedition referred to these falls as “The Great Falls of the Missouri.” Great Falls is also home to Malmstrom AFB, one of the largest ICBM missile complexes in the United States, which made growing up here during the Cold War interesting. The primary industry in Great Falls is agriculture. Growing up there was a wheat field that essentially came up to our back fence. In the time since my childhood, the farmer has sold off parts of those fields to housing developers, and now what was a wheat field to me growing up is now full of houses. The portion directly behind my father’s house was sold to the city for storm water retention ponds, and Little League fields.
During our trip we had planned on making a trip through “The Gates of the Mountains.” The Gates of the Mountains is a section of limestone cliffs on the Missouri River between Great Falls and Helena that as you travel the river you are given the illusions that the mountains form “Gates” that open and close as you approach and pass them. The Gates of Mountains is just upstream from Holter Lake. The Gates of Mountains were named by Lewis & Clark as well. Because of the dam that forms Holter Lake, the river is about 14 higher than when Lewis & Clark passed through the area. About halfway through, there is a day use camp area that is great for a picnic. However, due to fires in the area, heat, and smoke from various fires, we were not able to visit The Gates of Mountains this time.
Since we were not able to make the trip to The Gates of The Mountains for a picnic, we changed our plans and instead had a picnic at Giant Springs State Park in Great Falls. It should not be surprising that Giant Springs is yet another Lewis & Clark site. The water apparently takes about 3,000 years to travel underground from the Little Belt Mountains about 60 miles to the east to where the water emerges from the ground and flows into the Missouri River. The water from the spring is a constant 54ºF year round which makes it ideal for raising Rainbow Trout, and thus there is a fish hatchery located here that primarily raises Rainbow Trout used to stock various streams and lakes in the area. We used this picnic as an opportunity to take some family portraits, which gave me a little practice in doing group portraits. Giant Springs is also a great place to practice long exposure photography so that you get the nice blurry effect of the water moving and being able to see through the clear water. I have done this both in the summer and the winter and both are beautiful (winter there are less people getting in the way).
One my tasks while in Great Falls was “drone practice.” While the drone is new to me, being a private pilot makes it less intimidating. The drone is pretty easy to fly and doesn’t take much to learn the basics. While the drone does have quite a few automated routines for capturing video shots, it is nice to be able to hand fly these as well and that is where the practice comes in, especially when needing to do these things in tight quarters where there are obstructions. While I spent most of my time working on flying those basic maneuvers, I did take a little bit of time and went up to about 200 ft and took a quick photo looking to the north showing what exists outside of Great Falls, which is not much more than a wheat field.
The video below is a short video from my practice session. To create this video, I used the “MasterShots” intelligent/automated flight mode on the drone. In this mode the drone will fly a set of maneuvers for for the scene, and then the DJI Fly app will use that footage to create a video. You can also change up the video with different music styles of music. While this video is only 20 seconds long, the drone actually shot about 2 minutes of footage through the various different maneuvers and you do have access to that footage as well.
While some think that just because they have a drone they can fly it where ever they want when ever they want. That is not true, which is one reason I encourage people to pursue their Part 107 Remote Pilot Certificate. Whether your are a Recreational Drone Pilot or a Part 107 Pilot, you are not allowed to fly drones in controlled airspace without a “clearance”, and if you look at a map you will notice that most of the city of Great Falls lies within the Class D airspace of the Great Falls International airport. The location I was flying the drone at in Great Falls is on northern edge of the Class D. People should not be scared of having to get a clearance, as the FAA has made it super simple through the LAANC (Low Altitude Authorization and Notification Capability) system and apps such as AirMap. Apps such as AirMap will also show you what the allowed ceiling is for drones in the area you are in. Where I was at the ceiling was the standard 400′ above ground. If you are right next to the airport it is 0, i.e. you are not allowed to fly right next to the airport. It is important to be aware of these things as some people think “I am not with in 5 miles of the airport” and they are thinking “driving distance” not “straight line distance” and are not aware of the airspace they may be in, and this applies to ALL drone pilots. LAANC is available to all drone pilots, both recreational and Part 107.
