How long will unregulated FPV and RC last?

3689450814?profile=originalAnother 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)

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  • Wiki Ninja

    While becoming a private pilot, I was always surprised by the realities of see-and-avoid in non-towered airspace. Traffic is really hard to see, things happen fast, and the largest source of safety is simply the statistics of the situation.

    My father survived a goose strike, so I'm very much in agreement about the consequences of a collision. I find your friend's actions to be questionable at best.

    I also agree that it's not a question of "if", but "when", our hobby will suffer new regulation due to a sensationalized accident. How would we know if the "when" was 200 years from now, after the UAS hobby became as widespread as other DIY technical activities (like coding is today)?

    Someone needs to inject the math and statistics into this conversation. The Drake equation is cute, but the call for an app by Bruce Jones was the most important suggestion. When we fly at 3500 AGL in class E, given the other air traffic patterns in our vicinity, just *how* stupid are we being? If we can model this well and boil it down to useful info for FPV/UAS enthusiasts, we'll have an important tool to convince our fellow hobbyists.

    Trappy, if you read this: Your pioneering  videos are an inspiration, but your comment on this thread is just "trolling". Calling someone's argument stupid is an ineffective way to persuade them and others.

  • Correction:

    Perhaps an above statement is in error regarding my UAV control override statement. I should have maybe phrased that as augmented control, as the RC pilot should technically always be in control of the aircraft and the computer aspect is just augmenting that control. That is so we emphasize the pilot is always in control of the aircraft. Maybe we could make a comparison to those horizon assist systems, like on the Hobbyzone Cub. :) LOL

  • Well Robert. The latest info I have in regard to what Transport Canada and MAAC will do, is from their resent meetings last year and that is to leave things as they are for now. In short follow the existing rules and most important keep our heads down. So status quo for now unless something stupid happens or or group push the issues. Future change would likely be a result of what the FFA and the AMA do. If significant enough of a change happens in the US, then Transport Canada would likely follow along to keep in step because of our shared boarder and airspace. My assumption on TC following the FAA is supported by passed history. The exception is UAV's in Canada are not allowed.

    So for now FPV is ok with a buddy box, line of sight, altitude, location, no commercial use etc. But there is no UAV allowed at all. But in reality RC or FPV only become UAV once there is no control override and/or line of sight is lost etc. So I would say that we should never call our UAV's......UAV's. Stick to calling then FPV or just stick with RC. Perhaps there is room to call it a kind of autopilot.

    But UAV scares the uniformed.We all know what happens when ignorance becomes part of the equation.

  • @Chad Frazer, it's interesting that you say that.

    I live in a small town, a few miles outside a small city which hosts the largest military cargo airbase in Canada.  There are no major civilian airports anywhere nearby.  I think there might be one club field about 30-40 miles away.

    I am working my way up to trying some FPV flying, but I'm seriously worried about the military aircraft, even if I stay below 400ft.  I regularly see the military pilots flying Hercules and even the new Globemaster flying around the city at very low altitudes.  I can only imagine that they are hot-dogging, with some tenuous excuse about practising some kind of flight manoeuvres.  I see them doing highly banked turns, upwards of 45° at an altitude that appears to be only several wing-spans above the city.  It's even more nonsensical to me as they could just as easily practice any such manoeuvres out over Lake Ontario which is literally less than a mile from the airbase.

    I've actually flown my heli in a park in the city, but basically stay below 20 feet.  Just some test flights.

    But I've even seen such behaviour from the military pilots over my small town.  One time I distinctly remember a CC-130 loitering very low over my house, and I can only imagine there was somebody in that aircraft on a cell phone tell their wife "Hey Honey, go outside and look up!"

    Frankly, I'm afraid to even fly up to 400 feet.

    Finally, about 20 years ago, I witnessed up north in cottage country, a military personnel transport aircraft, a Boeing 707 or something, flying what can only be described as "nap of the earth" in a mountain range.  Something I'm sure is not in the mission profile of that airplane.

