Mandatory R/C Tracking
ADS-B, what is it?
As pilots of small unmanned aircraft systems (sUAS), AKA drones and/or r/c airplanes, helicopters, etc., you will be forced to consider upcoming legislation that may impact your r/c hobby. There is a proposal before the FAA to monitor sUAS aerial activity in the future. The implementation for which is expected in a few years from early 2020.
In its basic form, the government wants to know what you are flying and where you are flying it by using a monitoring system called Automatic Dependent Surveillance-Broadcast (ADS-B) by the FAA. In essence, transmitters are now being installed on general aviation aircraft that communicate the aircraft type, its designation, its position (latitude, longitude and altitude) and its speed to receiving stations (Ex.-satellites, internet connected hotspots, etc.) that forward the data to the internet for use by air traffic control and other interested people. The new rule foretells that our sUAS’s will need to be similarly equipped.
There is already some uproar expressed by many r/c pilots that the regulations will be too invasive. This is certainly a concern and deserves your attention. For example, if you fly your r/c aircraft outside of AMA sanctioned airfield boundaries, the rule requires a functioning ADS-B system on your aircraft. Many have voiced their concerns during the public commentary period (closing 3/2/2020) at the government website hosting the proposed rule.
The new rule, “Remote Identification of Unmanned Aircraft Systems” (proposed by the FAA on 12/31/2019), is currently viewable at, https://www.federalregister.gov/documents/2019/12/31/2019-28100/remote-identification-of-unmanned-aircraft-systems. You may add your own personal comments on that site.
Despite how onerous this all sounds, the ADS-B system is very handy when you want to know what’s flying above. If you are underneath an airport approach, you might be interested to know what airplane makes the interesting sound you’re hearing. You might be in the field and want to check if the sky is clear for your own aircraft before you take off. Is that the police helicopter flying over the SEFSD field? I find it particularly useful for getting timely updates about uncontained fires being fought aerially in San Diego County that might threaten my home.
The reason is that all (as far as I know) of CalFire’s aircraft provide publicly available flight data. I retrieve this data for myself from Flightradar24.com or the Flightradar24 smart device application. There are certainly others, but this one’s my goto. It’s because flight history can be displayed for each aircraft. That’s very handy once you realize that CalFire’s “air-tactical” aircraft loiter around a fire for long periods as they direct incoming air-tankers to their area of attack. The historical trails of the “air-tactical” aircraft look like circles about a point and that’s where the active fire is being fought in real time. No other source of news has proven to be so timely.
Links to the smart device applications (Apple iOS or Android) are available at Flightradar24.com.
So, is the new ruling onerous? Exceedingly likely. Is the new ruling useful? We’ll see and it depends partially on what the public has to say to the FAA about the subject. At the end of the day, the ADS-B system is pretty cool, but should our r/c aircraft be so-equipped?
Member at Large