How does the AMA define an RC aircraft flight?
See and Avoid
If you look at the AMA Safety Code, there is a very clear definition of what makes an RC aircraft. By aircraft I mean an airplane, helicopter, multicopter, dirigible, or any other RC-controlled flying vehicle. For this discussion, it is helpful to know that the FAA (Federal Aviation Administration) is the governing body of the national airspace in the United States.
The primary mechanism used by the FAA to keep the airspace safe is through the use of the “see and avoid” principle. In a nutshell, it means that everything that is flying through the air is responsible for being on a constant lookout for other aircraft and avoiding collisions with them.
Airplanes have been flying through the air for over 100 years. I do not know on which date this principle started being used, but I am pretty sure it was used the day two airplanes took to the air at the same time. We are still using it over 100 years later because it works. It makes everyone using the airspace responsible for avoiding accidents. I am sure other countries have similar rules in place.
The AMA Safety Code ties in directly with this principle as enforced by the FAA. It clearly states that we are responsible for watching out for and avoiding all aircraft.
The Safety Code goes on to explain that the RC pilot must maintain control over the aircraft during the entire flight. It is pretty clear about this.
You could argue that the human pilot is in control if he can take over from a computer or another human at any time. That seems to be the interpretation intended by the AMA. That is the principle used during a training flight with a buddy box, for example. I will talk in a future article about the first person view (FPV) rules, which use this idea in the FPV rule definitions.
Further, the Safety Code states that the human pilot must maintain visual contact without enhancements other than corrective lenses. If the model gets so far away that you cannot see it unless you use a pair of binoculars, then you are in violation of AMA rules.
It goes without saying that keeping track of where the model is and what it is doing by staring at a computer screen is clearly not allowed.
Not Commercial or Military Uses
RC flying under the AMA rules can only be done for sport, recreation, or competition. What that means is that it cannot be done for commercial or military purposes. This is very clear.
In summary, an RC aircraft flight must meet three requirements to be considered as such by the AMA. First, it must be done for fun. Second, you as a human must be in continuous control over the aircraft. Finally, you must maintain line of sight to the model.