Official RCGroups Response to the Recent FAA Memo

We respond to the FAA's recent memo titled "Interpretation of the Special Rule for Model Aircraft."



Modelers have until July 25th to respond to the FAA's recent memo "Interpretation of the Special Rule for Model Aircraft".

We all expected some changes because of legitimate concerns on how to fit some types of model aircraft into the national airspace. However, the FAA did not go in any of the expected directions. In this article we have attached our official response in PDF form. We also present it inline below. We encourage everyone reading this to absorb the information found here and elsewhere and to take action of your own.

Please take the following steps:

  1. Read the FAA Memo.
  2. Read our official response.
  3. Leave a comment for the FAA.

When it comes to your comment keep it short and professional. We need a large volume of quality comments to get the FAA's attention.

Another link you might find helpful is this Super Simple Guide written by an informed modeler.

Here is the PDF file of our official response:


Please feel free to download and distribute this document.

What follows is the text of that response pasted in as an article.

The Text of the Response, a community-based organization representing over 500,000 registered members and over 1.7 million unique visitors each month, has read the recent 17 page memo and now responds to docket #FAA-2014-0396. Since the release of this interpretation, our members have commented energetically on their concerns, and this letter seeks to convey some of those thoughts to the FAA.

Briefly summarized our comments are:

  • The definition of “line of sight” does not follow from the statute and criminalizes behaviors consistent with responsible, safe operation of model aircraft.
  • The FAA’s interpretation betrays Congress’ clear direction to exempt the R/C modeling hobby from aviation regulations.

Line of Sight

We believe the FAA misunderstands the intent of the words “line of sight” and that the three part definition provided is contrary to the public safety.


By definition, a model aircraft must be “flown within visual line of sight of the person operating the aircraft.” P.L. 112-95, section 336(c)(2). Based on the plain language of the statute, the FAA interprets this requirement to mean that: (1) the aircraft must be visible at all times to the operator; (2) that the operator must use his or her own natural vision (which includes vision corrected by standard eyeglasses or contact lenses) to observe the aircraft; and (3) people other than the operator may not be used in lieu of the operator for maintaining visual line of sight.

We believe that the intent of “Line of Sight” includes only item #1 in the above. Items #2 and #3 are additional interpretive steps by the FAA that are not founded. Also, the potential benefits of multiple operators were dismissed capriciously.

Item #1 is correct provided we understand the word “visible” to mean what the statute implies: all the visible area surrounding the pilot (i.e. the sky not obstructed by trees, buildings and people). The remaining items proceed from an incorrect substitution of “within visual line of sight” to a meaning more like “having current visual focus.”

Item #2 prohibits the use of safety devices which could make tracking a distant aircraft easier. Such devices could even assist the operator with finding an aircraft which has been visually lost. Pilots do make mistakes! There is no basis for including this as an implication of “line of sight”.

Item #3 apparently allows for the use of an FPV spotter but prohibits allowing that user to also operate the model aircraft, which is nonsensical. Models can and often do have more than one operator. There is no reason to disallow one of the operators from using an FPV perspective. A second operator flying using a first person view has the potential to dramatically increase the safety of model aircraft flight.

Clearly there is a concern about the use of first person video systems to pilot model aircraft. This concern is unfounded. Aircraft flown from the first person perspective are much more easily controlled than aircraft flown from a distant vantage. Users of R/C training simulators typically begin with a first person view then progress to the much harder task of controlling the aircraft from a ground-based vantage point.


To ensure that the operator has the best view of the aircraft, the statutory requirement would preclude the use of vision-enhancing devices, such as binoculars, night vision goggles, powered vision magnifying devices, and goggles designed to provide a “first-person view” from the model. Such devices would limit the operator’s field of view thereby reducing his or her ability to see-and-avoid other aircraft in the area.

Contrary to the opinion of the FAA, it is only through the use of FPV viewpoints that R/C pilots can effectively manage to see-and-avoid another airborne object. Parallax error makes it very difficult to determine the relative depth of two objects in the sky. This is easily reproducible.

Maintaining line of sight through the use of binoculars is rare, but has precedent. See the below photo of world model aviation record setter, Maynard Hill.

While we certainly agree with the importance of ensuring the safety of aircraft occupants, we must digress to point out that pilots of man-carrying aircraft are required to stay 500 feet away from people (FAR 91.119). Pilots of model aircraft would be very hard pressed to intentionally hit a moving aircraft from their ground reference. In a collision between a model aircraft and a real aircraft, the assignment of blame should begin by determining whether the pilot of the real aircraft was recklessly operating within 500 feet of the model aircraft operator. Only after that could it be determined who was better able to avoid the accident. In most cases this could not be the operator of the model aircraft.

