To be a Pilot or Not to be a Pilot

By Ed Downs

No, not trashing Shakespeare, but there is a question to be answered when launching your pet drone, be it a classic model airplane or a modern quad. Prior to the quad, as we know it today, the term “drone” primarily applied to military type aircraft, often used for unpleasant duties, such as target practice or espionage by military forces. The hobby of flying model airplanes via remote control sort of automatically made one an “RC Pilot.” These model airplanes can be quite expensive and require a definite learning curve. 

While “ready-to-fly” RC models have expanded contemporary RC flying, such flying is usually associated with a defined model airplane airport, and most participants are members of some form of local or national organization such as the Academy of Model Aeronautics (AMA). Common-sense rules created by local model airplane clubs have resulted in an excellent safety record. The FAA issued an Advisory Circular in the early days of RC flying, which did little more than restrict flight altitudes to less than 400 feet above ground level (AGL). 

The model airplane side of “drones” has done an excellent job of taking care of itself for years, served by hobby shops with highly skilled and informed personnel. Now, enter the more recent world of the camera equipped, auto stabilized, and programmable “quads” that can be purchased from your local box store and airborne in the length of time it takes to charge the batteries. Times have changed.

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Editorial: Tyrant Technology

By Ed Downs

Tyrant Technology is a term this writer thought was the title of a book or at least well known. Regrettably, I could not find the source through a search engine, an information failure to be discussed later in this essay. I apologize to the person who invented the term for not giving credit… so let’s just give it our own meaning. Just a few days ago, this writer taught a sUAS class in a large city, staying at a new, super modern hotel.  Neat place. The shower had five different controls to guarantee the best possible experience, none of which I could get to work. It was finally necessary to download a hotel app just to figure out how to use devices that have been in play for more than 300 years. Is this a misuse of technology, or is this writer simply “not with it?”

That same question comes into play in modern aviation. The application of digital technology in general aviation has expanded at an exponential rate. This old CFI sometimes wonders if aviation has been turned over to computer gamers, for whom flying is not a hand/eye/kinetic skill to be enjoyed by one’s entire being but simply a digital exercise designed to accomplish a goal that someone else invented. 

Now, let’s be clear, this essay is not being written to deplore technology in favor of the “the good old days.” I am quite fond of automobiles, airplanes, electricity, communication capabilities, and flush toilets (without an app). But the FAA has been showing significant concern regarding amateur use of highly sophisticated, fully automated light aircraft. Flight Instructor Revalidation Clinics are now required to teach the dangers of over reliance on automation, and that the over-use of automation and computer-based guidance systems can lead to operating mode confusion and a significant loss of situational awareness. 

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