AMA members stand up for model aviation

In times of trouble, our members stand up for model aviation

To: The Members of the Academy of Model Aeronautics

The comment period for submitting responses to the FAA’s Interpretive Rule concerning the Special Rule for Model Aircraft ends today, September 23, 2014. I’d like to thank each and every one of you who submitted comments. Your voice was an essential addition to the more than 30,000 others who also weighed in on this important issue.

The AMA submitted its formal comments on September 22, 2014. They are included here for your review.


This is but one step in what will likely be a protracted effort to address the unnecessary and stifling restrictions that model aviation may face should the interpretive rule stand.

I would also like to thank those of you who have supported AMA’s government advocacy work with your generous financial contributions. Since the FAA’s sUAS regulatory process began in 2008, AMA has invested more than $1 million to keep aeromodelers free from onerous rules and regulations that would negatively impact what we do as model aviation enthusiasts. The road forward will be long, and the effort expensive.

For those who have not yet donated, please consider doing so by visiting the AMA Foundation website, or by mailing your donation to AMA Foundation, 5161 E. Memorial Dr., Muncie, IN 47302. Please write “Government Advocacy” on the memo line of your check.


Thank you for your help. While there are challenges in front of us, together we can make a positive difference.


Bob Brown
AMA President
Bob Brown


  1. I hold a Privet Pilot License with an Instrument Rating and a Basic Ground Instructor License. I support the FAA’s safety objective since I began flight training in 1974 and continue to participate in FAA safety programs such as FAASafety and FAAST Blast and attend local meeting as time permits. I understand both the Visual Flight Rules – VFR and Instrument Flight Rules, the motto; “Seen and Be Seen” and the need for Prefight Briefing – knowing what hazards lies along my intended flight path to be a safe and effective pilot. Before beginning my flight training I flew model aircrafts starting in 1962 with a Cox P-51B Mustang control line airplane. After flight training and many years later, I picked up Radio Control (RC) aircraft in 2009, I when to one of the several RC fields in the Houston area to understand the requirements to fly at the field. To use the field I discovered that Harris County required me to be a member of Academy of Model Aeronautics (AMA) so I would have liability insurance. The AMA membership also provides me with additional benefits. Additionally, I have been flying model rockets since 1968 and currently flying high powered rockets and have achieved my Level-2 certification under the Tripoli Rocketry Association. My early involvement with model aircraft and rockets influenced my career choice of Chemical Engineering and my avocations in Control System Engineering. I am a licensed engineer in the State of Texas as a Control System Engineer. My Privet Pilot and Ground Instructor training from on the FAA’s safety philosophy has provided guiding principles in my professional work in industrial control and safety systems, long before OSHA’s 27CFR 1910.119 requirements in industry. My comments are as follows:

    1) Proposed Rules to Define Commercial Model Aircraft Use and Operations

    AC 91-57, 9 June 1981 Purpose does not differentiate between “private” and “commercial” flight operations and in 2007, 72 FR at 6690 states:

    “The FAA expects that… The end product of this analysis may be a new flight authorization instrument similar to AC 91-57, but focused on operations which do not qualify as sport and recreation, but also may not require a certificate of airworthiness. They will, however, require compliance with applicable FAA regulations and guidance developed for this category.”

    The FAA’s “Interpretation of Special Rules for Model Aircraft” the definition of “commercial operations” the status of model aircraft companies and individuals who receive prizes from, are sponsored by, or are employees of these companies to demonstrate their products have their livelihood in question with no path forward, and remains unresolved since 2007.

    In accordance with PL 112-9 Section 336 Special Rule for Model Aircraft; (a) …the Administrator of the Federal Aviation Administration may not promulgate any rule or regulation regarding a model aircraft, or an aircraft being developed as a model aircraft, if—(1) the aircraft is flown strictly for hobby or recreational use.

    In my opinion, during the haste of developing the wording of the Public Law 112-95, the writers did not consider the complete field of model aviation in developing this law, missed several aspects of model aviation and did not considered the future development within model aviation. Throughout the history of model aviation it has been common for hobbyist to hold competitions, and give prizes to help promote the “hobby” and for hobby and recreational equipment manufacturers to employ factory representatives and demonstrators to participate at these events. The issue I see is one of safety, how do you know that the factory demonstrators are competent, understand and abide by the community based organization or FAA safety regulations. When a full scale aircraft manufacturing representative is demonstrating a plane there are at least two individual in the plane who are risk as well as a tens of thousands of dollar in the plane and property on the ground, therefore the requirement that the representative doing the demonstration be a commercial pilot make good sense. With model aircraft the risk of a demonstration on a monetary base is less both to the aircraft and to property on the ground. If community based rules such as AMA’s General Rule are followed then the risk is mitigated to participate, spectators and the surrounding property. The last part of the answer is the safety record of model aviation as practiced by the manufactures and their representatives and to that end I have the following proposals:

