Model Aircraft

AuthorTimothy M. Ravich
C 3
Model Aircraft
Aviation amateurs and enthusiasts worldwide enjoy designing, assembling, and
flying remote- and radio- controlled (RC) airplane models for a variety of purposes,
including education, leisure, and competitive sport racing. Hobby and recreationa l aircraft
replicate all types of full- scale aircraft and helicopters in appearance and functionality.
Models can be inexpensive, ranging from ready- to- fly, electric- motor, and toy- class air-
planes up to more substantial airfr ames with balsa wood or Styrofoam bodies available for
purchase off the shelf or online. At the other end of the RC spectrum are sophist icated and
expensive (e.g., $20,000) carbon- fiber helicopters and aircraft outfitted with retractable
landing gear and dynamic flight control surfaces, together with first- person view (FPV)
electronics (e.g., FPV cameras), autopilot, and stabilization systems for flight at speeds
exceeding 200 miles per hour under the power of miniature internal combustion or jet
engines. One of the largest RC airplanes is a 16- foot- long mock- up of a commercial jumbo
airliner, the Airbus A380, with a 2.6- gallon fuel tank and 17- foot wingspan.1
Regulators distinguish model aircraft from drones, though common usage of the two
terms is nearly interchangeable. e lega l significance of the distinction between model or
recreational aircra ft and drones is significant— operation of model aircraf t for recreational
or hobby purposes is legal, while operation of a model aircraf ta drone— for commercial
purposes was per se illegal until the August 2016 enactment of 14 C.F.R. Part 107 (dis-
cussed below and in greater detail in Chapter 9 infra).
I. National Model Aircraft Safety Code
In the United States, the Academy of Model Aeronautics (AMA) is the world’s larg-
est model aviation organization, with a membership of more than 150,000 people.2
Headquartered in Muncie, Indiana, the A MA holds itself out as “the voice of its
1 Daniel Terdiman, Incredible Remote-Control A380 Takes to the Skies, CNET, Nov. 27, 2013,
incredible- remote- control- a380 - takes- to- the- sk ies/.
2 What Is AMA?,
membership, providing liaison with the FAA, the Federal Communications Com-
mission (“FCC”), and other government agencies . . . AMA also works with local
governments, zoning boards, and parks departments to promote the interests of local
chartered clubs.”3
e AMA defines a model aircraft as “a non- human carr ying aircraft capable of sus-
tained flight in the atmosphere.4 While no formal piloting qualifications are required
for the operation of RC model airplanes, the AMA has published certain rules for the
aeromodeling community. Under the AMA’s National Model Aircraft Safety Code,
model aircraft are not to be flown at a location where model aircraft activities are pro-
hibited. Unless flown indoors, model aircraft must be identified with the name and
address or AMA number of the owner on the inside or affixed to the outside of the
model aircra ft.5 Moreover, under AMA guidance, model aircraft “will not be flown in a
careless or reckless manner”— a provision that is nearly identical to the federal aviation
regulation applicable to piloted airplane operations.6 Model aircra ft are further prohib-
ited from flying in AMA- sanctioned events, air shows, or model demonstrations unless
inexperienced pilots are assisted by experienced pilots and the aircraft, control system,
and pilot skills have successfully demonstrated all maneuvers intended or anticipated
prior to the specific event.7
e AMA National Model Aircraft Safety Code separately sets out rules for model
aircraft pilots and operations. Flying while under the influence of alcohol or any drug
that could adversely affect the controller’s abilities is prohibited.8 Model aircraft pilots
must fly no higher than 400 feet above ground level when close to an ai rport without first
notifying the airport operator.9 ey must yield the right of way to all human- carr ying
traffic, use a “see and avoid” spotter when appropriate, and unless otherwise provided
in a mixed-use agreement, not interfere with operations and traffic patterns at any air-
port, heliport, or seaplane base.10 Moreover, model aircraft pilots may neither operate a
turbine- powered aircraf t (unless in compliance with A MA turbine regulations) nor exceed
a takeoff weight, including fuel, of 55 pounds unless in compliance with the A MA’s La rge
Model Airplane program.11
3 A  M A, S  P (2014),
4 A   M A  N M A  S C  (Jan. 1, 2014), www.modelaircraft .
5 Id.
6 14 C. F.R. § 91.13.
7 A   M A  N M A  S  C, supra note 4, at A.3(a)-(b).
8 Id. at A.2(h).
9 Id. at A.2(c).
10 Id. at A.2(d).
11 A   M A , AMA R  C L  M A  P , D  -A, a.pdf. See also A   M A  S  R   M
A  P   G T, w ww.modelaircraf a.pdf.

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