Experimenter

MAY 2015

Experimenter is a magazine created by EAA for people who build airplanes. We will report on amateur-built aircraft as well as ultralights and other light aircraft.

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2 Vol.4 No.5 / May 2015 TOWER FREQUENCY Drones and Us EAA will be vigilant BY JACK J. PELTON A MEMBER SENT ME a clipping from his small hometown news- paper. The headline at the top of the front page reads, "Ferrysburg to discuss park drone ban." According to the article the leaders of this small Midwestern town have become concerned that drones could be a risk to others using the city parks, and that the cameras many drones carry could interfere with citizens' ability to relax and enjoy their parks. Whether the civic leaders' concern is warranted or not it's clear to me there is a public issue with drones. And by drones I mean the multi-rotor copter unmanned aircraft system (UAS) that can hover and often carry high-resolution cameras. Model airplanes and the people who build and fl y them have a very long history of uneventful and peaceful coexis- tence with normal air traf c and the public. Model airplane enthusiasts keep their radio-controlled airplanes in sight, below 400 feet, and away from airports and public gatherings. And now that many in the traditional model airplane commu- nity have begun fl ying the multi-rotor copter drones they operate those the same way. But the advanced electronics of the drone have the potential to change everything. The electronic stabilization eliminates the need to understand fl ying speed or turn radius and maneuvering envelope that are essential to fl y a conventional radio-controlled airplane. It does take some practice to expertly control a copter- type drone, but nothing like the aeronautical knowledge required to handle a conventional RC airplane. That means the copter type of drone can be bought and fl own right out of the box by people who make no ef ort to learn about airspace, aerodynamics, and fl ight control. With no inten- tion to add risk or annoyance to anyone the copter drone operator can unknowingly do both. The unique capabilities of the multi-rotor drone also create vast opportunity for never before seen commercial uses. Everything from monitoring highway traf c to high tension power line inspection to agricultural analysis is suddenly pos- sible at a very low cost. And those, and many, many more uses for drones, are worthy and make great economic and even safety sense. But commercial drone operators need some sort of authori- zation and regulation to smoothly enter into the airspace system. We who fl y all must demonstrate a level of safety and competence for our activities, and so should a commercial drone operator. So at EAA our position is that the traditional restrictions on model airplane fl ying work just fi ne for the recreational drone fl ier. We support the "Know Before You Fly" online program created by the Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International (AUVSI), the Academy of Model Aeronautics (AMA), the Small UAV Coalition, and the FAA. That site can educate the new drone pilot on acceptable model airplane operation and also introduce him to the model airplane com- munity. But for the commercial operator, and the operator of larger drones, we at EAA believe a minimum level of certifi ca- tion for both the aircraft and operator are necessary to preserve fl ying safety. Is the risk of drones to our fl ying in conventional airplanes overblown in our own minds? I'm not sure. But on a recent eve- ning as several of us gathered at a hangar on my home airport in Wichita we saw a copter-type drone fl y right down the center- line of our runway at about 100 feet. We searched but couldn't see where the drone went, or spot an operator. Most personal airplanes would probably survive a collision with a lightweight drone. But not all. And what about the pilot who spots the drone at the last minute and makes an aggressive avoidance maneuver close to the ground? Or what about a stu- dent on a solo fl ight? And what if…the list goes on. At EAA we support the recreational fl ying of all types of model aircraft and recognize the long history of responsibility and safety of the model airplane community under the umbrella of an organization like the AMA. But you can be sure we are vigilant and ready to react to any and all threats as new technology changes the traditional relationship between UAS and our airplanes. Photography by Jason Toney

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