Creating a 3D Fly-Through in Global Mapper in Five Easy Steps

Let’s begin with a poll. With a show of hands, how many of you currently work with some sort of 3D data in Global Mapper?* One, two, three, four… OK, I think I can safely conclude that everyone’s hand is raised, just as I thought. We are currently at a significant epoch in the history of mapping. Traditional cartographic renderings consider the Earth from a two-dimensional, birds-eye perspective but that is rapidly changing. Our world is a 3D world and the technologies that we use to visualize, analyze, and distributize** our geospatial data are increasingly taking the additional dimension into consideration.

Case in point is Global Mapper’s ingenious fly-through recording capability. What better way to show your client the scope of your engineering project, or to share the archeological model created using the Pixels-to-Points tool, or to simply soar over mountains and valleys unencumbered with the constraints of gravity, feeling the wind in your face as you glide… OK settle down. Back on task.

As is typical with Global Mapper, the fly-through recording functionality is remarkably straightforward. Draw a line defining the flight path, enter the flight parameters, open the 3D View, click the Play button and you’re on your way (with seatbelts fastened and tray tables in their upright and locked position, of course). Alternatively, if you have a prerecorded track file, such as one that was created by a drone, you can use that as the flight line. All of the flight parameters such as speed, height, etc., will be automatically assigned.

Let’s take a look at an actual example.

1. Load a 3D data layer in Global Mapper

In this scenario, we’ll use a 3D mesh created in the Pixels-to-Points tool. Frequent viewers of Global Mapper video presentations or training class attendees will already be familiar with the data in question ̶ ­the famous Brazilian landfill.

Drawing a flight path in Global Mapper
Drawing the flight path using the Digitizer’s Line tool

2. Draw the flight path

Before putting pen to paper (or digitizer to screen, to be more precise), we will need to consider what form our flight will take. There are three alternatives: Straight Ahead, in which the view will look in the direction of the flight (a cockpit view, if you like); Fixed Direction, in which the view will always be on a specified bearing or azimuth; or Fixed Point, in which the view will always be focused on a target point in three-dimensional space. Because we will be using the latter, we will create a line that encircles the focus point.

3. Set the flight parameters

With the newly created line selected on the map, we click the Create 3D Fly-through button (hint: it looks like an airplane, you can’t miss it). If you haven’t seen it before, the dialog box includes a table listing the XY coordinates of each vertex in the line along with a number of additional columns that will be automatically filled in after we apply the necessary settings.

Setting flight parameters in Global Mapper
Setting the flight parameters including focal target, altitude, and speed

As previously noted, we’re going to use the Fixed Point option, which requires us to enter the focal target, a process made easy using the Select from Map button. Because we want the perspective to be looking down rather than horizontally, we establish a target Z value corresponding with ground elevation or a little below, let’s say 550 meters.

Elevation Mode in this case will be Absolute, meaning that our flight will maintain a specific altitude. The alternative, Relative to Ground, will result in the simulated flight rising and falling while maintaining a consistent height about the surface (the captain apologizes for the turbulence). For our landfill flight, we will be cruising at a consistent altitude of 650 meters.

Finally, we need to decide how fast we want to fly. This can be established by either setting the duration of the flight or by entering an actual meters-per-second value. Setting one of these variables will automatically change the other. Our circuit of the landfill will take 40 seconds.

Clicking the Generate Fly-through Data button will populate the aforementioned table with per-vertex flight details and double-clicking on any line in the table will offer the option of editing the settings for that segment. After clicking the OK button, we’re ready to take to the air.

Viewing the flight playback in 2D and 3D
Viewing the flight playback in the 2D and 3D Views

4. Play the fly-through

Now for the fun part. In the 3D View, a collection of buttons controls the preview, playback, and editing of the flight. Click Play and away we go. In the corresponding 2D view, we can monitor our progress and heading along the flight line. Should we need to make any changes, there’s an identical airplane button in the 3D View, which opens the same dialog box that we used to create our flight.

5. Export the video

Finally, we click the button that resembles a vintage movie camera to save a video file in either MPEG-4 or AVI format with options for defining the resolution and frame rate. The video can then be posted to our favorite movie sharing site or sent directly to a client.

Wasn’t that easy? Time to try it for yourself.

