Domestic Drone Casualties

Pilots of radio control models are justly concerned that increasingly drastic drone regulations might endanger their great hobby. And that matters to me and it should matter to you.

Granted, the kinds of casualties one associates with drones are the death from above variety (most often meted out to people who deserve such a fate or worse). So in the grand scheme of things, the effect of new UAV regulations on the rights of model airplane fliers might seem trivial, but it’s not.

With the advent of these new rules, model airplane flying itself is at risk. The hobby, which has been lumped in with drone flying for lack of a better idea, is technically subject to the same restrictions as commercial UAV operators are subject to, and then some. The threats to flying freedom include, as we reported recently, potential risk to FAA pilots’ certificates if model fliers run afoul of UAV regulations. There are now or possibly will be new limits on where models can fly, who can fly them, what kind of compensation (if any) one can get for doing it, and what kinds of certification drones (models) might one day be required to have.

Sadly, for most of us in full-sized aviation (as modelers refer to what we do), the story of model building and flying is not well known. I was lucky enough to grow up in a household where model airplanes were part of the fabric of family life. My dad was in love with airplanes from the time he was a little kid, and growing up in a regular hard working family in the depths of the Great Depression, he had limited ability to go flying in full-scale airplanes. As with millions of other young and not-so-young people, he turned to building and flying model airplanes, in the process learning so much about the nuts and bolts of aviation that by the time he started his primary training as a naval aviator, he had a wealth of knowledge about aviation.

Importantly, it also lit the fire in his belly about flying. That was true for my dad and, as I said, millions of others at the time. Those millions turned into the Greatest Aviation Generation, a generation that created general aviation as we know it. The guys (and gals) who had what Tom Wolfe deemed “the right stuff” were model builders as kids, you know. It’s the real deal.

Over the years when my dad wasn’t flying his “full-size” aircraft, he continued to head out to the model field, flying increasingly sophisticated, large and costly models, many of them precision scale models that seemed better suited for a museum showcase than the grime of model fuel and dirt strip grit.

As a matter of fact, my first job in aviation journalism was writing about scale R/C models while working for my dad, who edited a magazine called Scale R/C Modeler, which was the bible of the hobby for many years. In the process I learned a lot about flying, just as my dad had, including a lot about aviation history. At a time when I’d been out of the cockpit for a few years, in a wholly unexpected way this new gig rekindled my love of things with wings.

I understand the need for rules to govern UAVs. We implore our regulators, however, including those at the FAA, to remember and safeguard model aviation’s sacred place in flying’s history and flying’s present.