The adrenaline rush of flying in First-Person View, or FPV is now available to almost anyone through the semi-new sport of drone racing. Typically, this involves radio-controlled multi rotors flying around a course made of trees and other obstacles while generally flying quick and low to the ground.
This small unmanned aircraft are typically less than 1 foot in length and piloted by individuals with rapid reflexes. Required are either video goggles, or a monitor system which allows a person to fly as if they’re directly in the pilot’s seat.
Recently, several drone-racing leagues have sprung up in the US, and this summer saw the first Drone Nationals (more properly, the 2015 Fat Shark U.S. National Drone Racing Championships), which took place at the California State Fair in Sacramento last month.
The attraction of drone racing is easy enough to understand. What puzzling is how an organized sport could emerge in the face of what appears to be a legal prohibition on the entire activity. “The ‘interpretation’ of current regulations on model aircraft, issued by the FAA is an interpretation that prohibits FPV flight. Or at least, it bans the use of fully immersive video goggles to fly the UAV with. “The FAA’s reason for barring FPV is because the pilot can’t see the aircraft, which in its view is opposite of the 2012 law that states that for a flying device to be considered a model aircraft, it must be flown “within the visual line of sight of the person operating the aircraft.” Typically, modelers have taken “visual line of site” to imply that the aircraft must be sufficiently close so the pilot can see it.
Be that as it may, with its 2014 understanding, the FAA reclassified this statement to imply the pilot needs to keep the model in sight at all times, and it particularly disallowed the use of goggles. It’s fair to assume that due to this announcement, the FAA wouldn’t support an event like the recent Drone Nationals. However that hasn’t been the case, as the FAA actually supported this competition and sent two representatives to Sacramento to attend. “It’s not currently clear whether
He goes on to indicate that the FAA may be reversing the direction on FPV, at the least in circumstances where there’s no probable chance to interfere with full-scale aircraft, such as a drone race carried out inside a wooded area or at low altitude over a stadium, as was the case at the Drone Nationals. He also notes that the Notice of Proposed Rulemaking that the FAA released this past February—which outlines what future regulations might look like for small drones, allows for use of FPV in specific situations.
“You got to remember that the interpretive rule is not regulation,” says Rich Hanson, who works on government and regulatory affairs for the Academy of Model Aeronautics (AMA).
“The Academy of Model Aeronautics, based in Muncie, Indiana, USA, is a non-profit organization dedicated to the promotion of model aviation as a recognized sport as well as a recreational activity. It is the largest organization of its kind with a current membership of greater than 140,000 members. Founded in 1936, the AMA is the official national body for model aviation in the United States. They sanction larger than one thousand model competitions, and an increasing number of non-competitive Fly-in events for member aeromodelers throughout the country each year, charter more than 2500 model airplane clubs and offer contest sanctioning, liability insurance and the procurement of flying sites. In addition, they also certify official model flying records.”
“I don’t envision that [the FAA] would take action,” says Hanson. John Goldfluss, one of the FAA representatives who attended Drone Nationals regarded the event as a test, in which the FAA is taking an interest in evaluating whether relaxing its position on the strict FPV rules is justified, at least in highly controlled circumstances. “The AMA hasn’t changed its policy on FPV, which is to allow it so long as it is done in a safe way (that is, following some very specific safety guidelines).”