*If you actually did raise your hand in response to reading this question you might want to explain to your office colleagues what you were doing

**Not a real word

Vector Extraction from a Raster Image in Global Mapper


In this example of extracting vectors from a raster layer in Global Mapper, we will automatically create polygons outlining lakes from an aerial image.

Here are the steps to follow to extract a vector from a raster layer:

  1. From the Layer menu, click Create Area Features from Equal Values…
  2. Name the target layer and choose the option to extract Only Selected Color(s)
  3. Choose Select Color from Map and click on a location representing the required color
  4. Apply a Color Fuzziness value and define the extent of the extraction process
  5. Use the Digitizer to remove unwanted polygons

The extracted polygons can be exported in any supported vector file format

Top 5 Tools and Functions of the Global Mapper LiDAR Module

In anticipation of the increasing availability and use of LiDAR and other point cloud datasets, the LiDAR Module, an add-on to Global Mapper, was first introduced in version 15 of the software. Over the last five years, this popular component has rapidly evolved and offers an array of powerful tools.

In this blog entry, we highlight the top five most important tools and functions in the LiDAR Module, including extracting vector features, processing UAV-collected images into point clouds, filtering LiDAR data, and generating 3D meshes or models.

Pixels-to-Points Tool in Global Mapper
3D Point cloud of a barn viewed created with the Pixels-to-Points tool

1. Pixels-to-Points

The newest addition to the LiDAR Module, Pixels-to-Points is a tool for creating a high-density point cloud, orthoimage, and 3D meshe from overlapping images, especially those captured using a drone

Based on the principles of photogrammetry, the Pixels-to-Points process identifies objects in multiple images and from multiple perspectives to generate a 3D point cloud. As a by-product of the point-generation process, the tool can also create an orthoimage by gridding the RGB values in each point, as well a 3D mesh, complete with photorealistic textures.

Pixels-to-Points offers photogrammetric point cloud creation that is both affordable and straightforward, and is increasingly used as an alternative to traditional LiDAR collection.

Auto Classification of LiDAr points
Buildings and trees identified and reclassified in a LiDAR layer

2) Auto Point Reclassification

The LiDAR Module’s automatic reclassification tools can accurately identify points representing ground, vegetation, buildings, and utility cables.

Algorithms in the LiDAR Module analyze the geometric properties and characteristics of point clouds to quickly classify these features. This process is commonly used to identify, classify, and filter ground points when creating a Digital Terrain Model (DTM), or as a first step in the process of isolating specific feature types when extracting vector features, such as buildings or trees, from a point cloud.

Feature Extraction using the Global Mapper LiDAR Module
Vector lines representing above-ground power cables extracted from LiDAR data

3) Feature Extraction

The Feature Extraction tool is used to create vector objects from appropriately classified points.

Based on a series of customizable settings, points representing buildings, trees, and utility cables are analyzed and automatically delineated as a series of 3D vector objects or, in the case of buildings, as a 3D mesh.

Feature extraction is particularly useful for creating building footprints, defining roof structures, powerlines, and other 3D features from classified LiDAR data.

Digitizing the edge of a curb using the Global Mapper LiDAR Module
Digitizing the edge of a curb using the perpendicular profile function

4) Custom Feature Extraction

Custom Feature Extraction is a function for delineating atypical 3D features from point cloud data.

This function allows for the creation of accurate 3D line or area features by defining control vertices in a sequential series of perpendicular path profile views. Examples of using Custom Feature Extraction might be for defining road curbs, pipelines, or drainage ditches,

3D Mesh created using the Global Mapper LiDAR Module
3D Mesh of a suburban neighborhood created from selected points in a point cloud

5) Mesh Creation from LiDAR Points

Mesh Creation is a function that uses a selected group of points to create a 3D vector object complete with photorealistic colors or textures.

The LiDAR Module offers the ability to create a mesh or model using the 3D geometry and colors of a selected group of points. When viewed in 3D, this model displays as a multifaceted photo-realistic 3D representation of the corresponding feature.

For information about all of the features that the LiDAR Module has to offer, visit our website here.

Webinar: What’s New in Global Mapper v20

The What’s New list in Global Mapper 20 reflects the increasing importance of 3D data visualization and processing, with numerous new tools for working with point clouds, 3D meshes, 3D vector features, and terrain models. In the latest Global Mapper webinar, we showcase some of the highlights of this release.

