Drones, FPV, and Clubs

With all of the recent news concerning drones and multirotor aircraft, are you left with questions concerning how, or if, you should include these types of aircraft at your club field? The goal of this article is to help you better understand these issues.


If you have been around RC aircraft for a few years, you might remember the stir that RC helicopters caused when they were introduced. The new aircraft didn’t need a runway and they did a lot of hovering. They had a much different flight envelope than traditional fixed-wing airplanes. Many felt that they should be banned, and others claimed that they caused issues hovering over runways when airplanes were taking off or landing.

More recently, 3-D airplanes created a similar scare and some wanted to ban their operations as well. Now both are fixtures at nearly all club flying sites and almost everyone has accepted them as a part of typical field activity.

Today, we have multirotors, commonly referred to as drones by the news media. These new vehicles have shown innovative capabilities in commercial, governmental, and industrial venues, as well as for hobbyists.

As we have also seen, there are some who would use the technology in a mischievous manor, including possible terrorist activity. As a result, the public has become concerned about safety and privacy issues, and the FAA felt as though it had to become involved to protect the public. Many local governments have decided to create laws and ordinances to limit or outlaw the operation of these aircraft, often with devastating and unintended consequences for modelers.

As a result, some AMA members are taking aim at these vehicles to rid them from the airspace above their club flying sites. Is that really a good idea? As it was with RC helicopters, the problem is not so much the vehicles, but the people flying them. Understanding that these aircraft are just another RC flying vehicle is what is needed.

Many multirotors have stabilization systems to allow an owner to successfully fly them with minimal instruction. This causes concern that owners will operate these aircraft without regard to safety for themselves and others around them and endanger model flying altogether.

Flying a multirotor responsibly is no different from flying an RC airplane responsibly. From an AMA perspective, they are all simply model aircraft and fall under the AMA Safety Code and applicable documents. It’s still all about helping new people who come to the flying field with their aircraft (yes, even a multirotor!) and teaching them how to safely operate them and where they can and can’t fly.

One of the new growing areas of multirotors is FPV racing. This part of model aircraft flying even has a television show on ESPN 2 called Drone Racing League. The event is usually an indoor drone race, with lots of colored LED gates, twists and turns, and speed. It can be fun to watch and those who participate get a good adrenalin rush—much like RC Pylon Racing.

So what is AMA’s take on this? As with all miniature vehicles that came before the multirotor, they are simply another flying machine. AMA members are covered when flying a multirotor, just like any other model aircraft. Some modelers will want to give it a try and others are happy doing what they are doing now and won’t become involved with them—at least not at first.

If you have been flying models for most your life, you tend to have some interest in nearly all types of model aircraft, and may have moved from one to another throughout your modeling lifetime. Who knows? Multirotors might be in your future as well. Free time, interests, and abilities change throughout time.

With FPV drone racing becoming a quickly growing area, AMA has developed some simple rules for clubs to become acquainted with drone racing. On the AMA website, in the RC Racing area of the AMA Documents section, you will find #540E, FPV Club Sport Racing Recommendations. This document will guide clubs in setting up a racecourse with recommended distances between the course, pilots, and spectators.

It’s not the aircraft that is so important, but the person flying it! As with any RC aircraft, you need to learn the proper way to safely operate it, practice, and follow all of the AMA safety procedures (the AMA Safety Code and specific documents such as #550, Unmanned Aircraft Operation Utilizing First-Person View, and others).

Keep in mind that FPV racing is not the only activity that multirotor aircraft are capable of. Some members simply enjoy flying them around, and others like to take video or still pictures with them. They are just having fun, and isn’t that what model flying is all about?

No matter what your interests are, you should be willing to stand up for the right of another modeler to fly what he or she likes. After all, if we all showed up at the flying site with the same type and color of aircraft, it would be a very boring day at the field!

Enjoy flying and help your modeling buddies enjoy it too, no matter what they fly. Help newcomers learn proper, safe operation of their aircraft and to obey field rules, as well as local and federal laws. This is the only way we will be able to protect our right to fly for years to come.


  1. I first began RC flying in the 1950s and throughout all the following years have tried every form of RC flying machine. Last year, I flew the mini FPV Vapor in a huge dome and then made a FPV umx Radian. Yes, I am FAA registered for UAS. A FPV quad is now a new training tool. The FPV airplane is like no other RC experience…..friends say that I appear to become one with the plane. Presently, I am working on upgrading to 3D stereo FPV vision. The quad doesn’t have the same “feel” as the airplane for this old flyer. It will be a monumental challenge to regulate the virtual freedom that easily expands beyond the LOS at RC fields.

  2. Great Job! Just one problem, Renegade fliers. I had a local News Report inquire about our club. After I told him that he had to join the AMA, and then the club, he said that was too expensive. He can afford thousands on quads, cameras, etc. but can’t afford a couple hundred dollars a year for insurance and a safe place to fly. I really do not understand.