    And you also have things like this:

    And this:


    <deep breath>

    A) So having said all that, I'm not really even sure what altitude is "safe" or not, in my area.

    B) I find it a bit ridiculous that a military pilot would even begin to complain about the risk imposed on them by UAV's.  

    C) I would think Transport Canada's efforts would be better spent trying to rein-in the antics of these cowboys for the safety of the civilians, rather than the other way around.

  • In my opinion, the trend in FAA policy has gone exactly the opposite direction of what many of you think.  As a metaphor for actually decreasing regulation where it makes sense, I refer you to the ultralight, sport pilot, and recreational certification programs.  Remember that the airline industry is ultimately the "golden goose" here, but let's give credit where it is due.

    I remember when FAR Part 103 came out in 1982, and some tiny minority of "real pilots" I met in my travels (myself earning a PPSEL in 1976) were worried about safety.  I refer you to Advisory Circular "The Ultralight Vehicle" # 103-7 dated January 30th of 1984, and I quote, "Pilots of ultralight vehicles are NOT (emphasis mine) required to have training or previous experience prior to the operation of these vehicles."  Oh, the humanity!  (sarcasm mine as well)  Granted, a couple of organizations have been granted Part 103 waivers for two-passenger training purposes, and of course, a prudent person unfamiliar with aviation would be strongly encouraged to avail themselves of same.

    Here's the link to the circular:

    I consider it an apt metaphor; the FAA is fairly liberal with 62 MPH, 256 pound empty-weight aircraft being flown by (relatively) untrained pilots, as long as they don't carry passengers and stay in Class G (or E, if you ask nicely) airspace.

    How many mid-air disasters have a proximal cause of collision with an ultralight?  I don't recall one.  Yes, planes do hit birds occasionally, but seriously, we've a long way to go before UAVs start to outnumber natural ornithopters in population density around major flight paths.  I can imagine a typical DIYDrones quad being chewed up by the propeller of a Cessna 172 and it just brings a smile of irony to my face.  Sorry, I can't see impending tyrannical regulatory doom here.

    Should the UAV community have a stronger voice in DC?  Absolutely.  Should the UAV community have an organization like the EAA, USUA, or AOPA promulgating information and establishing best practices of behavior?  Of that, there is no doubt.  But seriously, I'm not worried that malevolent regulators are looming to thwart our freedoms here (there are plenty of other areas one should be much more concerned about).
  • Regarding the C130 pic I happened to be around for that. We talked to the pilot in charge of the Shadow UAS and the fault was with the C130. Long story short the Herc was NOT where it was told to be and the drone was. There is a real "lack of respect" from pilots towards UAVs. It's nothing personal from them but UAVs are just not something they want to deal with and are regarded as being something of a toy in "thier" airspace.

    They are so NOT toys.
  • This article is about the dumbest rant I ever read - and I stopped halfway.

    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!

    I find it hard to believe you are a pilot. Next time you fly in "the most congested air space" look left. then look right. After you land and get in your car and go on the highway look left, and look right. Then seriously re-consider if you want to ever drive a car again.

    It's people like YOU that make R/C less fun, more restricted and actually less safe.

  • I want an iPhone app that takes in my current position and tells me about any flying restrictions with 2 miles and any full-sized aircraft that have been or will be in the area.

  • Maybe we could start a movement for serious FPV guys to attend ground school.  I've been considering it for while and some of the stores like ready made RC, BevRC, hobbyking, range video, and DIY drones could insert some information about ground schools when they ship out an order.  

  • Developer

    No need to bring out all the big scary three letter acronyms. We have enough of them as it is. :) But I fully agree that there is a need to educate the FPV/UAV populous, especially those that fly close to regulated areas. But it should go both ways. One off my regular (sanctioned traditional R/C) fields are relatively close to an airport. And it is not uncommon to have motorized gliders and private airplanes passing by "sightseeing" well below their low altitude limit and into our legal R/C air zone. Needless to say, we hurry up and make room for them...

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