The Awesome R/C Plane Video That Pissed Off The FAA

The Federal Aviation Administration has filed an appeal in the case against "commercial drone" pilot Raphael Pirker, accused of reckless operation of what's basically an R/C aircraft near the University of Virginia campus in 2011. Um, does this look reckless to you?


A judge from the NTSB dismissed the case and $10,000 fine last month, but according to Forbes, in the appeal, the FAA argues that the NTSB judge erred by determining that Pirker's small drone was not an "aircraft" as defined by Federal Aviation Regulations (FARs). The FAA also says the judge was mistaken by saying the drone was not subject to those FARs.

The government stayed out of the model plane business until 1987, when it set forth voluntary guidelines in an Advisory Circular. Scientific American says:

"It essentially asked radio-controlled copter hobbyists to avoid flying their aircraft above 120 meters, and near airports, spectators (for untested planes), full-scale aircraft and noise-sensitive areas."


Then in 2007, regulators took things a step further, banning model planes (now termed unmanned aerial vehicles) from commercial use. The FAA sends cease and desist letters to aerial video companies that use drones, but admits it can't enforce its policy over their commercial use. The only legal ground the FAA has to stand on is citing reckless operation of an aircraft, and that's what they're trying to pin on Raphael Pirker.

Um, it's this. A RitewingRC Zephyr II.

Back in the good ol' days, they called it "flying a remote-controlled plane" and it was all in good fun. What's next, will NHTSA start cracking down on remote-control cars?

The appeal will be decided by NTSB members who handle appeals, so there's a good chance the FAA will lose this one as well. They'll have the final say whether non-military drones are aircraft, or just really cool, expensive toys. You can read the brief here.

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