I just recently bought a RTF Hangar 9 Arrow, with the plan to convert it to UAV use. I just flew for the first time last weekend at a local AMA club that was having a newbie day. I was shocked by their membership fee ($125/year) plus the fact that you had to buy into the AMA membership as well ($65/year). I emailed them to make sure I could fly my UAV in the future, and they said no, the AMA doesn't allow this on any AMA chartered field.

Now I'm confused. I've been reading all sorts of forums including on rcuniverse and rccam, with regards to both UAV and FPV type planes and I seem to get conflicting info. Is it legal at all to fly your own UAV without FAA certificate and AMA insurance?

Tags: AMA, FAA, UAS, UAV

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Please see our FAQ on this. Short form: it is legal under US law as long you you follow certain rules, but the AMA insurance will not cover you and they won't let you fly on their fields. So fly elsewhere and be aware that you bear any legal liability.
I may have thought of a way around the AMA condition - use a buddy box. Instead of having the microcontroller directly control the servos on the plane, leave control to the standard R/C transmitter/receiver and just use a buddy box cord between the transmitter and either a computer or embedded microcontroller system on the ground. Then, just use a 900 mhz or 2.4 ghz radio modem to communicate sensor information between the plane and the ground controller.

In this way, the pilot would just hit the buddy box switch on the transmitter to either give control to the ground autopilot controller or take it away. How is this any more dangerous than what clubs do to train new members. The other condition of AMA is to fly within visual range (visually unaided), which is simple - if you cannot control the plane with the R/C transmitter don't let the ground station either, take control and fly it back within range.

I scoped the buddy box signal on my RTF's JR quattro transmitter, it is a really simple PPM waveform that I could easily duplicate with a atmega8 or other micro. I'm thinking I would initially just build a module like this which would take the servo position updates from a RS232 port on a computer and process it into the ppm pulse for the transmitter. Then a full sized computer/laptop would be the ground controller that would communicate over a radio modem to get the sensor data from the plane.

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