FPV: Drone Pilots Guide

Drone Safety & FPV Regulations

FPV Regulations (The CAA Exemption)

Article 166(3) of the Air Navigation Order 2009 (‘the Order’), requires that the person in charge of a Small Unmanned Aircraft (SUA) must ensure that direct unaided visual contact is maintained with the aircraft sufficient to monitor its flight path in relation to other aircraft, persons, vehicles, vessels and structures for the purpose of avoiding collisions.  This would be difficult to comply with whilst wearing goggles.

Fortunately (which means as a result of a lot of hard work carried out by FPV.UK), the CAA General Exemption E 3780 (published 23rd April 2014) exempts the SUA pilot from article 166(3) provided that several conditions are met.  These are that the person in charge (you, the pilot) has to be ‘accompanied by a competent observer who maintains direct unaided visual contact with the SUA sufficient to monitor its flight path in relation to other aircraft, persons, vehicles, vessels and structures for the purpose of avoiding collisions and advises the person in charge accordingly.

The ‘Competent Observer’ is simply someone you have briefed to stay next to you and to keep you informed of what is going on around the vicinity of the quadcopter, especially if a full-size aircraft flies by: Eg. ‘Full-size aircraft passing overhead the field, high, no problem.’ Or ‘Full-size helicopter heading towards you: descend and turn 90 degrees right’.  Or ‘you are getting too far away – head back to the field’.  None of this is rocket science. With the goggles on you will hear any approaching aircraft perfectly clearly, and it is reassuring to have someone tell you that the approaching aircraft is actually passing well clear of the field behind you or whatever.

The Exemption only applies if the SUA does not exceed 3.5kg in weight and is operated at no more than 1000 feet above the surface. There are also provisions about remaining 150 metres clear of congested areas, 150 metres clear of open-air assemblies of more than 1,000 persons, outside aerodrome traffic areas and controlled airspace, and 50 m clear of vessels, vehicles and structures not under your control, 50m clear of persons (except when taking off or landing) and 30m clear of persons during taking off or landing – other than yourself, the Competent Observer and other SUA personnel. Finally the SUA must not be flown for the purposes of aerial work.

All SUA pilots need to be familiar with the ANO provisions applicable to R/C flying. FPV pilots also need to be familiar with this exemption from 166(3) – and need to understand that the rest of article 166 and the whole of 167 still apply!

Safety

Even with little palm size quads, a prop strike will draw blood.  On larger quads a prop strike will cause very serious harm.  There have been several fatal accidents around the world where model helicopter pilots have been killed by their own helicopter.

The safety concern is not just for you – you have a Duty of Care to those around you.  And when you are learning it is more likely that you will not have total control of the machine.  So keep spectators a long way away.  (Be aware that the general public will be fascinated by these machines, and will wander over to you to ask questions whilst you are flying – so the best plan is to find a private place to fly.)

In uncontrolled airspace, manned aircraft operate on the ‘See and Avoid’ principle, with each pilot responsible for seeing and avoiding other air users.  Model aircraft / SUAs operate on the same principle – but obviously it is much more difficult for the pilot of a manned aircraft to see a model.  So you should be alert for the approach of manned aircraft and be prepared to ‘avoid’ (normally by descending rapidly) if one is approaching.

The operator of any type of model must have his concentration totally fixed on the model if he is to retain control. Unfortunately this results in a kind of tunnel-vision effect – you will only see other aircraft when they are in close proximity to your model (or near the line of sight between you and the model). Allied to this is the fact that it is very difficult for the operator to know just how far away the model is: if a manned aircraft does appear close to the model, you will find it difficult to judge whether they are on collision paths. Several years ago a hang-glider pilot was killed following a collision with a model glider.  So choose a safe location away from other air users, and use your ears – and if you hear a manned aircraft approaching, bring yours down to a low hover.

Third-party liability

Whilst there is no legal requirement to have third party liability cover, it might save you a very expensive pay-out if your model was to go out of control and cause damage to somebodies property – or injury to them.  Such insurance is included with membership of FPV UK and the BMFA.

Lost Model

There is always a chance that something will go wrong and you will lose your model. For that reason it is good idea to put your name and address on it.

Suitable area

The amount of space you will need is proportional to the size of the quad – and also related to the use of prop guards – and your attitude to damage.

If you try to learn to fly in a small space you will hit the surrounding objects, and without prop guards you will damage the objects and damage the quad.  A prop-strike will not only damage (and possibly shatter) the propellers involved – which could result in broken prop parts being thrown off at high velocity – but it may also bend the motor shaft requiring the fitment of a new motor.

So ideally you need to go out in a grass field – but a private one away from members of the public.

Make sure you have checked that it is not within a Restricted Area, Prohibited Area or Danger Area.

Suitable weather

Choose calm weather for your early flights. Leave battling wind and turbulence until you have got the hang of the basics.  If it is sunny, fly with the sun behind you. (Otherwise there is the risk of losing sight of the model against the sun.)

Effects of the controls

The quad will fly in whichever direction it is tilted.

Pitch is the name given to rotation of the craft nose up / nose down.  Pushing forward on the pitch control lowers the nose and the quad will now fly forward.  Easing back on the pitch control raises the nose and the quad will fly backwards.

Roll is the name given to rotation of the aircraft about the longitudinal axis – so leaning to the right or left. Moving the roll control lever to the right results in the quad tilting to the right and flying in that direction.

Yaw is the name given to rotation of the nose either to the left or right.

Throttle governs the height at which the quad is flying.  (When the quad is tilted in a particular direction, throttle also governs how fast it flies.)

See next section here: Pre & Post Flight Procedures