Among the specific topics covered in the webinar are:

  • New Map Layout options
  • A new eyedropper tool for color selection
  • Speed and performance improvements
  • New online data options including NextMap One
  • New mesh processing tools
  • New Fly Mode in the 3D View

And in the LiDAR Module:

  • Updates to the Pixels-to-Points tool
  • 3D model creation from a point cloud
  • LiDAR thinning
  • And much more

The Top 5 New Features of Global Mapper 20

point cloud from 3D mesh
Global Mapper 20 not only offers the ability to create point clouds from 3D meshes, but also offers the option to create a flattened orthoimage derived from the colors in the mesh.

What’s New in Global Mapper version 20?

If you are like most people, it’s unlikely that you take the time to read the plethora of dialog boxes that appear when installing software but if you did, you might actually learn some interesting details about the application. In the case of Global Mapper, one of the windows that beckons for your attention is the “What’s New…” list. While we understand the eagerness of most users to repeatedly click the Next button and finish the installation process so they can “play” with their new toy, it might be worth pausing on this one for just a moment.

Blue Marble’s development process requires each new tool, functional upgrade, bug fix, and performance improvement to be meticulously documented and archived. What you are presented within the “What’s New …” list is an abbreviated version of this archive. In a sense, the list offers a summary report of what the development staff has been working on over the preceding weeks and months. It can make for some interesting reading.

For the soon-to-be-released Global Mapper version 20, there are more than 200 individual changes that have been noted. Given the dynamic nature of the development process, this number will likely increase by the actual date of release.

For those of you who do not have the time or the wherewithal to peruse the entire list, what follows, in no particular order, is a summary of five of the most significant new features that you will find in Global Mapper 20.

Map Layout tools have been streamlined in Global Mapper 20.

1) Improvements to the Map Layout function

One of the surprising findings from last year’s Global Mapper user survey was the importance of map printing. For years, the prevailing opinion has been that printed maps would eventually bite the proverbial dust, but this has not been the case. Global Mapper’s Map Layout functionality was completely redesigned a couple of years ago and it has been undergoing continual improvements ever since. For this release we have introduced a new tool for creating a map book or atlas from selected features;  a new option to filter the legend by layer; and a custom macro function that allows you to create title blocks with name, company, etc. Suffice to say, if your workflow requires the printing of maps, Global Mapper 20 has all the tools you need.

2) Support for Windows Tablets with improved touchscreen functionality

While Global Mapper has always been supported on Windows-based touchscreen devices, certain actions and UI procedures have been difficult. In version 20, there have been significant improvements that allow a wider range of actions to be controlled with your fingers. Pinching to zoom the map is now supported as well as swiping with two fingers to pan the map in both the 2D and 3D views. Previous enhancements to support touchscreen interaction include, touching the screen to activate contextual menus and tapping on the screen with any of the digitizing tools enabled to place points or vertices.

3) Ability to create a point cloud or flattened orthoimage from a 3D mesh or model

Creating a point cloud, similar in structure to LiDAR data, from an existing 3D model or mesh may seem like an inverted procedure. It is the reverse of what would be considered a normal workflow. It does, however, open up a number of interesting 3D analysis workflows, in which the source data is an existing 3D mesh. For instance, the point cloud created from the model can be readily classified, edited, and filtered using Global Mapper’s LiDAR processing tools, and points representing ground can be used to create a DTM. Version 20 of Global Mapper not only offers this new point cloud creation tool but it also offers the option to create a flattened orthoimage derived from the colors in the mesh.

4) Speed improvements when loading large vector files

Citing any type of performance improvement as a new version highlight is often perceived as subjective and difficult to quantify or validate. In the case of Global Mapper 20, the improved speed when working with larger vector files is tangible. During our internal testing, the load time for a specific large shapefile was measured at just over four minutes in version 19 of Global Mapper. In version 20, on the same multi-core machine, the load time was shaved to 2.5 seconds. That’s almost 100 times faster. Improvements have also been made to the rendering of large vector files in the 3D View.

Global Mapper 20 now offers a color picker option, with which users can simply click the section of a raster image that they want to extract color from.

