How long will unregulated FPV and RC last?

Another title might be "How long before we kill someone?".

Why such a provocative title? Well, a few days ago a fellow RC enthusiast approached me brimming with pride and sense of accomplishment. He wanted to tell me how he had flow his FPV RC airplane up to 3500 feet and in the clouds and successfully brought it back to it's launch location. I commended him on his technical achievement and his flying skills but, I was aghast and shocked by his mission. You see  I'm also an instrument rated fixed wing and helicopter pilot and I know and fly in this area all the time. The area where we live is one of the most busy and congested airspaces in the country. Even worse, I knew the field this young man was flying out of was directly under the approach path for a major international airport where airplanes are required to be at 2500' directly over that field as they approach the airport and everything from small Cessna to hugh 747's fly through that spot at approximately one per minute. As well aircraft not approaching that major airport are required to be below 2000' feet when they transition the area. Turns out that field is also immediately adjacent to a popular ATC reporting point where ATC will ask aircraft under their control to fly to and then report having reached. 

Do you see the problem? If not, and you are an RC enthusiast you best get a different hobby. Especially if you fly sailplanes or FPV. It was just pure luck or the grace of God (if you are a believer) that one of those airliners traveling 250 knots (about a mile every 15 seconds) didn't collide or have a near miss with my friends aircraft! He stated he had spotters but that it was also overcast so there was NO WAY his spotters could have seen any full sized aircraft let alone his own RC aircraft. Even if they could does any one honestly believe they could get out of the way fast enough if they saw a full size aircraft burst out of the clouds at a mile every 15 seconds? If they were able to it would be much luck.

Of course this is a worst case scenario and every bit of it is true - that's what prompted me to make this blog entry. Many of you fly in far less congested airspace but the risks are still there. I've seen many videos and blog entries from guys who were so proud about their FPV flight all over some city or elsewhere at altitudes where full size aircraft fly. It's pretty rampant.

The fact is, a full size aircraft colliding with one of our RC aircraft is in for a world of hurt. Our RC aircraft are near the size and weight of birds which bring down multiple aircraft a year except that birds can make much quicker decisions to get out of the way.You see, a two pound RC aircraft hit by an aircraft doing between 80 and 250 miles per hour is going to go right through the windshield of any airplane and likely will take the head off of the pilot behind it. And if it hits a control surface it could make the aircraft unflyable or if it get's sucked into an engine, it could make the engine explode. Very high probability of serious injury or death here. 

So what are the consequences? I just told what they are for pilots and airline passengers - injury or death. For RC enthusiasts even if all you do is cause an aircraft to make an emergency deviation or landing it's going to get LOTS of press and the FAA will take action. The first time this happens you can bet our friendly representatives like Feinstein and Boxer will force the FAA (if they won't do it on their own which they likely will anyway) to enact strict new laws highly restrictive to RC flying. They've already written them. Their just waiting for the ammunition that will garner enough public support where it won't matter a bit as to what we RC enthusiasts say. Then we'll likely have to get permits, licenses, etc. and be very restricted to where we can fly - if we can fly at all.

In the case where an RC enthusiasts causes a fatality or a crash. Not only will the FAA go berserk and take the previously mentioned actions but the RCer will be going to jail. Simply causing a crash will likely get you 5 years but if you cause a death that's going to be manslaughter and if they can prove that you knew the risk it'll be second degree murder. Either way you'll be going to jail for at least 25 years. If it's only manslaughter you probably will be able to get out after 10 years if you have no prior record and behave well while in prison. That's the good news.

So, the bottom line is will this happen? The answer is yes because nothing I wrote is new news and we all see blogs and forum posts from people bragging about their exploits flying high, flying over people, etc. etc. It's really just a matter of time. We'll all suffer from lost privileges but, more importantly, the victims and their families will suffer - people killed so some irresponsible person can have 20 minutes of fun with their RC aircraft. And last, some RCer will suffer more than the rest. He'll like be a smart talented individual who had a lapse of judgement thinking "It won't happen to me. I do it all the time and have never had a problem" (popular answer right? "I do it all the time and never had a problem"). All it takes is that FIRST time and it's all over. 

So, you think this is unlikely to happen? You think that if it does happen that the instigator is unlikely to get prosecuted and sent to jail? Well, you should educate yourself. Every year, licensed aircraft pilots are fined tens of thousands of dollars and sent to jail for violating airspace and for causing accidents, deaths or even near misses (if negligence was found). Recently, the pilot of a Cessna 172 nearly collided with a small biz jet forcing the pilots to take evasive action where by they ultimate crashed and were killed. The Cessna pilot was flying in could without being under a flight plan and without an instrument rating. He was convicted of second degree murder and is serving 25 to life. I see no reason why an RCer who causes an equally serious accident wouldn't be treated equally.

AMA already has guidelines for us - stay under 400 feet within 3 miles of an airport which help but aren't good enough. They guy flying at 3500 feet was 5 miles from the airport so technically he was following AMA rules but he was totally ignorant of what was actually going on around and above him. The problem with the AMA rules is they were clearly drafted by people who know little about how full size aircraft actually navigate. The only thing that will help is for people flying these machines to get educated on where they are flying and to use good judgement. Problem is many will not get educated and we already know there are some who lack or have a different definition of what good judgement is. I'm definitely not an advocate of more government rules and regs so I sit torn on the matter. How do we prevent a major incident from happening in our current environment? I'm not feeling too positive about a solution that doesn't negatively impact us all and I expect there will be an incident which will compel the FAA to take harsh and restrictive action.


