AMA President, Bob Brown, Responds to LA Times Op Ed Piece

In the March 27, 2012’s edition of the Los Angeles Times, John Villasenor, UCLA professor, contributed an Op-Ed piece with the suggestion that drone proliferation raises an issue that has received too little attention: the threat that they could be used to carry out terrorist attacks.


AMA President, Bob Brown, immediately replied to the piece with the following message:


I read with interest the March 26 op-ed piece written by John Villasenor concerning the operation of drones, and more specifically, model airplanes in the United States. Professor Villasenor’s remarks are concerning on many levels, and I felt compelled to respond. As president of the Academy of Model Aeronautics, representing 143,000 model aviation enthusiasts across the country, I would like to offer an alternative viewpoint to the professor’s position on recreational model aviation.


It appears that the professor’s approach is to take a sledgehammer to a nonexistent problem. Model aviation has existed in this country longer than manned flight itself. The Academy of Model Aeronautics has represented modelers for more than 75 years. Our safety programming, which our members operate within and self-police, has resulted in aeromodelers being one of the safest, if not the safest, group of all that use the National Airspace System.


Congress clearly recognized this when it included an amendment to the FAA Modernization and Reform Act of 2012 in February. Congress wisely saw little need to create unnecessary government regulations for a recreational activity enjoyed safely by so many Americans. In fact, the FAA feels the same way. In a recent interview, John McGraw, FAA Flight Standards Deputy Director, said, “The modeling community has been very good at coming up with standards that allow them to operate safely; they have a good record and they believe they have done a good job of that and we agree.”


Professor Villasenor believes that model airplanes need to be regulated and their operators licensed by government because they “might be a terrorist threat.” Frankly, a car, a boat, or even an individual walking down the street might be a terrorist threat. We do agree with the professor that a licensing program wouldn’t eliminate the threat of drone terrorism. However, we disagree that there is a need to further regulate a recognized and safe recreational and educational activity simply because some nefarious individual may have bad intentions and, on a remote chance, might use a model airplane to carry out that intent. That thought process makes no sense.


Model aviation has been a stepping stone to careers in the fields of aviation and aerospace for thousands of this country’s young people. Many of our most notable aviation luminaries had their interest in aviation sparked by model airplanes. The average age of an aerospace engineer today is 53. During the Apollo Space Program in the 1970s the average age of those engineers was 28. At a time when the United States so desperately needs to create a pipeline that will fill the need for the next generation of engineers and aviators, let’s not place onerous and unnecessary government restrictions on the one activity that can easily help fill that void. The United States has never subscribed to this way of thinking. Let’s not start now.


To read the Op-Ed Bob Brown is responding to please visit the Los Angeles Time’s Website.


To learn more about the current status of the NPRM and FAA regulation please visit the AMA Government Relations section of the Academy of Model Aeronautic’s website.


  1. Bob Brown, excellent response! The AMA needs to be commended on their lobbying efforts. I have seen public critcism on a multitude of forums yet the silence of critics now that Congress has stepped in, is telling. I am proud to be a member of this fine modelers association.

    1. Agree and disagree. The problem is not AMA members, but you must realize that there are more and more people flying R/C planes who are not AMA members, especially with the advent of 2.4 Ghz radios and “Park Flyers”, and most recently, the “virtual cockpit” type of craft that are flown by idiots around the Statue of Liberty, Skyscrapers in big cities, etc, and brag about it. Even if the worst would come to pass, and licenses were required to fly R/C, that would not stop someone from building a 1/2 scale plane, loading it with C4 and flying it into a building, etc.
      These are the types of people who led to the move the control R/C, not the AMA members.

      1. Are you a government plant? C4 is used mostly by military is my belief.

        1. George, and Others… Please note that this blog is not an opinion forum. The GR Blog is intended as a communication tool. It is designed to provide the AMA membership with up to date information regarding AMA’s government relations activities and critical governmental processes that impact our hobby, i.e. FAA’s intent and efforts to regulate model aviation. The comment feature is provided to allow members to ask questions, provide feedback and to clarify issues. It is not for personal exchanges and certainly not to be used to flame the comments of others. As we all know, there are many other forums where you can express your views to your heart’s content. Please be respectful of the intent of this blog and the comments of others.

          Rich Hanson
          AMA Government and Regulatory Affairs

  2. I am also proud to be an AMA member. The safety code so well crafted by AMA speaks volumes about its commitment to safety. Do accidents happen with model aircraft? Yes. But by adhering to the AMA safety code (part of which means don’t fly a model aircraft park flier in a crowded park buzzing over people), it keeps people honest.

    When I see a crowded park, the first thing I think about is fly somewhere else where it is not crowded. It is common sense.

    And another thing – I’m starting to see a lot more folks getting into model aviation now because of the affordability of trainer planes and micro planes that hold up while someone is learning. I think the next logical step is for the AMA to target these folks to get them to join and also possibly join a club. I think AMA should make a special offer when someone buys a plane for the first time (either through the plane companies or the hobby stores) so someone can join AMA when they purchase their plane. That’s when AMA should start getting their message out – right when someone buys a plane for the first time. I know you can’t make someone join, but if you gave them an incentive, it would really help – maybe a trial membership right out of the box as part of the purchase price or an optional purchase. The cost of a 6-month trial membership is not that much.

    I also want to applaud the Frankenmuth, MI Aeromodlers club, of whom I’m going to formally join at their meeting this Tuesday. They have been showing me how to fly, and about safe practices. Good on them, and all other clubs dedicated to the same thing.

  3. I also commend AMA President Bob Brown for standing up to the UCLA professor. What the professor needs to do, is go to one of the many flying fields in the LA area and spend some time with the members. He doesn’t seem to realize that EVERY AMA member is a licensed flier and assigned a license number that is displayed on the aircraft. Our safety requirements are nearly equal to those of full size aircraft and the FAR’s full size pilots have to abide by. I have been flying model airplanes since 1956, starting out with .19 size Veco control line airplanes and eventually worked up to larger C/L planes and into the world of R/C flying. I am proud to say that I am an AMA member.

  4. Charles, better eliminate cars as well as Mr. Brown stated. That is ridiculous. We are not surrounded by evil but just the opposite and if we put our heads in the sand and say we need to take every precaution possible about every possible threat then THEY win! The tiny minority that wants to ruin our way of life!
    Bob Brown is dead on.

  5. I love park flying I have several parks where it is safe to fly small foam planes at slow speeds. Last time I stopped by one of the local clubs here in Phoenix I was yelled at by an old guy about not rapping a chain around the gate which wasn’t rapped when I went though no sign about 10 years ago. I have heard this also from others at local hobby shops about that club. Then no one talks to you no introductions make you feel like your unwanted typical RC club lot like Ham radio clubs same old guys. Now I see on there website you can’t even go to the field without first joining the club pay first then go there. Lot of friendly folks at the park near costco flying foam park flyers. Now the FAA wants to ban all that the AMA will get what they want no one will be around to talk about park flying.

    1. Kelly, As with any other large association, the AMA has its share of dismal and unfriendly individuals. However, having spent 15 years as the AMA Vice President for District X and having traveled extensively around the district visiting with other modelers and AMA chartered clubs, I can tell you that the vast majority of AMA members are friendly, upbeat and are thrilled to share their love for this hobby with others. It’s unfortunate that you came upon this individual and this particular club, but please don’t let that shape your opinion of all AMA members.

      As far as continuing to enjoy the hobby as a Park Pilot… I don’t see anything coming down the pike that will significantly diminish this activity. AMA’s safety program and the rules being considered by the FAA are intended to ensure the continuation of the safe and responsible modeling activity that already exists. I don’t see any reason why AMA members and non members won’t be able to continue to enjoy the hobby for years to come.

      Rich Hanson
      AMA Government and Regulatory Affairs

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