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How Can Drone Pilots Fly within Five Miles of an Airport?

In the U.S., drone operations are often not generally allowed within five miles of an airport, and this can be the source of a lot frustration for some drone pilots.

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For instance, if you’re flying in your own backyard as a hobbyist and you only plan to go ten feet in the air, why do you need to notify Air Traffic Control? Or if you’re flying a real estate mission four miles away from an airport, and don’t plan to fly much higher than the house you’re photographing, why do you need to go through the potentially lengthy process of securing airspace authorization?

If you’re a hobbyist, this scenario certainly does seem frustrating, but we’d recommend doing everything you can to be compliant. Right now there is an ongoing debate on whether hobbyists should be more strongly regulated, and given the relative lenience of existing regulations it seems like a good idea to comply, even if you’re just flying at your house.

And for commercial drone pilots, the FAA is working to speed up the process for airspace authorizations by rolling out instant airspace authorizations via LAANC throughout the U.S., so hopefully things should be much quicker within the next year.

So How Can Drone Pilots Fly Legally within Five Miles of an airport?

The first thing to clarify is that there are two different classes of rules in place for flying drones. One set of rules applies to hobbyist drone pilots, and another set of rules—the FAA’s Part 107 rules—applies to commercial drone pilots.

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A hobbyist is someone who’s flying a drone just for fun, and a commercial drone pilot is someone flying for work or business purposes.

How Hobbyist Drone Pilots Can Fly within Five Miles of an Airport

As a hobbyist, the FAA’s guidelines read that you must, “Provide prior notification to the airport and air traffic control tower, if one is present, when flying within 5 miles of an airport.”

That’s it. You don’t need to submit any paperwork or wait for official approval from the FAA. So long as you contact the airport and air traffic control tower, you can fly within five miles of an airport.

But how exactly are you supposed to notify the airport and the control tower?

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We know of two ways. One, you can call. Or two, you can use an app like AirMap to notify the airport digitally.

If you do decide to use an app instead of making a phone call, we recommend that you do your homework and confirm that the app is notifying both the airport and the tower—the information we’ve found indicates that the AirMap app notifies the airport manager, but it’s unclear whether the requirement to notify the tower is covered through that notification. Just something to look into, since the responsibility to provide those notifications is ultimately yours.

On the other hand, if you decide to call, this page on the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association (AOPA) website will allow you to search for the phone number of any airport in the U.S.

If you’re going the route of calling to notify the airport, keep in mind that you also need to call the air traffic control tower.

Air traffic control tower phone numbers aren’t usually available to the public, so you’ll probably need to contact the airport manager and ask, 1) If there is a control tower, and 2) What the phone number is.

This is something you can ask for when you make your first phone call to the airport.

How Commercial Drone Pilots Can Fly within Five Miles of an Airport

On the other hand, if you’re operating as a commercial drone pilot and you want to fly within five miles of an airport, you may need to secure airspace authorization from the FAA.

We say “may” because it’s not always the case that the five miles of airspace surrounding an airport is controlled.

So the first thing to do if you’re a commercial drone pilot who wants to fly within five miles of an airport is to identify the class of airspace where you’d like to fly—there are hundreds of airports that exist in Class G uncontrolled airspace, so it’s important to do your research.

If you discover that the airspace where you want to fly is controlled, then you’ll need to secure airspace authorization to fly there.

There are two ways to receive airspace authorization. The first way, which could take up to 90 days but is available for all controlled airspace within five miles of any airport in the U.S., is to go to the FAADroneZone and submit an application.

Check out our step-by-step guide for help with the airspace authorization application process, and filling out the form on the DroneZone site.

The second way to get airspace authorization is to use a platform like AirMap or Skyward, which will allow you to get instant airspace authorization through the FAA’s Low Altitude Authorization and Notification Capability, or LAANC for short.

The only catch is that these instant authorizations are still being rolled out, and are currently only available in a handful of locations—you can find the list of places that currently have instant airspace authorization available here.

Of course, it’s important to keep in mind that even in Class G airspace, you’re not allowed to impede or interfere with any existing manned aircraft operations.