    A. Model Aircraft manufactures so long as they operate within the community based rules should be regulated as “modelers”.
    B. As model aircraft are in general principle of Public Law 112-97 are not to be regulated and do not fall under air worthiness certification process which creates certain conflicts with many parts of FAR Part 61and to some extent to Part 91. Both FAR parts, to me, do not seem a good fit for licensing of model aircraft pilots. My alternative proposal is the FAA create a new FAR part which allows community based governess along with the FAA to development of a certification process for model aircraft pilots similar to that used in High Power Rocketry by the National Association (NAR) of Rocketry and the Tripoli Rocketry Association (TRA) with grandfathering similar to that used by the CAA in the early days of aviation. I believe there is a need two general classes “Hobby” and “High Performance” based on Public Law 112-95 and risk:
    a. Hobby model aircraft pilot certification would not be required for the “Hobby” Class aircraft with a takeoff weight of 4.4 pounds or less which agrees with Public Law 112-95 Section 334, (c) Agreements with Government Agencies – (C).
    b. “High Performance” certification would cover larger model aircraft with a takeoff weight greater than 4.4 pounds up to and including 55 pounds and include pilot certifications for turbine powered, and those who are manufacture or patron sponsorship/representative/employee.
    C. I do not believe that “Hobby” contest participation or manufacture or patron sponsorship should require additional or special certification.

    2) First Person Video or FPV

    The scenario presented by the FAA is only one of several, where the FPV model aircraft pilot is using video goggles. Prior to AMA issuing 550, I myself have used a LCD display which allowed full view of my aircraft. It should also be noted that there are FVP systems that have the camera on a pan/tilt/zoom platform which receives commands from head gear that the pilot wears on his/her head. This system allows the pilot to move the camera to look in different directions, widening their field of view as if they were setting in the pilot seat of the model aircraft.

    If you compare FAR §91.109 to AMA Document 550, Section 3; please see excerpts for reference below, I find a high correlation in the philosophy between the two. Both put safety first. There are at least a couple of differences, a manned aircraft even operating out of an uncontrolled airport has two individuals’ lives at sake, can fly for hundreds of miles. Second, there is tens of thousands of dollars at risk both in the plane and the property on the ground. Therefore, §91.109 make total sense to ensure the publics’ safety. When an individual flies an RC aircraft using FPV, many of them weight less the 4.4 pounds, can fly typically for less than 30 minutes, no persons are on board, but people and property on the ground could be injured or damaged. So long as the FPV pilot adheres to the for example to the AMA General Rules and Document 550, many risks are mitigated. If you consider the AMA General Rules and Document 550 where the FPV flight takes place in a remote area in Class-G airspace and where and airport is five statue miles or greater AMA Document 550 using an “FPV Spotter” seems reasonable and is analogous to the requirements of FAR 91.109 (c). Should the FPV flight take place in Class-G airspace with Class-E & D airspace above it (such as in the Houston metropolitan area), maybe Document 550 should be revised to require the FPV flights to use the instructor/student “Buddy Box” system where the qualified model aircraft pilot, the “Safety Pilot”, (replace term “FPV Spotter” with “Safety Pilot” to fully represent the function they are providing during the flight) be the pilot in command at all times on the instructor controller, meeting the requirement of Public Law 112-95 “Line of Sight” and the FPV pilot would be on the student controller and could operate the model aircraft so long as the Safety Pilot deems it is safe to do so. Should a safety issue arise the Safety Pilot who has line of sight of the model aircraft can take control of the model aircraft and deal with situation as required. Therefore, the “Buddy Box” system is analogous to the requirements of FAR 91.109 (c) and meets the requirement of Public Law 112-97 for Line of Sight.