It is paradoxical to deny model aircraft operators the use of FPV equipment on the basis that it will allow them to harass pilots of real planes, then assert that they must maintain see-and-avoid without the use of the equipment best able to assist them in seeing if they are on a collision course.

We believe the statute uses “Line of Sight” to describe the area “within” which the aircraft can be flown, not the status of the operator’s eyeballs. This area is all the places visible from the pilot’s vantage point. The statute implies that model aircraft should be flown such that they are not behind other objects, such as people, trees, and buildings, relative to the pilot. The statute did not imply that pilots could not augment their vision for safety (e.g. by using binoculars or video equipment). The FAA has no reason to prohibit operators from flying FPV flights within their own line of sight, in particular with a safety pilot operating as either primary or secondary pilot through a “buddy box” type system.

The FAA Interpretation vs the intent of Congress

This section of the memo regarding “commercial” operation weirdly and defensively detours into areas that have nothing to do with the topic at hand of professional drone flights to address the non-issue of commercial model aircraft flights in general, including “receiving money for demonstrating aerobatics with a model aircraft.” Rather than clarify it confounds.

The FAA errs in too broadly applying the following from P.L. 112-95, section 336(c)


(1) the aircraft is flown strictly for hobby or recreational use

It is our contention that “hobby or recreational use” was meant to include exactly the activity the FAA believes it excludes. Congress expressly sought to prevent the FAA from regulating the toy and hobby industry, and that includes those who work within it. Congress allowed for the FAA to regulate commercial operations because it saw the future of autonomous crop dusting, hobby atmospheric research vehicles, and autonomously piloted remote sensing vehicles in general. Such vehicles need regulation to operate such that they do not interfere with man-carrying aircraft, or each other. A proper clarification would tackle the difficult job of separating these activities from model aircraft, not lump everything that flies into one group based on the movement of money after it is flown. The FAA seems determined to jump in where it doesn’t belong, despite Congress’ direction.

In order for hobby products to be made they must be tested. In order for an R/C training simulator to be created people must go out and fly the real model to compare it to the simulation. For reviews to be written people must fly the models under review. These people must be paid. The FAA’s interpretation makes them the regulatory authority over the design, testing, production, marketing, and sales of all model aircraft, giving them the power to shut down a hobby they were expressly forbidden to regulate.

If the goal was to clarify the memo failed. New questions are raised about the future. Will hobby industry magazines be able to compensate product reviewers who do not have a commercial pilot license? Will they have to undergo a medical certification process? Urinalysis? Biennial training? Is a reimbursement of a pilot’s actual expenses considered an act of commerce? Will there be a waiver process to get around these restrictions?

Thankfully, the FAA stops short of insisting Part 91 fully apply to commercial pilots of model aircraft. Perhaps a future memo will take us there, years from now after the current cadre of bureaucrats are long retired, when a future generation is left to “plainly” interpret what was left for them. Perhaps by then we’ll have applied all the FARs and operators of model aircraft will have their timely lessons in how to use VOR and DME systems under their belts before receiving their licenses to operate in the national airspace, which now extends to the air indoors and any pockets found underground as well for good measure! Perhaps we will learn then that the FAA has always been so tasked.

The FAA’s misguided attempt to shoehorn model aircraft into regulations obviously intended for man-carrying devices is the headwater for the recent veritable torrent of the “What does this mean?” inquiries the agency is receiving. Clearly it is ludicrous to imagine that Part 91 would be expanded to cover the sorts of activities mentioned above, yet the memo alludes to Part 91 for potential actions that could be taken. The FAA missed its opportunity to reassure modelers that it has no intention of doing something so absurd as applying Part 91 to the professional reviewer of a hobby product.

Yet we arrive here quite logically, given the pell-mell exegesis the FAA is willing to go through to gain every authority the loopholes allow.

The FAA starts with the definition of “aircraft” from 49 USC 40102, which says:


(6) “aircraft” means any contrivance invented, used, or designed to navigate, or fly in, the air.

It then says that since it regulates aircraft, it also regulates model aircraft.

Let’s apply the FAA’s exact same logic to cars. 49 US Code 32901 says:


“automobile” means a 4-wheeled vehicle that is propelled by fuel, or by alternative fuel, manufactured primarily for use on public streets, roads, and highways and rated at less than 10,000 pounds gross vehicle weight, …

R/C cars are 4-wheeled vehicles propelled by fuel or alternative fuel. They are manufactured primarily for use on public streets, roads, and highways (they are also for use on R/C car tracks, but that is less common). They are rated at less than 10,000 pounds gross vehicle weight.

From this we conclude the Federal Highway Administration is responsible for regulating R/C cars. Furthermore, we can apply safety standards to R/C cars such as airbags and interior trunk release mechanisms. We stop short of further illustration for fear we will give the FAA new ideas.

