All this talk about "drones" and UAS or UAVs really has my gears turning. Seriously, use common sense. For starters, the term, "drone." I know what the media thinks it is, and I know what an educated person should define one as. Any autonomous (not directly controlled by the operator) vehicle. Period. It can be a multi-copter, plane, car, boat, train, whatever. UAS and UAV are still controlled by a pilot, though remotely. Here's where it gets interesting in the interpretation...what do you call an airliner that is put into "autopilot?" Is it now a passenger carrying "drone?" Oh wait, hit a button, now it's an airplane again. Let's define "autonomous." Something that happens automatically, without input from the operator, in this case. Ok, that being said, anything done to relieve the pilot of control inputs could be considered automation. This could even include trimming the control surfaces. You're not actively holding them in precise position anymore, are you? That function is now being accomplished by an electromechanical system without pilot input. What about "fly-by-wire" in more complicated aircraft? Sure, a pilot makes control inputs, much like an RC aircraft, but the pilot is not connected physically to any of the control surfaces; again, like an RC aircraft.

The pilot of a full scale craft DOES have constant line of sight from within the vehicle being operated. In FPV, so does the model operator. So what are we arguing, here? It seems the line between autonomy and FPV flying has become blurred. These are, in fact, two entirely DIFFERENT aspects of vehicle control. Both of which are exceedingly beneficial to smaller scale flying. Once I started FPV, it became EASIER for me to maintain controlled flight with my aircraft. It is NEARLY impossible to lose orientation. Ask any line of sight model pilot and they'll tell you how easy it is to lose orientation of your craft while standing from a fixed position on the ground. Even tower air traffic controllers know this to be true, though none would likely admit it

Now let's talk about autonomy. Wow. Is this not one of the coolest advances in model control technology? Mission planning, GPS waypoints, telemetry (real-time data from your aircraft broadcast to the ground), on screen displays. All of which are designed to keep your orientation, maintain altitude and heading, and most important, maintain rock-solid control of your vehicle in even less than perfect flying conditions. How is this something to be regulated away? On that note, I'd like to segway into the issue of regulation. Any RESPONSIBLE pilot, whether it be small scale unmanned systems or full scale understands that we have most decidedly ventured beyond the confines of park flying and AMA sanctioned fields. These both have their place in the model community, and are, in fact, the foundation on which FPV was built.

We, as responsible FPV pilots, must also understand that our hobby (and for some, livelihood) ventures into the same airspace as full scale pilots. (DISCLAIMER, hypothetical situation) Think of it this way: Suddenly technology becomes available that allows people to remotely drive vehicles on the same roadway as you and your family. Vehicles that travel much slower than yours and are still able to cause severe damage to your own vehicle if operated improperly or a malfunction occurs. Now, remember that some of these new “vehicles” have less than experienced "drivers" and are essentially homemade with little regard to safety, inspections, or minimum safety standards.

How would you feel sharing the roadway with them? This, I believe, is where contention lies between the full scale and sub scale communities. There must be some type of regulation in place in the event that an FPV pilot wishes to traverse the same airspace as full scale. This is common sense. If a model pilot is operating below 400ft and in a manner commensurate with line of sight traditional RC flight, there should be no more regulation than there has been prior to the recent uproar. Again, common sense. Don't "buzz" people or property or create unsafe situations. If you damage it, pay for it. If you may injure someone, don't do it there. Simple stuff.

Here's the issue. FPV piloting is, by it's very nature, an activity designed to push the limits of technology and personal achievement. That said, people have been known to fly above and beyond the traditional parks and fields of modeling past; right into controlled airspace. Just because our vehicles are smaller does not mean they are less dangerous. If we wish to share the sky with aircraft that abide by rules for SAFETY, we should also expect to abide by rules for SAFETY. Would you want an unlicensed 12 year old speeding down the highway next to you and your family? Not me. There should, IMHO, be a progression between park flyers all the way to cruising at 10,000ft + that doesn't simply involve how much equipment you can afford.

Finally, I'm compelled to write about the issue of "commercial" vs. hobby use of camera equipped aircraft. The simple fact that an operator is earning income by flying their UNMANNED aircraft clearly does not lie within the intent of part 91. Are they remaining outside the airspace shared by full scale craft? Are they any more of a danger to bystanders than a model pilot who is not being compensated? If a traditional model craft could SAFELY and legally be flown there, what is the problem with earning income doing something we love and furthermore, is BENEFICIAL to a number of industries? Hmmm…more jobs = more income = more taxes = good for the government AND good for the public. Seems pretty straightforward.

I’m going to close by saying these vehicles we operate are tools. They can be used for a number of applications. Most of us simply use them for leisure. Like any tool, they can be used for less than honorable purposes. So can a flowerpot. Don’t regulate the tool into disparity because a few operators have used it inappropriately. Instead, create a community of responsible citizens who are just as, if not more than capable than the regulatory body at educating and policing our own actions. Understand that the vast majority of us wish to see this technology flourish and benefit society, not to mention that it’s a heck of a lot of fun!
~RWilco