This site seeks to inform the public of the dangers and abuses related to the use of drones, model aircraft and RPAS for recreation. It contains research gathered from multiple sources and asks important questions as well as exploring possible solutions to a challenging public safety issue.
When an RC aircraft operator is not happy with flying a small RC plane, there are currently other options available that can be surprisingly big. If one’s plane is small then the operator can simply upgrade to a larger RC aircraft but why is it necessary to have a large aircraft to enjoy the recreation? Larger aircraft are more dangerous.
Is it not enough to simply enjoy flying smaller RC aircraft that are less dangerous? Currently, RC aircraft flown at MAAC clubs can be up to 35kg (77lbs). Why is the weight limit set at 35kg? Why stop there, why not allow RC aircraft operators fly a full-sized passenger jet aircraft like a 747, what about a CF-18; too dangerous? Also, why are there no limits on the speed of these large aircraft? There is no requirement for RC clubs sites to have buffer of surrounding space as is required for real airports. RC aircraft clubs have been allowed to establish close to people and the hazards need to be put into perspective. Bigger, faster and closer is not safer.
Large aircraft used for recreation are often referred to as ‘large scale’ or “giant scale.” These aircraft can be powered by electric, combustion, turbines or electric powered ducted fans (EDF). The following is the definition of large RC aircraft according to MAAC.
MAP 01 - Outdoor Flying Field Guidelines
Large aircraft – A model with a total flying weight not exceeding 35 kilograms and with:
a) Minimum wingspan of 2.0 meters for monoplanes; or
b) 1.5 meter largest single wing wingspan for Biplanes/multi wings; or
c) 3.5 meter combined length plus wingspan for “Jet” type models or
d) All true scale models of 25% or larger, or
e) Rotor span of 2.0 meters or more.
The picture above shows aircraft flown at the Phelan RC Flying club, which has a runway only 64 meters from the road and 143 meters from the neighboring house. How does allowing this activity so close to residents make any sense? What happens when aircraft this big crash? How much damage can they do? What is the force of impact?
There is a Transport Canada draft document showing that an RPAS impact with a person is being evaluated using kinetic energy as a means to classify severity of injury.
Remotely Piloted Aircraft Systems Safety Assurance
6.4 Classification of Injury Severity
Determining a Severe Injury. There are many methods by which an AIS-4 injury may be evaluated. For trauma injuries related to the impact of an RPAS, these have generally be considered with respect to the kinetic energy transferred from an RPAS to a person during an impact. There have been various levels of kinetic energy proposed related to when an impact may result in a severe injury, some of this is backed by laboratory research and field experience. This circular considers energy transferred to the head, neck, or chest of a person as the worst case that may result in a severe injury. Initial rule making activities in Canada (CARAC UAV Systems Program Design Working Group - Phase 1) and the United States (Micro-UAS Advisory Rulemaking Committee) identified 12J/cm2 as being the maximum allowable during an impact to avoid a serious (AIS-3) injury. This value was notionally validated by the work done in the FAA ASSURE impact to persons on the ground research.
The AMA compares the recreation of flying RC aircraft to a sport in the document, “Getting and Keeping Flying Sites” (6th edition, AMA 2011) (https://www.modelaircraft.org/sites/default/files/GettingandKeepingFlyingSitesFINAL2.pdf), “Sell the Sport It is important for you to help the landowner believe that the sport of aeromodeling is as normal as golf or tennis.” A good comparison of the impact from an RC aircraft could be to a sport motor cycle designed for aerodynamics and speed.
In order to put the danger into perspective; compare the impact of one of these large RC aircraft crashing to a motorcycle crash. For the RC aircraft crash calculation, the 290kph speed recording from Mike Anderson’s open and public Facebook posting showing a radar “gun” will be used.
Kinetic energy can be calculated using the Kinetic Energy Calculator available on the Calculator Soup website (https://www.calculatorsoup.com/calculators/physics/kinetic.php). Kinetic energy associated with large RC aircraft can be calculated using the 290kph speed recording from Mike Anderson’s Facebook page and the 35kg weight allowed for large RC aircraft at RC flying clubs. The calculated kinetic energy is 113561 Joules.