Greetings and Welcome, to the launch of the Wade Hasbrouck Photography blog! This blog is about my journey through photography, and you will be able to join me in that journey. In the blog section I plan on talking about things I am currently working on (various shoots) and things that I have learned along the way (no one knows everything). I also plan on talking about the various things I have learned (and mistakes made) in the past, and revisiting some old photos that I took and the stories behind them. Over my photographic career I have shot with a variety of cameras, from film to digital point & shoots to phone cameras to lower end DSLRs to higher end DSLRs. I have become a firm believer in, “The camera doesn’t take the photo, the photographer does… a mediocre photographer with a great camera takes mediocre photos, while a great photographer takes great photos with ANY camera.”
I will start with a somewhat recent photo that I am proud of. In March 2020, my wife and I decided to take a trip to Florida, and we were lucky enough to get tickets for the night launch of a Falcon 9 resupply mission to the space station on March 6th. This would be our first rocket launch ever. I really wanted to try a long exposure of the launch since it would be at night. I had shot fireworks over the years, but this was going to be different. With fireworks, you can make adjustments as the show progresses, but with the rocket launch I would have one and only one shot. There would be no chance for adjustments. As I was setting up, I debated as to which lens I should use, the 15mm fisheye could be cool, or the more conservative 24-105mm at 24mm. Again, “ONLY ONE SHOT” ran through my brain, and I didn’t want to walk away with a bad shot or nothing. I went the conservative route at 24-105mm at 24mm. There was a gaggle of other photographers there, and some had done this before, and since I didn’t quite know where the rocket was going to go I asked. One I learned in doing photographing fireworks, is a neutral density filter can help you get some nice long exposures resulting in multiple fireworks in the shot, and I knew this was going to be pretty bright so I went with the ND filter. After doing various test shots to hopefully get the ISO somewhat close, all I had to do was push the button on the shutter release cable. I opened the shutter at about T minus 10 seconds, and kept it open to a point where felt the rocket was about to go out of frame. Total exposure time was just over 1.5 minutes.
I also recorded the launch on my phone to try and capture some of the aspects of the launch a still does not capture. There are two notable things the video captures. First the brightness of the rocket as it lifts off and secondly, the amount of time it takes for the sound to reach you. This launch was from Launch Complex 40, about six miles from where we were. It took about 30 seconds for the sound to reach us. The other thing is the brightness. It went from almost pitch black to being able to see quite well as the rocket lifted off.
One note about the video. At the Banana Creek Viewing area, they showed the SpaceX feed on a big screen, and you can hear the audio from that feed in the video, which you will notice that the audio from the SpaceX feed is delayed for some reason about 25 seconds.
If you ever get the chance to see a launch I highly recommend it. One thing to remember about launches is that they are very much weather dependent and can be scrubbed at the last second. SpaceX typically does an “Instantaneous Launch” window, meaning if for some reason they can’t launch at the exact second they planned on, they will scrub. SpaceX will not “hold” for weather or to fix a last second problem. If something comes up at the last second or weather won’t meet criteria at the planned launch time, they will scrub. My understanding is that this is done to maximize the amount of propellant they can get into the rocket. Also, you should be aware of the fine print for the ticket you buy from NASA to view the launch. The ticket is merely a ticket to transport you to the launch viewing location, and once they have gotten you out to the viewing site, if the launch scrubs you are not entitled to refund as they fulfilled their obligation. If it scrubs before you go out to the viewing site, you can get a refund. You are taken out to the viewing site about 2 hours before the launch. Once you are out there, you are there until either the launch takes place or it scrubs. The launch also requires you to have a paid admission to the Visitor’s Complex for that day, whether you were there earlier in the day, or you have annual or multi-day pass.
The thing that was the most eye-catching was exactly how bright the rocket was when it left the pad. It was quite dark there, although there was a big screen there illuminated things a bit, but once the rocket lifted off, it was kind of like early morning due to the yellowness of the light from the rocket. If it was not for that it would seem pretty close the daylight. The sound of the rocket was indescribable. While this was a Falcon 9 and much smaller than the Space Shuttle, it was didn’t really “thump you in the chest”, but it was still pretty loud. It makes you wonder what it would have been like to see a Space Shuttle Launch, or a Saturn V.
If you are ever in the Orlando area, and there is a launch at the Kennedy Space Center, definitely try to get out to see it. Regardless of the size of the rocket, you will be impressed.