Forest Ecology Drone Pilot Assistant


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


$19-22/hr (pending HR review of candidate)

Duration and employment period

The Drone Pilot Assistant will join two field hitches:

  • May 22 or 23 through May 29 or 30
  • June 5-12

The full-time employment period (two hitches of 8 days on followed by 6 days off; total of 160 hours) is May 22 through June 18, 2024. There will also be some required safety training work (approx. 5-10 hours) to complete before the field season begins. Some of the training is asynchronous, and a small amount is synchronous, at a mutually agreed time in May.


  • 85%: remote forested field sites in the mountains of California and potentially Oregon (Duty station: UC Davis, Davis, CA)
  • 15%: office (computer lab) at UC Davis (with a remote component permitted)


The Forest Ecology Drone Pilot Assistant will support the Open Forest Observatory by serving as the assistant and visual observer for an experienced drone pilot working to collect imagery from forest sites.

Job description

The Drone Pilot Assistant will serve as an assistant to a professional drone pilot conducting drone missions in remote, mountainous, forested terrain. The Assistant’s primary duty is to provide a second vantage point on the drone while it is flying and communication any potential issues (e.g. collisions; very rare) with the drone pilot verbally (directly or via radio). Secondary duties include assisting with management of equipment (e.g., loading and unloading vehicle, charging batteries), driving a UC Davis fleet vehicle, and assisting with navigation to field sites on remote forest roads. The Pilot and Assistant will work together at all times. Due to the remoteness of the field sites, the crew 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 Assistant 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 crew 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 crew 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 or Thursdays. 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 crew members are expected to arrange and coordinate schedules with each other 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.

Field conditions

Field conditions will often be hot with little shade, but can also be very cold and potentially wet. The work will involve extensive camping, usually with no facilities like bathrooms or running water. The Assistant must have prior outdoor experience demonstrating their ability to work in the rustic and sometimes harsh field conditions.

Field gear

All necessary field equipment will be provided. Communal camping gear (e.g., water jugs and cooking gear) will also be provided. Camping gear (basic tent, sleeping bag, and sleeping pad) are available if desired. The Assistant will be responsible for their own field clothing.


The Pilot and Assistant will be expected to share in driving a UC Davis fleet vehicle to the field sites.

Minimum qualifications

  • 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 organizational skills
  • Attention to detail
  • Experience successfully working 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

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
    • Experience with geospatial analysis or other quantitative tasks
  • Ability to maintain a positive attitude in physically harsh and/or demanding conditions

To apply

Please submit a cover letter (including your interest in the position, relevant experience, and availability dates), CV/resume, and contact information for two references (including name, organization, email, and relationship to you) using this Google form. The form includes more detailed instructions. Review of applications will begin April 22, 2024. Apply by this date for full consideration. Applications submitted after this date may be considered depending on availability. For questions about the position, contact Derek Young,