So even if you might have an airspace authorization that allows you to fly very close to an airport, or you might be a hobbyist who feels like you’ve done your duty and notified the airport, you still need to make sure to use common sense and stay out of the way of all manned aircraft.

The post How Can Drone Pilots Fly within Five Miles of an Airport? appeared first on UAV Coach.

Mapping Big Projects Over Time: An Interview with Drone Pilot Jason Singleton

Recently we met commercial drone pilot Jason Singleton, who has over ten years of experience creating maps using GIS (Geographic Information System) data collected by drones and other means for private and governmental clients.

Right now Jason is working to map a big project for the city of Kalispell in northwest Montana. The project is a revitalization of a local park called Glacier Rail Park, and Jason has been documenting the progress of the city’s work using orthomosaic maps.

We sat down with Jason to learn more about the work he’s doing for the city of Kalispell, and how he is inputting maps made on different dates to show progress.

[By the way, to orient you as we talk through the Kalispell project, here is a link to a webpage featuring the maps Jason has been creating for the city, hosted on ArcGIS. All screenshots featured below come from this page.]

Begin Interview

What kind of work do you do with drones?

I’ve been working in GIS—Geographic Information Systems—for a long time, which essentially means mapping. I do this work through my business, GeoControl LLC.

All of my mapping is web-based, which means I can share the maps I make with anyone, anywhere, using a link to the hosted map.

Tell us about the Kalispell project. What are you doing, and how are maps being used?

In 2015 the city of Kalispell, Montana got a TIGER Grant, which provided the city with a lump sum of money to upgrade the downtown and help make improvements that would help the local economy.

The grant has primarily been put into a project to relocate a huge grain elevator to a new location in the Glacier Industrial Rail Park, to take out the railroad tracks that are currently there, put in walking and bike paths, and also open the area to new real estate opportunities. Basically, it’s a full revitalization of the entire downtown area. It’s a huge opportunity for the town, and a really positive thing.

The mapping project I’m working on was created by me and a few other people here in town. The idea was to offer transparency to the people living in Kalispell on how the project is progressing, and where the TIGER funds are being spent by creating maps of the site over time with data collected via drone.

We now have orthomosaic maps of the work site that show how it has developed over time, since the project began. Our goal at this point is to create a map every month, and in some instances twice a month, depending on how much progress there is to document at the site in a given period of time.

The project will take a few years to complete, and when we’re done the city will have a historic document of how it was completed.

[What is an orthomosaic map? An orthomosaic map is a detailed, accurate photo representation of an area, created out of many photos that have been stitched together and geometrically corrected (“orthorectified”) so that it is as accurate as a map.]

A Map of the Work Site Hosted on ArcGIS

How do these maps work, and what kind of information do they contain?

We’ve created 3D maps at various dates, which can be viewed on the Glacier Rail Park website—you can scroll down to see a list of DroneDeploy links, located to the right of the video embedded on the page.

We’ve also created a layered map hosted on ArcGIS, which can be viewed here.

The layered map shows changes to the site over time—if you go to the map and click the layers icon (shown in the image below), you can see all of the maps we’ve created of the site as layers.


What’s great is that all of the stakeholders can view these maps, including personnel from construction companies, engineers, and the public. Engineers can even download the point cloud data and use it to create models instead of sending out surveyors in person.


In addition to showing progress over time, the layered map hosted on ArcGIS has several other features that help share information.

One feature is that you can send someone a link directly to a part of the map, so that you can show them exactly what you’re talking about. For example, here is a link to a zoomed-in portion of the ArcGIS map.

A Zoomed-In Portion of the ArcGIS Map of the Kalispell Work Site

You can also leave notes on these maps, so that you can share information with anyone who needs to know. These notes on the ArcGIS map are indicated by small yellow circles:


Basically, the ArcGIS is both a dynamic, working document of the site, and also a historic document, providing insight into how the site has changed over time. It’s an incredibly powerful tool for sharing information, and for providing transparency to those who simply want to know how things are progressing.

What is your process for creating one of these layered, interactive maps hosted on ArcGIS?

First I start with DroneDeploy, and create a flight plan.

A Flight Plan in DroneDeploy

Then I fly the mission, collect the data, and have DroneDeploy generate an orthomosaic map.