  3. I recommend using a science based method to set standoff distances. For example, typical human reaction time varies between about 0.25 seconds to 1.5 seconds (or more). There’s a lot of variables, including whether the person is expects the event or whether it’s unexpected. Think of how long it takes for an operator to perceive an unexpected event, determine proper course of action, and then make a correct physical response. Given that many off the shelf MRs can reach 100mph or more (161 FPS), it seems that 75 feet is dangerously close. A 100 MPH MR will go into the crowd if reaction time is 0.75 seconds or longer. At 130 MPH it takes just 0.5 seconds to be into the crowd. I don’t think images of a flying Cuisinart into people will play well in the media, especially at AMA sanctioned events.

    Human Factors & Reaction Time:

    2017 FPV fastest MRs:

    1. Hi FrankM, To start your 100MPH figure is unfair and like grouping every model airplane in formula 1 pylon class and someone making a statement saying most airplanes go 200MPH and reaction time is X and it’s not safe. As a matter of fact, I don’t know of one multirotor at this time that you can purchase that will hit 100MPH. Many could argue you that new GPS multirotors are much safer than the traditional model aircraft, can most fixed wings come back if you loose signal, land itself, avoid flying into somone and have warnings that must come back or your battery will die based on your distance? You might want to try them with an open mind as I did. It’s enlightening.

        1. This isn’t entirely fair. The only one on that list that is readily available and would be seen at a race is the Diatone GT2. If you’ll read about the pilot Nytfury, who’s a pro tier racer, his main flyer maxes out at a mere 75mph.

          You must also remember that at races it’s very rare to have the opportunity to get to full speed. Also, that MGP and AMA both require that straightaways not be aimed at spectators.

          I’m a club organizer in Colorado and have seen & and flown in quite a few 50+ racer events, including the regional finals (Nytfury was one of the pilots there). I realize this is purley anecdotal, but I’d attest that baseball games pose more of a threat to spectators than MGP races do. I’ve not once seen an injury at a race, and the few times a quad does go into the crowd it’s merely cartwheeling along the ground, powered down of course.

  4. Here’s my take on multirotors – take it or don’t.

    We’re not going away. We need structure, and a safe flying field, and we need education.

    I attended a Maker Faire in North County San Diego 2 weeks ago, and I was surprised at how many people there didn’t realize that you needed a HAM radio license to operate FPV equipment, regardless of the wattage of the transmitter. I see people bragging about a 3 mile range of their multirotor copters – when the AMA guidelines specifically state that you should not fly it out of line of sight. I attended a street fair on Memorial Day Weekend, where I saw a pilot flying his DJI Phantom over the teeming crowd, so that he could get a “photo shoot”. Every club and rule I’ve ever seen has said, “Do not fly your aircraft over people, regardless of what kind of aircraft it is.”

    I think that the FAA’s drone registrations, while poorly written on the first pass, had good intentions – they wanted people to read and agree to statutes that most AMA members abide by on a regular basis. They were trying to set rules, but there aren’t many forums for people to LEARN about multirotor flight because they just don’t know where they can go to learn, they don’t have a safe spot to fly, and they don’t have teachers to teach. Coupled with the attitudes of many clubs, that “drones” have a negative connotation to them for spying (which a good many are NOT used for that purpose), they’re not wanted at their flying field.

    Why pay $200 for a membership to a field when they treat you like a black sheep, and tell you that you can only fly at certain times, or in areas that other pilots wouldn’t fly in? Why would you fly somewhere that they don’t want to allow events to bring in more members of multirotors?

    What I see from the various fields I’ve flown at (only in California, so far) is that the people flying are mostly retired old men. They’re people who fly warbirds because that’s what they might’ve flown in service. I make that comment not as a stab at the people flying; far from it. There are some GREAT planes that are flown out there by these pilots. But they’re NOT what the younger crowd is flying, or wanting to fly. Walk in to any big box store, from Target to Walmart to Best Buy, and look at the aircraft that are in the toy sections. They’re not foam Cessnas or balsa wood and Monokote gliders; they’re quadcopters shaped like sci-fi spaceships.

    If you want new blood in the AMA and at your fields, and you want dues to come in, you really should be thinking about how to welcome in the next generation instead of pushing them away. Show them safety, teach them, help them grow. They may decide that the cheap quad that they got for Christmas isn’t quite what they want, and they’re leaning into learning how to fly a racer, or they want an A-10 Thunderbolt replica. Maybe they even get into the foam builds that Flite Test is so proud of. But GET THEM IN THE DOOR, not push them out.

    1. I completely agree with you. I’m in to photography and video as a hobby, (have done it professionally in the past). My main day job is software development. I now own a hexacopter platform with a 4k gimbled camera. This thing caught my eye because of the the “Real Sense” obstacle avoidance system. I have yet to find any instruction anywhere in my area. And quit frankly every interaction from clubs I’ve had has been overtly hostile. My drone is registered with the FAA, even though now you don’t have to because of a recent court case. I want to follow the rules. I’m also willing to share footage. I simply don’t get it because I’ve actually was also interested in getting into fixed wing aircraft also, and because of my software background looking at making it easier to fly.

  5. Looking for a AMA Club specializing Drone/Quad in or near the Rochester, NY area. Please let me kow

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *