The History of AMA’s Safety Programming

While thinking about National Safety Month, it seems logical to take a look back into where AMA’s safety programming began and how it has evolved.

AMA has an excellent historical department as part of its National Model Aviation Museum, and Jackie Shalberg , AMA archivist and historian, has done a great job of digging into our history and locating documents that show the progression and evolution of our hobby and safety programs. 

Through her research, Jackie found an article in the January 2014 issue of Model Aviation. The article explains that the main reason for establishing AMA was to create US national standards for model competitions.

The states, “In the late 1930s, the newly created organization (AMA) gathered modeling leaders from across the US to create cohesive rules. Suggestions for rule changes were made at the AMA’s short-lived national conferences and via ballots for those who could not attend.”

This began the process of how rules for aeromodeling events were created.

According to the book, The History of the Academy of Model Aeronautics, including Part One and Part Two from the Beginning to the Year 1966, by Willis C. Brown and Dick Black:

“AMA President W. C. Brown wrote the Officers and Council members calling a Special Meeting on November 13, 1937, at the NAA headquarters, Dupont Circle, Washington, D.C., at the request of International Gas Model Airplane Association (IGMAA). This organization began in 1936 and was absorbed by the National Aeronautics Association (NAA) in 1938. They met with Charles H. Grant, George Johnson, Nate Polk, and unit leaders of the IGMAA to discuss problems, and to plan how to avoid duplication between the two organizations. The resulting plan provided for a strengthening merger of IGMAA with NAA. It was decided that in 1938 AMA was to be responsible for rules and contests, as well as the operation of a safety code and organizational functions. This additional IGMAA load of work probably made it necessary to have an AMA operational head in NAA Headquarters in 1939 and helped finance it.”

(You can view the whole book and more about regulations and safety.)

Soon after, an AMA “Fly Safely” campaign was launched to help carry out the Gas Model Safety Code. Launched by AMA headquarters, all membership applicants signed the code and pledged to fly safely. This was a good membership builder, and red and black stickers were put on all AMA mail as follows: “Support A.M.A. Program, FLY SAFELY.” Cooperation was instantaneous.

Jackie found an early “safety code” AMA document from 1940 that had a pledge that members took. The document was found in some of the 1940 to 1941 Model Aviation magazines, which describe the pledges, the new safety program, and regulations. The pledges appeared in the 1940 membership applications as well.

Throughout the years, our safety program evolved as new events and model types came into existence. In the early days, Free Flight (FF) was the main model activity. Control Line (CL) models soon appeared, as well as RC. As would be expected, the safety program expanded to include these new types. As competitions began to include more specific activities within FF, CL, and RC, a new safety process developed to help keep modelers safe while enjoying the hobby. This process continues today.

The rule book evolved. The 1965 rule book had a section called “The 1965 Rule Book and You.” This section mentioned following safety rules for pilots and spectators. In 1967 to 1972, this portion of the book was reprinted in a section called “AMA Membership Responsibility.”

Jackie’s research revealed that the earliest reference to the AMA Safety Code in its recognizable format appeared on the back page of the 1973 rule book. The “AMA Member Responsibility” section is also printed in the book, on page 4.

The announcement of the adoption of the safety code (with the general section printed) was in the May 1972 issue of American Aircraft Modeler, and the Official AMA Safety Code is printed in the June 1972 issue of American Aircraft Modeler

In the early years, competitions drove the safety process. Over time, model flying activities expanded beyond just competition, and sport flying has now become the dominate activity. The AMA Safety Program is now overseen by AMA’s Safety Committee, which is made up of AMA members from across the country who have been selected by the committee chairman to review and modify our AMA Safety Programs as needed.

Our current AMA Safety Committee chairman is Brandon Koch from North Dakota. Brandon and his committee work tirelessly to address safety issues on behalf of AMA and its members. I serve on the committee as a liaison for AMA Headquarters and am the point of contact for AMA members concerning safety questions and issues.

The Safety Committee recently completed a review and update of our AMA Safety Program, which was also reviewed and approved by that AMA Executive Council, and the latest version is now posted on AMA’s website.

I want to thank Jackie for researching the history of AMA’s safety programming!

Tony Stillman, AMA Safety/Technical Director

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