To consistently apply the FAA’s selective definition of “aircraft” would include things such as footballs, smoke rings, juggling pins, paper planes, etc. Ridiculous? Yes! But this is not an argument reductio ad absurdum. The point is that the FAA is not legitimately clarifying. It disingenuously builds a case that it has always been the one in charge and retcons definitions willy nilly to prove it. “Aircraft” are all the flying things the FAA wants to control and all flying things the FAA wants to control are “aircraft.” The definitions are convenient, nothing more.

If Sense Prevailed

We see that the government is under pressure to do something and we accept that of all the federal agencies the FAA is currently in the best position to act. We stand by the FAA in their efforts to protect man-carrying aircraft from the few troubled souls who fly recklessly. We support the idea of educating the public as to the dangers of flying model aircraft within the national airspace. We accept the need for regulation to protect the general public from, well, idiots.

However, the FAA appears over-eager to establish its authority over areas where they are simply not chartered.

While congress might have allowed for regulation of FPV flight, that does not mean it is in the interest of public safety to do so. In fact, we believe the FAA’s actions are contrary to public safety.

Likewise, it is not in the interest of public safety to regulate professionals in the R/C hobby industry. The FAA already has broad public support, founded in common sense, to regulate anything that could harm occupants of an aircraft. It does not need to torture definitions to gain authority over hobby activities as well. There is no actual history of R/C models causing problems with real aircraft, whether flown professionally or not, provided the operators follow the already well-established guidelines. In the rare occasion that an operator acts with intent to harm there is no regulatory void to fill.

We ask that the FAA further clarify the word “commercial” so that it applies to remote sensing tasks performed by remotely piloted aircraft in such a way that it does not confuse them with aircraft flown for the enjoyment of the R/C hobby.

Submit your comment now.

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Jul 18, 2014, 01:47 PM
Electric Coolhunter
Thomas B's Avatar
Well done, RCG and Jim!
Latest blog entry: My 2021 event schedule
Jul 18, 2014, 01:57 PM
Wanted for breaking Ohm's Law
Dennis Sumner's Avatar
Latest blog entry: RC Throw Gauge
Jul 18, 2014, 02:03 PM
A man who delivers.(packages)
Very excellent hopefully all these replies will have an impact. I don't fly FPV yet, but still think the current FAA guideline is a step in the wrong direction.
Jul 18, 2014, 02:12 PM
More Motors, More Fun... :-)
nioa's Avatar

Footballs were mentioned in the RCGroups response. Our field is within 5 miles of a commercial airport. Adjacent to our field is a golf course. The FAA wants to give the airport authority the ability to close our field for any reason. Golf balls do fly in the air and could hit a man carrying aircraft. Would the golf course be forced to close too? Absurd!
Jul 18, 2014, 02:24 PM
Registered User
DLord's Avatar
Thanks for the effort! I flew my first VPH(video piloted helicopter) in 1985 and it was incredible fun. The progress that's been made since then has opened that kind of experience to virtually anyone and the idea that the government could intervene to prohibit it is abhorrent!
Keep up the great work!
Jul 18, 2014, 02:28 PM
Matt Gunn's Avatar
This is very well written and logically counters all of the FAA's arguments. I implore you all to share this response where ever you can!
Last edited by Matt Gunn; Jul 18, 2014 at 02:38 PM.
Jul 18, 2014, 02:37 PM
Registered User
pda4you's Avatar
Well done, Bravo Jim!
Jul 18, 2014, 03:04 PM
I hate waiting for parts
Mike_Then's Avatar
*stands up and applauds loudly*

Thank you, Jim Bourke and! Brilliantly written! *Just* the right amount of snarky-ness but totally got your point across!
Jul 18, 2014, 03:12 PM
Registered User
Commenting is easy, and numbers do count! Please click on the comment button and add your name to the list. Took me a couple of minutes, and the connection was slow.
Jul 18, 2014, 03:23 PM
Ken's CAD Models
dz1sfb's Avatar
Kudos, for a well thought out response that is concise and cogent!

Thank you,
Jul 18, 2014, 03:35 PM
Registered User
Fig Newton's Avatar
Excellent! You should see if someone at the Washington Post will publish this. Anyone have any connections?
Jul 18, 2014, 03:47 PM
Firmware Fiend
The Quasar's Avatar
LoL, very eloquently written, and quite comedic in its analysis of the way the FAA has so ignorantly interpreted the statute. I feel proud to be a part of RCG after reading this response.
Jul 18, 2014, 03:53 PM
I review RC Products
GBLynden's Avatar
Good work RCG's!!!

Ignorant big agencies ruin fun and safety because they need an explanation like what was laid out above.

I hope the FAA pays attention to this.....
Jul 18, 2014, 03:57 PM
Registered User
muscleflex's Avatar
well done! The FAA cannot ignore rcgroups - biggest forum in the world!

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