(photo of the results of a UAV collision with a C130 added by the Moderators to comply with site guidelines that all posts have have an appropriate picture)

Views: 21020

Comment by CharlieNoFun on March 31, 2012 at 3:01pm

Ron, what would you think about UAV and FPV pilots using an ADS-B devices on the ground to ensure the flying sites are not having conflict with regular air traffic. Check out there is a DIY receiver that can be built to go with it. A Arduino based ADS-B device could be a great project. 

Comment by Gary Mortimer on March 31, 2012 at 3:07pm

Gosh how I learnt about not adding sUAS News logo into that image.I obtained the rights to that, its from somebody flying cargo aircraft over there that taxied past it and let me know.

Its gone around the world many times over now.  Ho hum

This was Patricks response

It appears that the manned aviation community is jumping to conclusions with egregious claims that the RQ-7 Shadow “ran into” or even, “crashed into” the C-130. These comments were made without seeing photos and/or interviewing those involved. Such a rush to judgement is outrageous! Preliminary reports given to sUAS News, along with exclusive photographs, suggest other possibilities. We as a community can only hope for an impartial and unbiased investigation.

Put out as “news” by the NBAA September 12, 2011

Unmanned Aircraft: Will Deployment Impact Business Aviation?

“A recent accident involving two military aircraft cast a spotlight on the potential risks involved. In mid-August, an RQ-7 Shadow unmanned surveillance aircraft collided with a C-130 Hercules during a mission over Afghanistan. The reconnaissance drone, which sports a 14-foot wingspan, struck the left wing of the turboprop transport, reportedly rupturing a fuel tank but otherwise causing little damage. The Hercules made a safe emergency landing; the unmanned aircraft was destroyed.”

It seems very likely that the C130 was not where it was supposed to be.

Here's another Airprox

I don't think the chances of an FPV aircraft hitting another aircraft are very high. We must all be aware of each other though.

The FAA are not pondering rules, they are going to make rules.

Comment by Hunter Parris on March 31, 2012 at 3:07pm

I strongly agree with the risks that this gentleman was taking while undergoing such irresponsible flying.  I'm not a fan of big government either, so I too am torn.  After posting several comments on John Villasenor's article of the LATimes regarding licensing drones due to terrorism, I believe this is a much more feasible argument than terrorism when it comes to unmanned aircraft in NAS.  I operate autonomous aircraft within city limits for wireless surveying and aerial photography and here are my guidelines that I follow:

- Understanding of nearby airfields and approach and landing headings/altitudes (can be found by Google searching)

- Never operate above 400' within 3 miles of an airport or major airfield

- Never fly directly over any airport or airfield

- If operating within 3 miles and in a manned aircraft approach/landing, maintain safe altitude of at least 100ft below minimum approach altitude

- If no airport or major airfield within 10 miles, operate no more that 2500ft altitude (very rarely do I operate this high)

These are some of the self-made rules I follow when operating.  I'm not a manned aircraft pilot, but do consider the risks greatly.

Comment by Gary Mortimer on March 31, 2012 at 3:16pm

Oh lets all not forget this one

Normal RC flying will stay, private autonomous UAS in the USA, well we shall see.

Here's those acronyms again

RCAPA        ASTM F-38        NPRM

Comment by Hunter Parris on March 31, 2012 at 3:54pm

Wow.  Just wow.  I'm a member of RCAPA and waiting to join ASTM upon my arrival back to the US :)

Comment by Helldesk on March 31, 2012 at 4:18pm

On this side of the pond there is a clear maximum altitude limit on RC airplanes, as well as a line of sight requirement, thereby prohibiting high altitude cloud punching with RC aircraft. Where RC aircraft rules allow RC flight, full scale aircraft are illegal to fly - unless you obtain permission to fly at a full scale airport, which is the only place full scale aircraft may fly low during take-off and landing. Since full-scale aircraft have a minimum altitude limit and RC models have a maximum limit, no risk of collision exists if both parties follow the rules (excluding emergency landings and such).

If the FPV community insists on taking risks like the blog post describes, at least do it outside areas where frequent, established full scale air traffic occurs.

Comment by Greg Fletcher on March 31, 2012 at 6:34pm

If he fallowed the AMA rules for FPV he would of had an observer/pilot ready to take back control if the plane starts to go beyond LOS or into clouds. This guy was either a complete idiot or else totally irresponsible and clueless. I hope you set him strait.

Comment by David M Eno on March 31, 2012 at 7:46pm

I think the discussions between the AMA and FAA that have been going for a while and are nearing conclusion will define these limits.  FPV and gliding will not be affected, but it is very likely we will all have to get AMA in the future.  That was basically the impression that both the FAA and the AMA gave from their talks.    

Comment by Jason Short on March 31, 2012 at 8:18pm

It's a big sky. Let's not let things get blown out of proportion. 

Comment by Andrew Rabbitt on March 31, 2012 at 9:37pm
There's probably a bunch of regulations that the (presumably) FAA could use to prosecute on such events, but before we ask the Gods for another roll of red tape, we should consider what more regulation will achieve if we can't enforce what we already have...


You need to be a member of DIY Drones to add comments!

Join DIY Drones

© 2019   Created by Chris Anderson.   Powered by

Badges  |  Report an Issue  |  Terms of Service