According to the Motorcyclist Lifestyle website (https://motorcyclistlifestyle.com/how-much-motorcycle-weigh/) the weight range of a sport bike type of motorcycle is typically between 300-500lbs. This average weight of 400lbs will be used for comparison.
The above calculated kinetic energy of 113561 Joules is used to determine how fast a 400 lb motorcyle would have to be traveling to have the same kinetic energy as the RC aircraft. The result is 127 kph.
This means that a 35kg RC aircraft moving at 290kph has the same kinetic energy as a 400lb motorcycle moving at 127kph. Being hit by an RC aircraft appears to be at least as dangerous as being hit by a high performance vehicle like a sport motorcycle speeding down a highway. The impact from an RC aircraft can be considered as safe as it would be for a pedestrian to be suddenly struck by a motorcycle speeding down the 401. Unlike a motor vehicle, which are typically blunt objects and lack protruding blades, RC aircraft may have wide wingspans and sharp blade propellers that may cut someone like a chainsaw or other motorized blade tool which presents an increased hazard if a collision were to occur. For the dangers posed by a spinning blade it may be better to picture a table saw flying at someone without a protective guard at high speed. Like a motorcycle, RC aircraft have fuel and the impact could result in fire and or explosion. Unlike a speeding motorcycle which is subject to laws limiting speed to 100kph, there does not appear to be any such requirement for RC aircraft. In a residential area, speed limits on the road are 60kph yet RC aircraft are allowed to operate at hundreds of kilometers an hour close to residents with no apparent enforcement. Imagine that, drivers behind the wheel of a motor vehicle are limited to a speed of 60kph in the same area that unlicensed pilots are allowed to remotely fly aircraft at hundreds of kilometers an hour. How does that make any sense? Moreover, the 290kph speed is not a maximum speed for these RC aircraft travel. An example of a high speed RC aircraft is provided on the New Atlas website
World's fastest RC aircraft hits a stunning 548 mph – without a motor
No props, no jets, no rockets – California's Spencer Lisenby just broke the world speed record for remote controlled aircraft, taking an unpowered RC glider transonic at 548 mph (882 km/h) using nothing but the wind. Well, that and an incredible degree of skill in a highly dangerous technique called dynamic soaring. And while it's more or less an extreme hobby at the moment, he's got some very interesting plans for the technique and the technology behind it.
According to the March-April 2018 MAC Magazine, “model aircraft go faster every year” and the operators need to develop skills to control these aircraft.
According to the September-October 2019 MAC Magazine an error with these fast moving planes can be disastrous, “One poor Japanese pilot destroyed his entire fleet due to crashes! At 330 KPH, only a split second error can have catastrophic consequences with these models.”
Due to the high speed, the force of impact from an RC aircraft can be huge. If property or people are struck; it’s devastating! An example of this destruction is shown when a large RC aircraft crashed killing 2 and injuring 4.
Two people died and four others were injured when a model plane crashed into a crowd of spectators at an international model builders' show at Ocseny Airport, SW Hungary, on Saturday, police reported.
The accident was caused by a 2-2.5 metre-long, remote control model built by a German pilot that went down behind the fence into a group of spectators
For comparison the small RC aircraft are restricted to 1.5kg and can fly up to 100kph. The following MAAC document defines small aircraft in the following way.
MAP 01 - Outdoor Flying Field Guidelines
Small aircraft – electric, glow fuel or unpowered, 1.5kg (3.3lbs) or less, maximum wingspan/rotor span of 1-meter, max airspeed 100kph (62mph) and constructed of traditional non-frangible materials such as wood and/or re-enforced foam or any combination thereof.
Putting the 1.5 kg weight and 100 kph speed associated to small RC aircraft into the Kinetic Energy Calculator results in 578 Joules.
Using the 400lbs average motorcycle weight and the calculated kinetic energy of 578 Joules, determine the speed the motorcycle would have to be traveling to have the same kinetic energy as the RC aircraft.