5) Eyedropper tool for accurate color selection

Perhaps not a major functional upgrade, however, when considered in the context of one of the author’s favorite Global Mapper tools, it is a godsend. The tool in question is a feature informally referred to as “Raster Vectorization” or, to give its proper name, “Create Area Features from Equal Values”. The premise is simple: By identifying a specific color in an image, you can create polygons that enclose the extent of the pixels of that color or you can expand the tolerance to accommodate similar colors. Previously, fine-tuning the color selection involved manually entering the required RGB values. In version 20, there now is a color picker option, with which you simply click the section of the raster image that you want to extract. This color picker is also available when choosing a transparent color for a raster layer.

And a couple of bonus highlights for LiDAR Module users:

Tool for creating a 3D model or mesh from selected LiDAR points

The underlying technology that enables the creation of an orthoimage was incorporated into Global Mapper within the Pixels-to-Points tool, introduced in the LiDAR Module in version 19. As a byproduct of the photogrammetric 3D point cloud generation process, there is also an option to generate a flattened raster representation of the area in question. Previously, the only way to create either of these data outputs was from drone images. With version 20 of the LiDAR Module, there is now an option to create a mesh or orthoimage from selected points in an existing LiDAR file or point cloud.

Version 20 of the LiDAR Module will come with a new function to spatially thin a LiDAR layer. This tool allows users to specify a target resolution for the point cloud which eliminates redundancy, reduces file size, and improves performance.

Option to spatially thin a point cloud

The LiDAR Module offers an extensive array of point cloud filtering and editing tools. Among the options are: deleting selected points, geographically cropping a point cloud, removal of noise points, manual or automatic reclassification of points, and horizontal or vertical shifting of the point cloud layer. Added to this list in version 20 is a new function to spatially thin a LiDAR layer. This tool allows the user to specify a target resolution for the point cloud which eliminates redundancy, reduces file size, and improves performance.

Version 20 Coming in Mid September

Global Mapper 20 is scheduled for release in the second half of September 2018. Check your inbox or visit to find out when it is available for download. As always, you can activate a free two-week trial and if you have time, check out the full What’s New list to see what improvements have been made to your favorite Global Mapper tools.

Reseller Spotlight: Schnell Informatics

Pan India clientele of Schnell

Tell us a little bit about Schnell Informatics.

Started in 2006 as an entrepreneurial venture, Schnell has grown into a turn-key solution provider in the field of Geographical Information System (GIS) & geotechnical engineering. During its early years, the company explored opportunities in various fields such as GIS & GPS product sales, implementation of weather monitoring systems, geographical product sales to educational Institutions, and GIS services to various government departments.

In March 2010, Schnell Informatics Private Ltd. was floated as a private limited company with a special focus on providing complete range of solutions in GIS & MIS by leveraging its industry knowledge and business expertise. Schnell has carried out GIS-based projects for various government departments in India from 2010 to 2013. During these years, we began to realize we needed a product partner which we can bundle with GIS Services. This was the beginning of our association with Global Mapper which would eventually come under the control of Blue Marble Geographics. Global Mapper is widely regarded as a low cost GIS software with rich functionality and this has helped us to capture GIS product space quite fast as compared to other companies who were trying to expand their customer base with other costly GIS products.

Extensive demos to prospective clients in various fields such as education, government & private sector were well received and ultimately helped in establishing a foothold in their product portfolio. Now Schnell is major supplier of Blue Marble Products to Indian Army, Indian Navy & Indian Airforce. Schnell has introduced Global Mapper to large number of educational institutes throughout India. Also, many private companies are clients of Schnell and are using Blue Marble Products. We cater to companies in various sectors including mining, wind energy, telecom, forestry, irrigation, utilities, surveying and infrastructure.

How many people currently work for the company?

Schnell has a strong technical team of eight people who are engaged in pre-sales, sales and marketing, post-sales training & technical support.

The Schnell Informatics team at a geospatial conference

How have you been in business?

Schnell is currently led by its two Directors, Bhushan Khomane and Satyawan Jadhav. Both of us worked with few renowned software companies in India early in our careers from 2000 to 2006. At this time, we understood the need for low cost, yet feature GIS software for the Indian market. Global Mapper was an excellent fit. We understood this opportunity and hard work throughout the years as well as excellent products like Global Mapper has helped Schnell to achieve a prominent position in GIS field in India.