After the orthomosaic map has been generated in DroneDeploy, you have the option to generate an ArcGIS web tile layer.

[A web tile layer is just a way of adding a layer to your ArcGIS hosted map, like the layers shown earlier in this interview.]

When you click the button to generate a web tile layer in DroneDeploy, you get a very long URL.

ArcGIS Web Tile Layer Generated by DroneDeploy

After generating the web tile layer, you go to your ArcGIS site where you are hosting your map, and use that URL in the ArcGIS Online Web Tile Layer app to add the layer to an existing map, or to create a new map if you don’t have an existing one.


Using this app you can add layers to an existing map, just like we have on the ArcGIS hosted map, so that you can show progress on a project over time. This is perfect for the work we’re documenting in Kalispell, but it could also be used in all kinds of other scenarios.

For example, let’s say you had a contract with a farm to fly a mission over every three months for five years. You could create these mapping layers not just with the imagery—that is, not just with orthomosaic layers—but also with NDVI (Normalized Difference Vegetation Index), which is what farmers use to monitor their crops. These maps would help the farmer monitor the health of his crops, and they can be overlaid to show changes over time so that the farmer can click from one to the other to see what things looked like say, one year ago, or three months ago, and so on.

What software do you use, and how do you use it?

For GIS, I use ArcMap, which is the main product from E.S.R.I.

To create my orthomosaic map layers I use DroneDeploy, and then bring those images into ArcGIS Online, which hosts the actual map so that you can have a link to share with people.

I also use the ArcGIS Online Web Tile Layer app to help layer in maps.

[Want to learn more about drone mapping software? Check out our introductory guide here.]

What other kinds of projects have you done with drone mapping?

I’ve done web mapping for hiking trails, as well as some work in real estate.

I love the idea of doing vegetation analysis over time, and I’m hoping to create maps that can be used to monitor orchards or vineyards, which could help farmers find opportunities to improve their yields.

What drones do you fly, and how much battery life do you need for most missions?

I fly a Phantom 4 Pro, and I use an iPad to fly it. Most missions I fly are under 30 minutes and take just one battery, but I like to have a second battery on hand as a backup.

What do you need to do this kind of mapping work?

You have to have the GIS background, and you have to know how to use ArcGIS Online.

ArcGIS costs about $1,500 a year, which gives you the license and the ability to host maps online.

These are skills you can pick up. They take time and dedication to learn, and the field is always changing, but it’s something you can do if you decide to put in the work.

The post Mapping Big Projects Over Time: An Interview with Drone Pilot Jason Singleton appeared first on UAV Coach.

What Is UTM, and Why Should You Care About It?

UTM stands for Unmanned Traffic Management, and refers to systems created to manage drone traffic.

A good way to look at UTM is that it’s a system designed to keep drones and other types of aircraft from colliding.

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Currently, there are a few products on the market that address UTM needs, but the truth is that we’re still in early stages when it comes to having a fully functional UTM, or UTMs, in place.

This means that when people use the phrase UTM they’re just as likely to be talking about the concept of managing drone traffic as they are to be referring to an actual product or existing system that will help you do it.

Why You Should You Care about UTM

If you’re a commercial drone pilot, the reason you should care about UTM is because it’s crucial to integrating drones into the national airspace, and has the potential to make flying beyond visual line of sight, or BVLOS, in commercial drone operations a reality.

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Drone operations that would benefit from being allowed to conduct BVLOS flights include drone deliveries, search and rescue missions, precision agriculture, and railroad inspections.

As you probably know, BVLOS flying is currently prohibited by the FAA’s Part 107 rules pertaining to the use of small unmanned aerial systems. But if UTM were to become a reality, it could clear a path for regular operations that would use BVLOS, because drones could fly beyond the line of sight without the fear of them colliding with other manned or unmanned aircraft.

Here’s an example, to make this more concrete.

Imagine a delivery drone is flying a pre-programmed route, and its path happens to cross that of a helicopter medevaccing someone out of an area.

With a functioning Unmanned Traffic Management system in place, the drone and the helicopter could communicate automatically and avoid a collision.

Alternately, a drone delivery corridor could be pre-established, and the helicopter would know to avoid that corridor, again using information shared via UTM.