    FAR §91.109 Flight instruction; Simulated instrument flight and certain flight tests.
    (c) No person may operate a civil aircraft in simulated instrument flight unless—
    (1) The other control seat is occupied by a safety pilot who possesses at least a private pilot certificate with category and class ratings appropriate to the aircraft being flown.
    (2) The safety pilot has adequate vision forward and to each side of the aircraft, or a competent observer in the aircraft adequately supplements the vision of the safety pilot; and
    [Doc. No. 18334, 54 FR 34294, Aug. 18, 1989, as amended by Amdt. 91-324, 76 FR 54107, Aug. 31, 2011]

    AMA Document 550; Radio Controlled Model Aircraft Operation Utilizing “First Person View” Systems;
    a) AMA FPV novice pilots must use a buddy-box system with an FPV spotter while learning to fly FPV.
    b) All FPV flights require an AMA FPV pilot to have an AMA FPV spotter next to him/her maintaining VLOS with the FPV aircraft throughout its flight. c) The FPV pilot must brief the FPV spotter on the FPV spotter’s duties, communications and hand-over control procedures before FPV flight.
    d) The AMA FPV spotter must communicate with the FPV pilot to ensure the FPV aircraft remains within VLOS, warning the FPV pilot of approaching aircraft, and when avoidance techniques are necessary.
    e) The FPV spotter may at any time during an FPV flight acquire the transmitter from the FPV pilot and assume VLOS control of the aircraft.
    f) If the FPV pilot experiences a problem due to a loss of video link, orientation, or is unable to safely fly, he/she must abandon FPV mode and fly VLOS or pass the RC transmitter to the FPV spotter to assume VLOS control of the aircraft.
    g) Before initial FPV flight and after any flight system changes or repairs, FPV model aircraft must be test flown by conventional VLOS to determine that flight systems are working properly.
    h) FPV model aircraft must use frequencies approved by the FCC for both the RC system and the wireless video system. Pilots must meet applicable FCC licensing requirements if they choose to operate the RC flight control system or the wireless video system on Amateur Band frequencies.

    3) Full Scale / Model Aircraft and the National Air Space

    From my history with model aircraft, it is understood that my activities can injure myself and other. Safety is my first concern I do not want to hurt myself or anyone else. The AMA has spent years educating its member and the public about safety just as the FAA.

    I am a member of the Bayou City Flyers which has a membership of about 300 made up of adults and families. In out monthly meetings we cover safety and any incidents that have occurred, in-flight, ground operations, cuts from propellers, and remind our member about battery safety, snakes, sun screen, and the like. Our model aircraft field is located in the Barker Dam and Reservoir and has facilities for radio controlled aircraft, control line airplanes, free flight aircraft, and radio controlled gliders. The radio controlled aircraft runway is concrete and 80 feet by 635 feet marked as a closed runway with “X” at each end. Our field is located under the Houston TCA. The TCA floor about the model aircraft field is 4000 feet MSL. There two Victor Airways to the north of our field 407 & 68 and a STAR to the North and a SID to the South. There are three airports all greater than five statue miles (sm) from our facility, Sugar Land Regional (7.37 sm), West Houston (6.41 sm), and Westheimer (6.61 sm) and the field is not within any control zone or controlled airspace. To the best of my knowledge there has never been an incident between model aircraft and full scale aircraft at our field.

    I am also a member of the Central Arizona Modelers club in Sedona, Arizona; their field is located outside of Sedona in the National Forest in Class-G airspace with a hard pack runway. It is not in the middle of nowhere, there are a lot of trees around, but not much else…. Sedona airport is 7.44 sm and Cottonwood airport is 9.26 sm from the Central Arizona Modeler model airfield, but at the RC field, only once in a long while will you see a full scale plane fly by.

    To meet the needs of all users of the airspace I recommend that all model aircraft field be denoted and identified on all aviation charts. In my opinion the single best thing the FAA could do to help provide separation between full scale and model aircraft. I recommend that the FAA start with the list of AMA recognized fields on the aviation charts, through this may not be a complete list, and canvas the Internet and other organizations to provide the best possible list of model aviation facilities in the USA. This would enhance safety by raising awareness to all and aiding “Seen and be Seen”.

    For RC fields it seems to be that they should have an operating area of three statue miles from the geographic center from the surface up to and including 500 feet Above Ground Level (AGL). This would create a buffer between full scale aircraft and the model aircraft and enhance safety. This consideration only takes care of areas with larger modeler communities. For areas where there is no recognized RC air field modelers need to be provided air space for their operations. In this case the default should be to community based rules such as the AMA and Public Law 112-95 as written.

    A model aircraft issues seem to be overlooked, Free Flight Airplanes and RC Gliders. I have seen them both above with I think is an altitude of 400 feet. It seems to me that a waiver system should be available to them similar to FAR Part 101to allow for operations above 400 feet in appropriate areas of the country.

    Thank you for your time and consideration.

  2. Please do not change anything about our hobby. It is dumb to change the rules for the majority when the fewest of idiots want to mess things up.

  3. I agree with you! I hope the law suite leads to that end. If not… I have offered some solutions that are working in other community based organizations. We have to be prepared….. If you consider the weight bases of 4.4 pound takeoff weight that is in Public Law 112-95 hopefully 80% or more are have no change.

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