AVmail: September 2, 2010 — RC Models and Airplanes
Last week's "Question of the Week" on further regulation of RC models — in light of the collision between a biplane and an RC model at Brighton, CO — generated huge response. Many of the letters reminded us that the investigation hasn't been concluded. The FAA has promised a full report within a week or so, and we'll carry it.
I fly both RC and full-size. The models have their safety code by the Association of Model Aeronautics (AMA) to follow. Most of that flying is far below the minimum altitude for the full-scale planes in the FARs. The code has a lot to say about conflict with full-scale airplanes. I've flown at small country airports without a problem, too. Being a pilot helped me to keep sharp for any possibility for traffic, and I landed as soon as I heard a plane in the pattern.
In the video in question, I would fault the event. The man with the radio obviously wasn't in control of the field as the air boss. The biplane did a low pass, rather than going around — if that was the request (and it should have been). And the RC pilot should have been alerted to shut it down when the plane was spotted on final approach by the air boss. As with any accident, it's a chain of poor decisions.
The RC flying is much like the full-scale, and there is a crossover of skills. We want new pilots to join us. RC is a great first step for them to enjoy aviation. In all the years of flying, there have only been a handful of incidents like this, with millions of hours flown each year by the RC community. The bigger models do require more skill, and, just like full-scale flying, having a big pocket book is no indicator of common sense, training or respect for the craft.
Richard Bach once wrote something to the effect that anyone who flies a plane should be required to start with a small model, work up to an RC, fly a sailplane, work up to a Piper Cub, then a 150, then up the ladder, and then you have the right to be an aviator. I like the idea of total immersion into aviation, from the small to the large.
When I reviewed the video posted on AVweb, my first impression was that there was a hot-dogging biplane pilot making a low pass over a model airplane airport. Upon reviewing the more lengthy tape on YouTube, it's obvious that this is a real airport with a mixed "real" airplane and RC show going on. After reviewing the YouTube video, it appears to me that fault lies with the individual on the ground with the airband handheld radio, who was apparently in communication with the pilot of the biplane and in control of the RC model activities as well but failed to keep the "real" airplane and the model separated.
In my opinion, the airport should have been NOTAMed closed during the model airplane activities, but apparently it was not, since the end of the YouTube [video] shows another "real" airplane on the runway, either taxiing or rolling out from a landing. Frankly, I don't think "real" airplanes and RC model flight activities in the same airspace or on the same runway at the same time are compatible, and if I were the FAA, I would implement rules to prohibit that combination.
I have flown RC aircraft at full-scale air shows for many years, and full-scale and models were never allowed in the air at the same time. Someone screwed up, plain and simple. The video shows the air boss with his handheld, so there was some miscomunication involved.
I concur that the accident was a fluke and don't feel additional FARs are needed to cover it. I didn't choose the first answer option, as it appeared to be that of an anti-government fanatic. Model aircraft organizations (AMA and IMAA, for example) have adequate safety regulations that are generally followed by the RC community. Not knowing the particulars of the incident in question, it appears that either better coordination or notification of the RC event being conducted at the airport was needed, or that the pilot in question may have been to blame if the appropriate notification of RC activity at the field had been given.