Tell us a little about your background in GIS?

Prior to Schnell, Bhushan has worked with a top Indian IT company in CAD/CAM and GIS. This helped him to understand the GIS market within India and gave him the opportunity to learn various GIS products. Satyawan also worked with an Indian IT company, which is considered as pioneer of GIS in India. Extensive experience is Sales and Marketing of GIS products has laid the strong foundation for sales of Blue Marble products within India.

What are your target markets?

Target markets include defense (Indian Army, Navy, and Airforce), mining companies, the telecom sector, infrastructure companies, survey companies, companies working in agriculture, educational and research institutes, and various government departments including irrigation, forestry, PWD, electricity and land records.

What geographic area do you cover?

Schnell covers entire country of India as well as neighboring countries like Nepal and Bhutan.

How long has Schnell been reselling Global Mapper?

We first added Global Mapper to our product offerings nine years ago.

Why were you originally interested in reselling Blue Marble products?

Blue Marble products are feature-rich, low-cost, and user-friendly.

Excellent technical as well marketing support by Blue Marble has inspired our team to achieve exponential growth.

What are your favorite features of Global Mapper?

  • Access to raster data, vector data, 3D elevation data and satellite imagery using one simple dialog box.
  • The Pixels-to-Points tool and LiDAR QC functionality in the LIDAR Module
  • Watershed and Viewshed analysis
  • 3D path profile creation

What has been your most interesting or challenging sales or support experience?

There was one particularly challenging sale to a leading telecom company in India, which we closed last year. The company had been using MapInfo for several years and we had conducted series of demonstrations of Global Mapper at various levels within the management of the company. After eight months of effort, we finally convinced them to buy Global Mapper. The highlight of this sale was the introduction of the Floating License of Global Mapper. Since this company desperately wanted to be able to quickly move their Global Mapper license from one machine to another, we discussed their issue with members of Blue Marble staff several times, which ultimately resulted in the introduction of a floating license. Interestingly, in past few sales we have noticed that clients have been preferring the floating license option over a standalone license of Global Mapper.

Other than reselling Blue Marble software, what other services do you provide?

Over the last several years, Schnell has been providing GIS services to clients based on Global Mapper. We also resell other geotechnical engineering software products like GEO5. GIS services include digitization of the road networks of various Indian cities as well as digitization of land records for government irrigation departments.

How has your partnership with Blue Marble benefited your business?

In early years of the company, Schnell was carrying out GIS digitization projects mainly for government departments. After we established a partnership with Global Mapper and later Blue Marble, Schnell started offering Global Mapper as commercial off-the-shelf product. With Global Mapper, Schnell was able to expand its client base to educational institutions as well as Indian defense and major private companies. This has given excellent boost to the top-line as well bottom-line of Schnell.

Timely co-operation by the Blue Marble team has always kept us motivated to grow our business every year. Also collaborating with Blue Marble at GIS Conferences within India has helped Schnell to build its brand within the regional GIS community. We are very proud of the fact that we are Indian partner of Blue Marble Geographics.

How do you see your business growing with Global Mapper? New markets?

We can anticipate 30 – 40% annualized growth in revenue every year for next 8 to 10 years. Global Mapper has successfully penetrated the Indian market and with innovative sales strategies, we can achieve bigger targets.

Any final words?

We are happy and proud partner of Blue Marble Geographics for its software products in India. We wish to grow with growing company like Blue Marble and wish to contribute our best. We desire to be number one reseller of Blue Marble across the globe and we are trying hard to achieve that position.

LiDAR vs Photogrammetrically Generated Point Cloud Data

A 3D mesh created using Global Mapper’s Pixels-to-Points tool displayed in the 2D and 3D views

While both LiDAR and PhoDAR are 3D point cloud formats, the process of creating each is completely different. The nature of the collection process dictates the structural characteristics of the data and its usefulness for specific applications.

In this blog entry, we look at some of the distinct differences between each collection method, and their ideal uses.

A screenshot showing conventional LiDAR data in Global Mapper colorized to represent elevation

LiDAR – The Good

Active Collection Process

Individual 3D points are collected and processed in real time.

More Return Data

Each point includes a range of useful data including return intensity, return count, and classification (added as a post process).

