Hi there,

I have been doing some IRIS+ based measurements of atmospheric temperature profiles and

submitted a research proposal to the National Forest Service to fly above a site on NFS land.

Here is the response:


Unless you're able to point us toward FAA regs that indicate your proposed use would fall into the model aircraft (hobby/recreation) category, or produce a FAA certificate for Civil UAS use we won't be able to move forward with this aspect of your request.


I pointed out that this is not a commercial enterprise, we are not charging or making money, off of this and it is done during daylight,line of sight, and below 400" AGL

Anyone here that can help me ?

Thanks for reading this


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There was also a ruling in November on an appeal of the same case that allowed the classification of the UAV in question as an "aircraft" and therefore under FAA's jurisdiction. Now they are debating whether the flight was "reckless", but the FAA defines any flight by an "aircraft" under 500' as "reckless" (commercial or not). As lots of others have mentioned, their definition of "aircraft" is broad enough that it could include frisbees and paper airplanes, and thus every flight every one of us has made without an exemption is an offense, so I don't think they have a real strong legal leg to stand on there...

They might be interested in my project because it is called

"Palomar Rapid Deployment Site Survey" and by design is trying

to minimize environmental impact

No sir this isn't a drone. It's my flying camera. Say cheese!!! 

Dan, the way the law stands as of today, is that you can't fly into federal airspace for non-hobbyist or recreational purposes without a COA from the FAA. Doesn't matter if it's from your property or the USFS's property. The only difference is that if you do it from your property you need no permission from the USFS. But you would still violate the (stupid) FAA regs. I am only stressing this because I got the sense from you that you have to really go by the book, and that's what the book says. An will continue to say that for perhaps two years.

And as I said, were it me and my research project I'd do the flights FROM my property, take the samples in whatever airspace I felt was needed for the study, publish it clearly with the sample locations and let it go at that.

I am aware of published journal articles involving the use of drones for mapping and thermal imaging of archaeological sites in the US and am quite certain the researchers never got FAA authorization for their flights. They just did it.

A thought....if the number of sampling missions isn't too onerous, you could contact a "hobbyist" who might enjoy making such fights for "fun", and just include your sampling equipment on the hobbyist's airframe. Hell, it's sciencey and I'm sure there are "hobbyists" who would love flying around your dome with permission!  I loves me a good loophole.....

In my case a flying thermometer........I won't go there


Thank you for your thoughts.


Hi Dan,

It does not seem to me that the (non-recreational - hobbyist - non-commercial) issue itself needs to stop you here.

You are definitely doing this as a non-commercial venture for which you will receive no compensation and you could certainly reasonably maintain that this is in fact, your hobby and thus is a recreational venture.

The fact that your hobby is gathering scientific information does not detract from it's "recreational" status.

That said, as long as you can point out that you are in fact intending to fly below 400 feet, not within 5 miles of an airport and that you will maintain visual line of sight at all times, you are fully qualified to fly under the current hobbyist rules.

And this is the tack you should take if you are seeking permission from the USFS, they have already responded to you that you need to demonstrate your compliance, and if you simply copy this model aircraft link from the FAA website and indicate your intention to follow every single one of those rules, you will in fact have fulfilled the standard the USFS set for you.


That said, I think at that point low level supervisor number one who sent that response to you will then contact higher level supervisor number 2 who will say no we have rules against allowing flight of any aircraft in our jurisdiction.

But it is at least worth a shot.

Best Regards,


That said, as long as you can point out that you are in fact intending to fly below 400 feet, not within 5 miles of an airport and that you will maintain visual line of sight at all times, you are fully qualified to fly under the current hobbyist rules.

Yes, that is what I said however, I do fly the science flag and as some have said, not the best move.

I agree, yet step by step, we will move forward.

Good thing I have a non drone component to my research.


I think in the end unless there is some large voice or voices standing up for common sense on our side it's a losing battler. AMA seems to be the biggest voice for molders. I think it's worth the annual fee just for that reason alone. I don't work for them or know anybody that does... just say'n. 

Hi Richard,

I belong to the AMA too and I think they are a great organization, frankly if it weren't for them, I doubt we'd be allowed to do anything at all.

They have been very actively campaigning on our behalf and are no doubt at least somewhat responsible for the more measured approach that the FAA is now taking.

And we have a swell AMA field at the North end of town, a tremendous asset.

The AMA has struggled to keep up with the explosion of change (and growth) that multicopters, FPV and autonomous flight has meant and all in a really short period of time.

But they are probably our biggest single asset.

and Dan - Science can be a hobby too, it is for a lot of us, so wave the science flag but wave the hobby flag too.



What's the AMA? I thought that was the American Medical Association?

From the Electronic Code Of Federal Regulations, as mentioned in the FAA Interpretation of the Special Rule for Model Aircraft:

Title 14: Aeronautics and Space (14 CFR 1.1)

Commercial operator means a person who, for compensation or hire, engages in the carriage by aircraft in air commerce of persons or property, other than as an air carrier or foreign air carrier or under the authority of Part 375 of this title. Where it is doubtful that an operation is for “compensation or hire”, the test applied is whether the carriage by air is merely incidental to the person's other business or is, in itself, a major enterprise for profit.



Doesn't sound like this is a major enterprise for profit, and obtaining measurements via model aircraft is a subset of your larger body of research (incidental). In addition, your payload is not chartered for profit, you are not "holding out" your services to the public, and it is not "common carriage" as mentioned in FAA's 'AC 120-12A - Private Carriage Versus Common Carriage of Persons or Property'. That circular is for normal aircraft though, and may not apply to model aircraft. You'd definitely need to dig deeper.

Here is more information on UAS and aeronautical research, which may be helpful: http://www.faa.gov/about/office_org/headquarters_offices/agc/pol_ad...  It better defines the term 'aeronautical research' and uses.



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