The result is that the 400lbs motorcycle would only be traveling 9kph. This does not seem like much but relatively small RC aircraft have killed and injured people.
Um aeromodelo de 3,5 kg e 1,5 m de envergadura causou a morte do presidente do clube de aeromodelismo de Araraquara, Milton Aliberti, 65
Google Translate provides the following translation from Portuguese to English
A 3.5 kg and 1.5 m wingspan model killed the president of the Araraquara aeromodelling club, Milton Aliberti, 65
A 53-year-old man died on Sunday after being struck in the head by a toy plane.
It weighs roughly 2.3 kg and has a 1.61 meter main rotor.
A 41-year-old man was killed in a freak accident while flying his remote-controlled helicopter. The man had severe cuts on his arms and head. Local police is launching an investigation into the matter, and while the exact circumstances surrounding his death still haven’t been disclosed. it’s likely to assume that the helicopter caused the injuries. The man’s body was discovered by a pedestrian, about 25 kilometers from Lucerne in the Mauensee area of Switzerland.
The hobby helicopter was a Gaui X7 which usually sells for around $1,000. It weighs roughly 2.3 kg and has a 1.61 meter main rotor.
In another instance of drone operator stupidity, 38 year old Stephanie Creignou was seriously injured when a 2.8lb (1.3kg) drone dropped from about 33ft (10m) in the air straight into her head with a velocity of around 25mph (11m/s) during the Challenge 5km Arc-en-Ciel race in Beloeil, Canada.
Even small RC aircraft have killed and injured people so is kinetic energy really an accurate way to evaluate safety? While kinetic energy provides a means to calculate and compare; the point is that kinetic energy on its own is not enough to assess the risk to people.
Newton's third law of motion states, “For every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction.” When a 4.4lbs (2kg) drone hits a 160lbs person, do you think the drone will rebound, will the person absorb the impact or will it pass right though? People are not made of rock or metal, we are flesh and bone. Even small RC aircraft can injure so if they are going to be allowed there must be adequate distance to ensure that people are not hurt. These machines can cause serious damage and ruin lives. RC aircraft can be made with sharp spinning blades, wide wing spans and that can project fragments upon impact. These are factors to consider when the collision is to people and their flesh. Looking at injuries and causes of death often; the weight, speed, proximity to people combines with serious consequences. Like a bullet to the head, an RC aircraft does not need to be large to be deadly.
These aircraft are comparable to firearms in terms of the damage they may cause. Yet, compare the licensing requirement differences between large RC aircraft to a firearm or similar weapon then consider what is required to purchase a firearm in Canada:
For a citizen to purchase a firearm they require a Firearms Acquisition Certificate (FAC) which entails completing a safety course, passing a safety exam (both written and practical) a criminal records check, a background check and consent form or at least acknowledgement from the applicant’s spouse, followed by a waiting period before the RCMP approves the FAC. Looking at the calculations in context; shouldn't an RC aircraft require at least a permit? Look at the potential damage. What if this was used to hurt someone intentionally? Could the operator just say, "oops, it was the wind that caused a loss of control” or "it was interference?" Hunting is not allowed around people but flying deadly RC aircraft for fun is. Perhaps the biggest development in military technology in recent years has been the utilization of unmanned drone aircraft for various missions ranging from reconnaissance and surveillance to strike and bombing raids.
What is big enough? What is safe? The answers should be that if it can hurt people and there are no ways of preventing misuse then only small aircraft that cannot injure people should be allowed. Where does this 35kg limit come from and how is it safe? Who comes up with a number like this; the lobbyist? Where are the limits on speed and which independent organization is enforcing these limits? Are Canadians being protected here or is the hobby with their business interests? There are MAAC sanctioned club sites that do not have sufficient space to contain the activities. It is clear that the large aircraft and high speeds are extremely dangerous. Logically, large heavy, fast moving aircraft should only be allowed in a controlled environment like a real airport; where there are large distances from residents, there are real safety officials and professionals who verify the safety of aircraft.