Regulations regarding FPV in the U.S. are minimal. This FAQ document published by the FAA describes some of the guidelines associated with flying UAS and FPV aircraft.
There’s been some discussion on further restrictions, and these are discussed on the AMA Government Relations Blog.
Current UAV Regulations
The Academy of Model Aeronautics (AMA) has recently issued several statements regarding the flying of FPV aircraft. AMA Document #550 describes how the model aircraft organization self-polices unmanned aircraft flight.
In practice, buddy box systems are rarely used, and visual line of sight (VLOS) rules are infrequently followed. Buddy boxes are particularly difficult to implement while using long range systems (LRS). Many LRSs require use of the buddy box port for control signal transmission. These LRSs are commonly used in FPV to improve RC signal reception and avoid environmental (ie: WiFi) interference.
The basic requirements of AMA #550, recently updated July 20, 2013, include the following:
- Novice FPV pilots must use a buddy box system (ie: must have co-pilot)
- Spotter is required while flying FPV
- Spotter must maintain FPV
- Aircraft must use frequencies approved by FCC for both RC control and video transmission, and hold appropriate FCC license (ie: amateur radio license)
- Aircraft flown via FPV must remain at or below 400 feet above ground level (AGL) when within 3 miles of an airport
- Aircraft weight limit of 15 pounds and speed of 70 mph
- Recording video or taking aerial pictures where there is a reasonable expectation of privacy is prohibited
AMA Document #560, discusses RC aircraft operation utilizing failsafe, stabilization, and autopilot systems, all functions associated with advanced FPV piloting. In this document, the AMA still mandates that FPV aircraft with the above advanced electronic systems be flown within VLOS. This VLOS requirement even includes programmed autopilot waypoint flight.
Many FPV pilots choose not to fly at AMA fields as a result of these restrictive regulations. AMA fields are usually the only places FPV rules are enforced.
Recent Regulatory Action
It seems that recent pushes to regulate FPV flying, and UAV aircraft in general, focus on prohibiting or restricting the commercial uses of UAVs and FPVs. There haven’t been many laws or regulations passed to limit the recreational use of FPV vehicles and aircraft.
Recently, Raphael Pirker (aka Trappy) a popular FPV pilot and entrepreneur, has come under fire by the FAA for an incident that took place in 2011 on the campus of the University of Virginia in Charlottesville, VA. The FAA has assessed a fine of $10,000 against Trappy for operating his Ritewing Zephyr in a “…careless or reckless manner so as to endanger the life or property of another.” Trappy filed a motion to dismiss this fine in early October through his lawyer.
You can watch the flight in question here:
Most of the regulations focus on UAV aircraft for law enforcement use, and are not specifically targeted against hobbyists flying RC FPV aircraft recreationally. The AMA has a website that tracks regulations that will potentially affect FPV and RC hobbyists. This map of AMA and UAV legislation is updated regularly and includes links to the source documents, bills, and laws.
Amateur Radio License
Most all frequencies used in RC FPV today require the operator to have an amateur radio license. Although this requirement is rarely enforced, it’s not a difficult process to take and pass the Technician Class exam offered by the ARRL. This article on FPV video and RC frequencies explains the various bands available to a licensed amateur radio operator in the US.
Best Places to Fly FPV
Although there are few regulations currently enforced by the FAA or FCC concerning FPV and UAV flight, the future will undoubtedly bring with it more laws and requirements for hobbyists. Although the focus for now remains on prohibiting and restricting commercial and law enforcement uses, hobbyists should be concerned as well.
As for restricting law enforcement uses, in Oregon for example, Governor Kitzhaber recently signed a law that would require law enforcement to obtain a warrant prior to obtaining evidence from a drone or UAV. A similar bill in Illinois recently passed the general assembly and was signed into law by Governor Quinn.
Safety is of paramount concern, and reckless flying or invasion of privacy are sure to fan the flames of FPV and UAV criticism. The best places to fly are usually found in the country, or in sparsely populated areas. Maybe it’s best to leave the cities and urban areas to Trappy and his crew, at least with the way the fines are flying around these days.