Collision Course

The WSJ explains that the some model airplanes and UAV’s have a lot in common. Unfortunately, this may be the model hobbyist’s undoing

Mr. Snyder’s trainer, an L-39 Albatros, was powered by a small but real jet engine. Other planes at the competition had gasoline engines big enough for a motorcycle. Some can ascend thousands of feet, travel at 200 miles an hour and have wingspans of up to 20 feet…Proposed (FAA) rules could prohibit jet propulsion, set a 100 mph speed limit, maximum altitude of 400 feet and top weight of 55 pounds. If those standards were enacted, modelers who flouted them could face fines or other sanctions.

A friend of mine has built two beautiful models with painstaking detail. One, a T-34   the other, a DC-3. I went over to an “airport” built specifically for this purpose (including a paved runway) to watch his models in action. Some take over a year to build, so it was small wonder that the entire crowd gasped when a wing disintegrated on a bi-plane, the spectators silent as it spun into the corn field. Finding a downed RC plane in a cornfield is like finding a needle in a haystack but find it they did, in small pieces.

Some of these planes are enormous, like this SR-71 jet (see the video clip). The lines blur between RC planes and UAV’s when you witness the size and speed,. Not much difference, except models are flown within line-of-sight while drones are guided by pilots at remote locations.

There may be good reasons to regulate them too. The NTSB blamed the operator of a large RC model for a collision with a full-size biplane at a fly-in last August. The biplane’s lower wing was damaged but the pilot was able to land. The RC model was destroyed which shows that it can a lot of fun until it isn’t. Here’s hoping you never see any unmanned planes at your altitude. It could ruin your day.

5 responses to “Collision Course

  1. The jet propulsion ban doesn’t seem to make much sense. As long as the other limits are adhered to, what difference should the method of propulsion make? I’m thinking too that quite a lot of innovation and development in aviation comes from models, and banning methods of propulsion could stifle that. Maybe the future of GA could be in the use of micro turbines, or electric motors?

    • I’d agree with you on the jet propulsion ban Chris. Innovation is good but where do you draw the line on reckless experimentation? All of the model enthusiasts I met were friendly, adhered to self imposed regulations, and safe. Think EAA and building your own plane albeit in a very small way. I still wondered about one of those SR-71 models wandering too far into an ultralight or GA plane’s airspace at speeds faster then most any GA aircraft.

      Hopefully, the FAA will strike a balance, which is not something they usually do well.

  2. I’m totally with you on the weight/height/speed limit.

  3. GA accidents kill on average 8 men women and children on the ground every year. In the US since the AMA started in the 30’s there have been no innocent civilian fatalities. Further more, there has not been one fatality in full scale aviation caused by a model plane. Whoever wrote this article sounds like they need to work in Congress, a little hype based on nothing wrapped in a nice warm bun of fuzzy feeling topped with some arrogant holier than thou sauce and serve to the public. I suggest you look at your own record and who you are killing and stop worrying so much about yourselves. I’ve been flying RC for 35 years, trust me, we are watching out for you at all times, I’ve never even had a close call, never seen a full scale plane fly over my field in all that time at low altitude. This article serves no constructive purpose but to unjustly single a group out to hurt them, and I take offence to that.

  4. If I may, the incident with the biplane colliding with an RC aircraft was a little more complicated, it was a 1/3 scale 3D plane doing a prop hang over the runway in front of a crowd at a sanctioned event. The biplane pilot did a low, high speed flyby that the RC pilot couldn’t have seen coming in time to move. I don’t know all the details but the full scale pilot was clearly at fault. The major collision completely destroyed the 1/3 size rc plane and the biplane was able to land under full control. This shouldn’t be portrayed as an incident against RC piloting like it is.

    I’m with Luke, There isn’t a need for FAA regulation with model aircraft, they don’t share the same airspace. The AMA regs work etc. If the FAA regulates model airplanes it should regulate baseballs because they can cause more damage than most FPV airplanes. Remember flight 1549? Those geese caused more damage than any RC planes ever have Why doesn’t the FAA regulate/ ban birds from flying? It’s just as ridiculous as making little Timmy call air traffic control before flying his rubber band plane in his backyard within 5 mi of an airport. . .

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