NASA currently has a UTM research program in place, where they’re working to create the architecture of a UTM system that would oversee manned and unmanned aircraft operations in the U.S.

NASA’s development of UTM has been tracked by tiered Technical Capability Level (TCL) demonstrations, which have grown increasingly more complex as they move forward. And they’re making good progress. NASA has already completed demonstrations for levels 1 and 2, and last month they completed level 3.

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The reason these demonstrations matter is because they indicate real forward progress with NASA’s development of UTM—once they complete
TCL 4 they’re supposed to be transitioning their UTM program to the FAA.

The original UTM timeline called for NASA to complete their transition to the FAA in 2019, but this has been sped up due to pressures from the drone industry, and NASA has already started working with the FAA.

But the drone industry isn’t just waiting for NASA to deliver. Private companies have been creating their own UTM-focused products, and implementing UTM concepts.

Most likely, when UTM arrives, there won’t be one national UTM system. Instead, we’ll probably have different products and systems in place throughout the country, sharing operations and data with each other in partnership with the systems already in place at U.S. airports.

And this will be a great thing for the drone industry because it will mean real solutions to challenges we currently face for rolling out BVLOS on scale. It will certainly be interesting to see what the next few years bring here in the drone industry.

The post What Is UTM, and Why Should You Care About It? appeared first on UAV Coach.

FAA Opens LAANC to New Suppliers

Recently the FAA announced that they’re going to be opening the Low Altitude Authorization and Notification Capability (LAANC) up to new suppliers.

In addition, the FAA also shared the news that, starting in late April, LAANC will be available in nearly 300 air traffic control facilities, representing about 500 airports, and about 78,000 miles of airspace.

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This news comes just one month after the announcement of an aggressive timeline to release LAANC throughout the U.S. over the next year, and indicates a strong push from the FAA to move things forward for the drone industry.

But opening up LAANC to new suppliers does more than indicate forward progress—it’s also a clear step toward leveling the playing field.

In the past, the FAA has received criticism for starting to resemble an old boys club, in which only certain companies get access to provide key services like LAANC.

Opening LAANC up means that this criticism, at least when it comes to instant airspace authorizations, will no longer be applicable. And this is an intentional move from the new FAA Administrator Dan Elwell.

We want to enable technology and remove barriers, so that’s why we’re simplifying the authorization process. If you’re in the drone business, this is a great opportunity for you.

– FAA Acting Administrator Dan Elwell

What Is LAANC?

According to the FAA, LAANC, “enables drone pilots access to controlled airspace near airports through near real-time processing of airspace authorizations below approved altitudes in controlled airspace.”

In brief, LAANC (pronounced “LANCE”) makes instant airspace authorizations possible by using UAS facility map data that show the maximum altitude around airports where the FAA may automatically authorize UAS operations under the Part 107 rules.

The current process in most locations for pursuing airspace authorization is to apply manually, and then wait up to 90 days. LAANC represents a huge step forward for the drone industry because it gives drone pilots immediate permission to fly in areas that previously required some kind of wait.

This wait time often means the loss of potential clients, and a great deal of uncertainty when it comes to running a drone services business—but now those wait times will be reduced to zero in those areas where LAANC becomes available.

How Can Companies Become LAANC Suppliers?

Although the FAA is opening up LAANC to new suppliers, the application process is long and rigorous, and not your typical government RFP.

The first application window opens next week, on April 16, and will remain open for one month, until May 16. There will be two windows a year, each one month long, in which companies can apply.

According to the FAA’s onboarding overview document, the application and review process will take five months, with two months allotted for reviews and interviews, and two months for onboarding. (You can see the details of the application timeline here on the FAA’s website.)

FAA LAANC new suppliers

Given how involved the process is, we are left wondering who will feel like it’s worth it to apply.

AirMap has been partnering with companies like DroneBase and others to provide LAANC access, thus allowing these companies to provide instant airspace authorizations to their users through their own apps without having to go through a rigorous application process, or devote any funds to building a new platform.

So who will feel like it’s worth the time and money?