Data Sharing

Data structure has been standardized providing optimal conditions for data sharing and interoperability.

Wide-Area Collection

Scanners mounted on aircraft allow for a wide-geographic area to be captured relatively quickly.

Compact Equipment

Unlike early LiDAR hardware, scanners are now relatively compact and can even be mounted on a UAV.

Ground Detection

LiDAR can penetrate foliage and similar obstructions providing a complete 3D representation of the target area. This allows for ground detection even in heavily forested areas.

Rapidly Evolving Tech

For instance, Geiger-mode LiDAR can provide point densities of 100/sq m or greater.


The points are theoretically more accurate, especially the height value.

DTM Generation

LiDAR is ideal for generating Digital Terrain Models because, unlike photogrammetry, it can “see” through canopies to ground.

LiDAR – The Not So Good

High Cost

Traditional LiDAR requires a manned aircraft to house the necessary hardware.

Sensitivity to Flight Conditions

Collection requires optimal atmospheric conditions for flying. The altitude and speed of the aircraft can also effect the point density.

Poor Anomaly Identification

Raw LiDAR cannot recognize anomalies in the data (e.g. birds underneath the flight path)

Inconsistency in Processing

It is not uncommon to encounter publically available LiDAR files that have been erroneously classified


A split image showing a photogrammetrically generated point cloud on the left and a 3D mesh created form this point cloud on the right

PhoDAR – The Good

Minimal Technical Requirements

It’s a more accessible way of creating a point cloud with hardware that can cost as little as $1,000.

On Demand & Versatile Collection

Data can be collected on demand, in a relatively confined area, and with minimal preplanning required.

Greater Point Cloud Density

Point densities are typically much greater than those of traditional LiDAR

Classifiable Data

While not natively LiDAR, a photogrammetric point cloud can have classification values applied and can be exported to a las or laz file.

Raster-Colorized Points

Each point automatically inherits the color from the corresponding images.

DSM Generation

Ideal for Digital Surface Model generation since it is unable to penetrate vegetation like LiDAR can.

PhoDAR – The Not So Good

Requires Distinct Features

Points derived from image analysis require distinct visible features in the geographic area of focus.

Requires Surface Variety

Photogrammetric point cloud generation doesn’t work well when there is a lack of variety in surface texture in images, such as the surface of a desert area or large parking lot.

Requires Sufficient Light

Unlike LiDAR, photogrammetry depends on sufficient ambient light. Clear images are required for generating a point cloud, so shooting images in low-light conditions is not ideal.

Poor Ground Detection

Photographs cannot “see” through canopies like LiDAR can.

Shadows and Sky Don’t Work

Point cloud generation doesn’t work well with images that contain large shadows or a lot of sky.

Accuracy Depends on Ground Control

Horizontal accuracy and elevation values are not as accurate unless ground control points have been used in the processing phase.

Coverage is Usually Limited

Photogrammetric point cloud generation isn’t as practical for large area coverage.

Inconsistent Colors

There is often inconsistent coloring across a surface area due to variations in the color balance of the individual images

More Cleanup

Reflective surfaces can sometimes cause more noise points or anomalies in the data, which would require manual removal. Finer features, such as power lines, may not show up as well as they would in LiDAR data.

Ideal Uses for LiDAR

LiDAR is ideal for collecting data of larger areas and of finer details, such as power lines, pipe lines, and the edges of objects. It’s also ideal for creating digital terrain models, since sensors can penetrate vegetation, allowing for the collection of real ground points.

Ideal Uses of Photogrammetry

Photogrammetry is ideal for surveying smaller areas that contain minimal vegetation. Since it can’t penetrate vegetation like LiDAR, photogrammetry is often better for generating digital surface models, rather than terrain models.

Ideal Software for Both LiDAR and Photogrammetry

Whichever point cloud generation method you choose, Global Mapper and the LiDAR Module are well-equipped to efficiently and effectively process the resulting data. The extensive list of editing, visualization, and analysis tools include point cloud editing and filtering, DTM or DSM creation, feature extraction, contour generation, volume calculation, and much more.

The Path to Becoming a UAS Pilot

Chelsea E | Projections
Dan Leclair, one of the flight instructors of the Unmanned Aerial Systems (UAS) program at the University of Maine at Augusta, prepares to fly a drone over the Blue Marble Geographics headquarters in October of 2017.

