Forest Ecology Drone Pilot


University of California, Davis (FOCAL Lab, Department of Plant Sciences)



Duration and employment period

Minimum commitment of 12 weeks; commitment of 16-18 weeks preferred. Work to be performed May - September, 2023.


  • 85%: remote field sites in the Sierra Nevada and southern Cascade mountains of California, plus occasional out-of-state trips (Duty station: UC Davis, Davis, CA)
  • 15%: office (computer lab) at UC Davis (with a remote component permitted)


The Drone Pilot will support the Open Forest Observatory and a forest management planning study by piloting drones (DJI Phantom 4 Pro and/or Phantom 4 RTK quadcopters) to collect imagery from forest sites. Some sites have recently burned in wildfire, but the majority are unburned.

Job description

The Drone Pilot will be responsible for planning and executing (piloting) drone missions in remote, mountainous, forested terrain. The candidate must be a FAA Part 107 certified UAS pilot. Flight plans will be developed by the Pilot following mission parameters provided by the position supervisor. The Pilot will also be responsible for managing and organizing collected data, including transferring data to servers in the office. The Pilot will be responsible for filing flight plans and post-flight reports with the UC Drone Safety Office. The Pilots will be assigned a field assistant (visual observer) for 50-100% of flight days. The Pilot will be expected to provide mentorship to the visual observer, who will be participating in a Forest Ecology Drone Pilot Traineeship. A second drone pilot has already been hired. The two Pilots (and visual observers) will be able to coordinate schedules to work at nearby sites and likely camp together each night. Due to the remoteness of the field sites, the Pilots should expect to spend up to 8 consecutive days in the field (see Work schedule, below) with frequent relocations of camp (included in work hours) during each hitch.

Work location

The duty station will be Davis, CA (UC Davis). The Pilot may be based elsewhere, but this is discouraged as (a) mileage reimbursement and work hours are computed based on driving from Davis and (b) field campaigns will usually begin and end in Davis unless otherwise negotiated. While conducting fieldwork, the Pilot will primarily be car camping near the project study sites on National Forests. Camping will usually be “dispersed camping” (undeveloped areas with no facilities that are adjacent to remote roads) but will occasionally be in campsites (with campsite fees paid by employer). Camping location will change frequently as the Pilot moves to different study areas.

Work schedule

The default work schedule will generally consist of 8 consecutive 10-hour days, followed by 6 days off (80 work hours every 2 weeks), beginning and ending on Wednesdays. The 8-day hitches may include 1-2 days of office work, usually the last of the 8 days, to document the previous field period and prepare for the next. The majority of the office work can be performed remotely. Field campaigns will begin and end at the duty station in Davis, CA. Travel between Davis and the field sites, and between field sites, is included in work hours. Although active flying periods will not exceed 6 hours per day, the remaining hours are spent scouting the next day’s flight location, moving camp (if necessary), and charging/maintaining equipment. In some cases, it may be logistically most practical for the first and last days of a hitch to be half-days, spreading the 8 days (80 hours) of work over 9 days. The Pilots are expected to arrange and coordinate schedules with each other, the field assistants, and the position supervisor to achieve the greatest efficiency.

During fire season, smoke and fire hazards may necessitate rapid adjustments to work location or schedule (e.g., shifting departure and/or return dates to avoid hazardous fire weather conditions). In the event of extended periods of fire or smoke hazards, the position supervisor will work to identify alternative work locations that avoid hazards, but during peak fire season, continuous full-time employment cannot be guaranteed.


The Pilot and the visual observer will be expected to share in driving a UC Davis fleet vehicle to the field sites. Under specific circumstances, the Pilot will have the option to drive their personal vehicle and be reimbursed at the UC personal vehicle reimbursement rate (currently $0.625/mile), computed from the duty station (Davis, CA). Total driving for the season is roughly estimated at 3000 miles.

Minimum qualifications

  • FAA Part 107 certified Remote Pilot
  • Experience piloting a drone to collect aerial imagery from mountainous field sites
  • Experience hiking and camping in remote locations with no facilities
  • Bachelor’s degree or equivalent experience in (or current undergraduate student in) a natural science field
  • Strong quantitative and organizational skills
  • Experience using GIS and/or other geospatial software
  • Attention to detail
  • Ability to work independently
  • Experience successfully collaborating with individuals from diverse backgrounds
  • Valid driver’s license and willingness to drive to and between remote field sites
  • Experience operating a vehicle on rough roads
  • CPR and Wilderness First Aid certified (certification may be accomplished after job offer is made, with registration cost paid by the employer)

Desired qualifications

  • Skilled navigating on- and off-trail using topographic maps, compass, and handheld GPS units
  • Excellent organizational skills for planning, data management, and equipment management
  • Ability to maintain a positive attitude in physically harsh and/or demanding conditions

To apply

Send a cover letter (including availability dates), CV/resume, and contact information for three references (including name, organization, phone, email, and relationship to you) to Derek Young at using the following subject line: Forest Ecology Drone Pilot 2023. Please combine all application materials into one PDF for submission. Application review will begin December 9, 2022, and will continue until the position is filled.