Perhaps a few high-end drone services companies that work with big customers, but in those cases it doesn’t seem likely that they’re going to build their own app. Rather, they’ll use LAANC access to support their projects, instead of investing money in technology that can be used by everyone.

But who knows? It could be that Kittyhawk or other drone ops management tools may want to throw their hats in the ring as well. All we can say for certain right now is that 2018 is shaping up to be an exciting year for the drone industry.

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11 Reasons to Attend AUVSI XPONENTIAL This Year

In case you haven’t heard about it, AUVSI XPONENTIAL is one of the biggest conferences for UAS—and unmanned systems in general—in the entire world.


AUVSI stands for the Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International, and they’re a nonprofit devoted exclusively to advancing the unmanned systems and robotics community. XPONENTIAL is AUVSI’s annual conference, and it draws over 8,000 attendees from all over the world.

The conference is being held in Denver, CO from April 30 to May 3, and we wanted to take a moment to round up all the reasons you might want to attend this year.


[Already know you want to attend? Use code UAVCOACH18 to save $50 off the XPO Hall Pass, $100 off the Full Conference, or $150 off a VIP Pass. Tickets can be purchased here.]

Without further ado, here are our 11 reasons to attend AUVSI XPONENTIAL this year.

1. It’s One of the Biggest Unmanned Events in the World

AUVSI XPONENTIAL is massive—this year, they expect 8,500 people to attend, including unmanned technology industry leaders and forward-thinking users from the defense and commercial sectors.

By attending, you’ll be joining other people interested in unmanned systems from all over the world, all working to push things forward.

Sound exciting to you? It sure does to us.

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2. Ground Breaking Technology

Because XPONENTIAL is one of the biggest unmanned systems events in the world, the technology displayed there promises to be pretty mind blowing.

At last year’s conference in Dallas, Intel released the next generation of their Shooting Star light show drone in a dramatic indoor presentation, Gryphon Sensors launched their UTM system Mobile Skylight, and many other companies issued big releases, too.


A quick clip of Intel’s indoor light show at XPONENTIAL 2017

This year promises to impress as well, and we’re sure to see some of the newest, coolest tech out there be announced in a few weeks at XPONENTIAL 2018.

3. Cutting Edge Drone Applications

Not only will you get to see some of the coolest, sexiest new tech in the drone space at XPONENTIAL, you’ll also get to hear about the newest applications for that technology.

It seems like every time we turn around someone is using a drone in a fresh, innovative way, and we can’t wait to see what new applications and use cases we come across for UAS while at the conference.

4. STEM Studies

AUVSI is committed to supporting the future of robotics, and you can see that by how much emphasis they’re putting on STEM studies (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) in this year’s conference.

Take a look at all the STEM events taking place at XPONENTIAL this year:

  • Women and Diversity in Robotics. Attendees of this session will meet in small groups to engage on emerging and impactful topics in the unmanned systems and robotics communities.
  • XBuild. This buildathon/hackathon tasks participants with developing solutions to address challenges facing unmanned systems. Teams will use critical thinking to conceive, design and build their inventions during a timed competition. XBuild will take place prior to XPONENTIAL.
  • Growing the Industry Hub. This dedicated area in the XPONENTIAL exhibit hall is part of AUVSI’s mission to “grow and groom the future unmanned systems workforce.” It will be a place where students can learn about the STEM programs available at the conference, as well as what AUVSI is doing beyond the scope of the conference itself to foster and cultivate the next generation of innovators and leaders.
  • RoboNation. This is a series of student robotics competitions organized by the AUVSI Foundation as an investment in the development of aspiring engineers. During XPONENTIAL, an area of the show floor will be dedicated to showcasing the winners of these competitions—we’re excited to see what students come up with, and to see their ingenuity on display.
  • RoboTour. AUVSI will be welcoming middle and high school students from the Denver area to tour the AUVSI XPONENTIAL exhibit hall. The RoboTour will help this future generation of scientists and engineers learn about unmanned systems and introduce them to emerging technologies and trends.
  • Young Professionals Reception. This is a networking session for professionals who are new to unmanned systems, where they can learn from the experience and guidance of seasoned leaders, and also get a chance to meet and mentor younger students who are interested in joining the industry.

5. The XCELLENCE Humanitarian Awards

This year AUVSI partnered with DJI to launch the XCELLENCE Humanitarian Awards, which will recognize five organizations or individuals using unmanned systems to improve the human condition.

Winners in the Humanitarian category, as well as the categories of Technology & Innovation, Training & Education, and Operations & Safety, will all be announced at the conference on Thursday, May 3, 2018

6. The Keynotes

This year’s keynote lineup looks pretty incredible.

Check it out:

Day 1

  • Brian Wynne, President and CEO, AUVSI
  • Deputy Secretary Jeffrey A. Rosen, U. S. Department of Transportation
  • Dr. David Autor, Department of Economics, MIT
  • Michael Chasen, CEO of PrecisionHawk
  • Dallas Brooks, Director of the Raspet Flight Research Laboratory at Mississippi State University

Day 2

  • Dr. Zeynep Tufekci, Associate Professor of the School of Information and Library Science at the University of North Carolina
  • Eduardo Martinez, President of the UPS Foundation
  • Stephanie Hill, Senior Vice President of Corporate Strategy & Business Development at Lockheed Martin

Day 3

  • Chris Hernandez, Sector Vice President of Research, Technology & Engineering at Northrop Grumman
  • John Hickenlooper, Governor of Colorado

Did you see that? They even got the governor! Now that is pretty impressive.

7. The Sessions

This year there are four primary session tracks for attendees, featuring over 200 sessions total, where you can learn about the latest innovations, policies, and unmanned use cases so you’re fully informed and ready to capitalize on new opportunities.

Want to learn more about the session tracks? Here you go:

  • Policy. During these sessions, leaders shaping unmanned systems regulation and policy will relay the information that matters to attendees and their business. View the sessions in the Policy track.
  • Technology. These curated sessions will allow attendees to stay up-to-date on the latest technology trends and advancements impacting unmanned systems and robotics including artificial intelligence, machine learning, payload advancements as well as software and hardware developments. View the sessions in the Technology track.
  • Business Solutions. During these sessions attendees will hear directly from enterprise, commercial, defense and government users of unmanned systems. Learn best practices, explore potential applications and study real-world use cases to deepen your understanding of integrating drones, robotics and maritime systems into business operations. View the sessions in the Business Solutions track.
  • Trending Topics. Looking for content addressing the industry’s fastest growing markets or top technology trends? These sessions have you covered. From the latest research and updates on BVLOS drone options to state-of-the-art developments in AI, you’ll hear from leaders who are pushing the envelope by tackling the industry’s most difficult challenges and addressing near-term opportunities. View the sessions in the Trending Topics track.

8. The Exhibit Hall

—is going to be AWESOME, of course.

Just think about it—the top companies in the drone industry, and in unmanned systems in general, will all be gathered under one roof, showing off their latest and greatest tech.

This year XPONENTIAL will have over 725 companies in more than 370,000 square feet of exhibit space, where you can see the latest emerging technology, connect directly with suppliers, and establish relationships to move things forward for your business or organization.

What could be better?

9. There Are 20+ Industries Represented

XPONENTIAL will feature representatives from over 20 industries related to unmanned systems this year, allowing attendees to see the big picture and hear directly from customers, enterprise users, and technology leaders discussing the integration of unmanned systems across a variety of industries and applications.

Even though our heart is with the drone industry, it’s pretty amazing that we’ll also get to learn about what’s going on in so many other interconnected industries.

10. AUVSI XPONENTIAL Is a UAV Coach Media Partner

We’re honored to be an ongoing media partner for AUVSI XPONENTIAL, and we’re really thrilled to be attending the conference as a team for the first time this year.

We don’t enter into partnerships like this lightly. If we decide to partner with an organization it means that we believe in their mission, and think that what they’re doing is important and of high quality—and that’s how we feel about XPONENTIAL.

11. Denver!

As if all the amazing tech isn’t enough, Denver is one of the most beautiful cities in the U.S.

Check out this guide AUVSI put together that shows you all the different things you can do while in Denver.



Use code UAVCOACH18 to save $50 off the XPO Hall Pass, $100 off the Full Conference, or $150 off a VIP Pass. Tickets can be purchased here.

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