A fool thinks himself to be wise, but a wise man knows himself to be a fool.
-William Shakespeare, As You Like It, Act 5, Scene 1

With any new endeavor, you often start out with little idea of the depth of your lack of knowledge until you get going. Last year, as we started working with drone imagery for the Pixels-to-Points tool here at Blue Marble, we realized we were going to need to actually do our own flying to really generate the kinds of quality testing data we wanted to be working with for developing structure-from-motion tools and other new processes that take advantage of drone generated data. To fly commercially, we knew we needed a Part 107 certified remote pilot on staff and after some discussion we decided that I would become that pilot. We all knew there was a knowledge test involved and that it would be a good idea to take a prep course, but we were at the point where we didn’t know what we didn’t know.

Luckily, we are about a mile from the University of Maine at Augusta, which happens to be developing an Unmanned Aerial Systems (UAS) program within the Aviation department. We had met Dan Leclair, one of the flight instructors, at a local conference and realized we had some knowledge to exchange. He and Greg Jolda, another of the instructors, came over to the Blue Marble headquarters with one of their drones to do a flight around our grounds collecting images that we could run through early versions of the Pixels-to-Points tools. Now, where we are located specifically, just happens to be on the approach to the Augusta State Airport. Dan and Greg gave us a crash course in wind speeds, flight waivers, radio communication, and airspace ceilings … or roughly enough to make a GIS practitioner’s head spin in under five minutes. The drone wasn’t even out of the case yet!  There’s an old saying that an expert is someone who knows a lot about a little. We know maps, geodetics, and data analysis here and we were realizing that this was going to have a large learning curve ahead; I was going to need to become an expert in a whole other field.

Chelsea E | Projections
Greg Jolda, an instructor of the Unmanned Aerial Systems (UAS) program at the University of Maine at Augusta, adjusts a rotor on a drone at the Blue Marble Geographics headquarters in October of 2017.

Class: Learning to become a pilot at night

Fast forward to my first night of class. The course would be two nights a week for eight weeks, in three-hour class meetings, led by Dan and Greg.  It had been rather a long time since I had been on the other side of the lectern in a classroom. Let’s just say laptops were not common the last time I took a class. I was rather excited; I love learning new things and applying that knowledge. The room started to fill up and we started getting to know each other with some introductions. We were from many different fields: foresters, engineers, radio tower operators, real estate agents, photographers, media company producers, scientists, and even some self-starters looking for a new line of work. Basically, everyone there was looking into a new area. Going over the course syllabus and reading materials, it was readily apparent what we didn’t know: A LOT.  General regulations, pilot certification, airspace classification and restrictions, aeronautical chart interpretation (Yay, maps!), airport operations, weather, weight and balance, aircraft performance, radio communications, aeronautical decision-making, emergency procedures, maintenance, pilot physiology, on and on.

Every topic comes with vocabulary specific to flight operations, even getting into nitty gritty stuff such as how to pronounce numbers over a radio and how to read a weather report written in shorthand code. Throughout the weeks, we covered all of these topics and more. Every time we entered a topic it was a good education in just how little you can imagine is involved outside the things you already know. We found that everyone in the class had their own challenges. Being a generally spatial thinker, the mapping sections and airspace designations I found simpler than some of the more abstract bits of weather such as the different types of clouds and how to read them. Others struggled with airspace but had no trouble with the physics-heavy sections of loading, altitude density of air, etc. There’s a wide variety of topics involved and it takes time to assimilate the sheer breadth of new information that’s covered on the exams.

Chart of airspace
A chart illustrating airspace published in the Federal Aviation Administration’s Pilot’s Handbook of Aeronautical Knowledge.

One of the questions a lot of my friends and colleagues have asked me is: “How do you practice flying at a night class?” It makes sense, it’s a drone pilot class, you’re going to learn to fly, right? Well, no. You don’t actually have to have flown a single minute to become a Part 107 certified pilot. The test is purely knowledge-based, and is intended to ensure that drone pilots know how to operate safely within the federal airspace. In our class we did actually spend some time flying small Blade Inductrix drones indoors with full size Spektrum DX8 transmitters towards the end of the course. We also spent some time talking about the basic mechanics of fixed-wing and multi-rotor builds, and their control systems. This is not really essential to prepare for the Part 107 exam, but it is good material to cover.

So, at the time of writing, I’ve arrived at the end of the course. Tomorrow morning I go on for my exam. I have been taking practice exams on the Gleim test prep system until I’ve started to recognize some of the 900 practice questions. I have never failed a practice exam, so I’m feeling good.

Testing: Knowing your airspace, safety, and weather

I passed.

From the questions on the exam, it’s very clear where drone pilots have been having issues:  airspace & operations! The breakdown of questions I encountered was about 50 questions on airspace and general safety practices and the last 10 questions on weather. I did pretty well on the test, passing comfortably. Going back through the review of things I missed (which it lets you do upon completion), I knew which questions I was shaky on. There was one question on an airport-related topic that I know I had never seen the answer to before. The test procedure itself is pretty simple, if you’ve taken practice tests on Gleim, you’ll be right at home on the FAA test system, it looks and feels pretty much exactly the same. The difference is that in Gleim, you work off of digital graphics for the charts and diagrams, and in the actual test you’re working out of a paperback copy of the Airman Knowledge Testing Supplement for Sport Pilot, Recreational Pilot, and Private Pilot (FAA-CT-8080-2G), which honestly, is easier to read than the digital practice graphics.

If you aren’t familiar with either, you have a simple panel-based interface on screen. Down the left you have your list of questions 1-60, and the main part of the screen has your questions and possible answers which are multiple choice and three options. You can mark questions to come back to later, which is very handy for taking a pass through and answering the ones that you are 100% confident in and then going back to spend more time on the others. I found two questions that I knew I would need to spend more time, because of the tricky wording. Even after spending some time looking through the book for some hints on those two, I was done in under 40 minutes. Having an hour and 20 minutes left, I used the opportunity to read through the entire test again and double check all my answers. I didn’t find any that I disagreed with myself on, so confidently I ended the exam to submit, the results go straight to the FAA, and I was immediately notified that I passed. All in all, a relatively procedural exam process after much preparation.

Getting the certification card in the mail was a relief after all that time studying, preparing, and then ultimately waiting.

Certification: Waiting for the card after weeks of preparing

You walk out of the testing facility with a stamped certificate that you passed the test, then the waiting starts. This certificate only states that you passed the test, it’s not actually your Part 107 certificate. You can follow your certification progress through the FAA’s IACRA website. In about 48 hours, it updated to show that it knew I passed the test, then over the next few weeks it updated as my results were passed around in the FAA systems, until eventually, I was granted a printable temporary certificate I could fly with. With this temporary certificate, there is no certificate number you can use to fill out waiver applications, but at that point I could legally fly. My certificate card arrived about six weeks after I took the test, backdated to the test date. Getting the card in the mail was a relief after all that time studying, preparing, and then ultimately waiting. I learned more than I could have imagined at the start and like I mentioned at the beginning of this entry, I now have a better idea just how much more there is to learn.


Sam Knight


Sam Knight is the Director of Product Management for Blue Marble Geographics. With Blue Marble for more than 14 years, Sam has lead hundreds of GIS and Geodetics courses and is a frequent speaker at industry conferences, trying to make tricky geodetics concepts accessible at a practical level.

Rendering Vector Data in Global Mapper

Data visualization is one of the fundamental functions of a GIS. The display characteristics of features on the map can convey a wealth of relevant information about the data, its relationship with other geographic information, and its inherent spatial patterns. In the latest Global Mapper webcast, we explore the various options that are available for visualizing or customizing the display of vector data.

The specific topics covered in this presentation include:

  • Manually adjusting the display of a layer or of a select group of features (06:57)
  • Using Feature Types to automatically assign colors to frequently mapped objects (19:58)
  • Assigning random colors to features in a layer (29:52)
  • Applying colors to reflect instances of a recurring attribute (31:47)
  • Applying colors to reflect numeric values (42:41)
  • Visualizing data using a Density Map (54:21)
  • Visualizing numeric attribute data in a graph (59:56)
  • A quick look at labeling (1:04:26)

If you have questions about any of the workflows or topics covered in this presentation, email:

For licensing or sales questions, email

To download an evaluation copy of Global Mapper, visit: