RC Drone

I'm not a drone, I'm an RC aircraft; a multi-rotor RC aircraft to be specific.

I have been hopeful the RC Drone misnomer would fade as the general public got more informed as to what most of these RC aircraft actually are. Unfortunately that's not the case; in fact it's getting worse.

I unfortunately have come to the reluctant conclusion, the name drone (regardless how incorrect it is to describe the vast majority of multi-rotor RC aircraft) is here to stay and nothing I do or say has a snow ball's chance to change that.

Top notch retailer's such as Drone World, continue to grow the popularity (and acceptance) of this term, and are helping lots of people successfully get into the hobby; so I guess it's not all bad :-) 

All that said, I would at least like to point out what the vast majority of these fun recreational aircraft actually are however.

Below are a few rotary model RC aircraft I currently fly... Your job is to identify which one is the RC drone.

RC Drone # 1RC Drone Possibility # 1
RC Drone # 2RC Drone Possibility # 2
RC Drone # 3RC Drone Possibility # 3
RC Drone # 4RC Drone Possibility # 4
RC Drone # 5RC Drone Possibility # 5
RC Drone # 6RC Drone Possibility # 6

So, which one is the drone?

NONE OF THEM!

They are, all of them, run of the mill RC aircraft.


What Makes A True RC Drone?

Before answering that, I should point out what all these aircraft (both RC & Drones) are. They are all UA's (unmanned aircraft), or UAV's (unmanned aerial vehicles), or sUAS's (small unmanned aerial systems), or RPV's (remotely piloted vehicles). If people, media, and marketing wanted recreational RC aircraft to sound cooler or more menacing, then at least call them a UAV, UAS, or an RPV. I suppose "RC Drone" just rolls off the tongue easier and is way easier to market? 

An unmanned aircraft must meet certain criteria to be classified as a drone.

  • Most aerial drones (not all however) are fully autonomous; meaning they are essentially flying robots and need no human intervention for flight control. Yes, humans program a flight mission and can usually take over control when needed, but most of the time they are flying fully autonomously.
  • The next distinction is the single most important one that no true drone can be without. It comes from the mention of the word "mission" in the first point. All true flying drones MUST perform a specific flight mission; whether that be aerial reconnaissance, atmospheric data acquisition, search & rescue operations, or blowing things & people up. In short, they must perform some specific job and have a commercial or military application. Again, none of us in the hobby are doing that, we fly for fun & recreation and "drone" is simply the most incorrect thing anyone can call any of our RC aircraft.
  • If you use a quad copter or other RC aircraft for commercial use (ie. aerial photography), in most countries you will need special permission or a certificate to do it legally. This still doesn't mean you are flying a drone however. No governing body (that I can find anyways) calls these "drone certificates", they call them UA (unmanned aircraft) certificates.
  •  The majority of true aerial drones weigh over 25 kg (generally much more in fact) and can fly for hours on end - can your little sub 10 pound RC quad-rotor do that? No, well guess what - it's not a true drone.  
A True Aerial DroneThis Is A True Aerial Drone - Its Mission? It blows things up & kills people!

Many of us actually do have true drones in our homes...

Drone Vacuum CleanerDrone Vacuum Cleaner

Yep, the humble yet very cool robot vacuum such our little Neato seen here on his daily cleaning mission, is a true drone.

It's fully autonomous. It maps out the rooms & items within the rooms with a rotating IR laser and then uses a sophisticated algorithm along with on board sensors to calculate the most efficient/effective cleaning routes. Watching its "machine intelligence" in action is simply amazing.

It will head back to his base when he needs recharging and then resumes his cleaning mission once fully charged. In short he can run for hours on end if needed.

Finally and most importantly, he has a specific mission/job... He keeps the floors in our house clean. When you have two shedding dogs, his daily cleaning mission around here is relentless but so important. Yep, little Neato here is a drone I personally can't do without!

There is also a new type of quad-rotor aircraft that can certainly qualify as a "flying drone", and that is going to be the next generation of flying action cameras such as the Lily Camera (link takes you to the write-up I've done on this cool new device). The Lily Camera company however does not call it a drone, they call it a flying camera.

So why do robot vac companies such as Neato Robotics & iRobot not call these things "Drone Vacs" or "Vacuum Drones"; or flying camera company's such as Lily Camera call them "Drone Cameras" when they certainly qualify as 100% drone? It all comes back to marketing... Call a household appliance a drone, and you'll scare all your potential customers away because most people consider drones a threat. However, call something a drone like a quad rotor RC aircraft suggesting it's something it's not, and you can sell more - go figure!


So Why Do I & Other RC Aviation Hobbyists Get So Upset Over This Seemingly Harmless Misnomer?

Simple - IT'S REALLY HURTING OUR HOBBY!!!

I have been involved in RC flight now for over 30 years, and never have I seen it been cast in such a negative light in all directions. For years, us RC aviators were very responsible and able to self govern our activities putting a very positive spin on model aviation in general. Now all that hard work has been undermined by lack of education, ignorance, superstition, and poor judgment/actions of others.

As I stated, drone is a highly negative & misleading word to the general public after all. It's no wonder I get so upset after all these years when I have considered myself a responsible RC aviator/hobbyist; and now all of a sudden, I'm being pigeon holed as a "drone flyer" by those who don't have the slightest clue about our hobby!

Hell, just last week, my wife was approached by someone who asked, "was that your hubby who was flying a drone north of town yesterday?"  Indeed I was out flying - a big scale RC helicopter; so it's not bad enough I've been given the derogatory name plate; my poor innocent helicopters are also being called filthy drones. The gloves are off!

Want more proof how the general public perceives "drones" and are being mislead? Have a look at this Audi A6 Commercial.

Yes, it's a great & entertaining twist on the Hitchcock classic "The Birds", but totally & incorrectly portrays multi-rotor aircraft as a threat.

The underlying message of the commercial is "Advanced Technology Doesn't Have To Be Intimidating". When it comes to RC Aircraft usage, the message should be:

"Advanced Technology In The Hands of Irresponsible People Will Impose New Restrictions & Public Negativity".

Assuming computer animation was available at the time, Audi could have easily made this commercial years ago with RC airplanes or helicopters attacking people.

Of course they never did as there was zero fear of RC aircraft back then, and justifiably so because us model aviators were responsible, and gave the general public no reason to fear our aircraft.

IMPORTANT UPDATE!

Well, my fear has come true! Thanks to irresponsible people doing stupid things, the FAA now requires mandatory registration of all RC aircraft that weigh over half a pound and are flown outdoors. The registration rules went into effect December 21, 2015. Here is my full write-up explaining what this means for all RC pilots in the USA.


What Can We All Do To Improve This RC Drone Problem?

No RC Drone ZoneNo RC Drone Zone

Like it or not, the word RC drone has certainly gained world wide acceptance when it comes to describing pretty much any multi-rotor RC aircraft on the market and even conventional RC aircraft by some.

When the FAA starts using it as well along with almost every manufacturer and even what I thought to be very responsible hobby shops; I realize there is absolutely nothing a little guy like me, nor anyone else can do about putting a dent in the erroneous use of the word.

That said, there is absolutely something we can all do to help improve public opinion about our hobby...

Be A Responsible RC Aviation Hobbyist!

There is one fundamental reason why our hobby is under such scrutiny right now, drone noise aside; it's the actions of DUMB PEOPLE! I touched on this point on my Are RC Helicopters Hard To Fly & FAA RC Registration pages.

As I stated on those two pages, with the introduction of electronic flying aids that make it possible for just about anyone to fly an RC aircraft with no skill or training, there are now millions of people flying RC aircraft with little to no understanding of the risks involved (ie. the numerous things that can potentially go wrong while flying an RC model). 

Before all this "electronic help", if you weren't skilled enough to fly, you simply crashed long before your airplane or helicopter ever got high or far away enough to pose a threat to others. Well, that "beginner safety net" is now gone.

I get at least one email a month from someone who just got a quadcopter and is super upset because they lost it (almost always due to flying it way too high up & far away for their ability or what would be considered safe). A plane or heli would just crash as soon as you can't make out what you are doing, but not a quad/multi-rotor with electronic stabilization.

Where do you think all these lost quads are going? They come crashing back down to mother earth, some of which will no doubt cause property damage.

Please don't think for a moment I'm against all this new stabilization technology that has opened up the wonderful world RC flight to so many. I'm thrilled that people who never once considered piloting an RC aircraft  can now enjoy this fun past time as well; but there needs to be more education or just simple common sense.

My own motto I follow when I fly is:

"How do you know when your RC aircraft might fall out of the sky or experience a total loss of control? Any time it's flying!"

If this simple, yet powerful thought is in your head while flying any RC model, you really start paying close attention to what you are flying over and the potential risk you may be causing.

That simple statement should be a mandatory item to put in the instructions and on the box in bold print of every RC aircraft sold. I certainly include it with the 600ESP helicopter kits I sell.

It won't keep all the mischievous nuts out there from flying over busy areas, people, houses, and worst of all - near airports; but I'm sure it would go a long way to educate people new to RC flight that nothing is full proof and that they as the RC pilot are accountable for their actions - more so now than ever.

For those new to RC flight, I encourage you to read AMA's (Academy of Model Aeronautics) safety code to get an idea of what you as a model aviator should be aware of and what safe flying is all about. This safety list is very similar to most other country's RC safety rules. The Know Before You Fly website is also a great resource.

This next video is really entertaining if you are a Jeff Dunham fan like I am.

Is it too much to ask these days for people to use common sense? Perhaps it is. If so, we are very well on our way of losing one more fun and fairly unrestricted & unregulated past time.

RC drone rant over with... I'm late for my scale heli's appointment with the councilor since it has recently developed an identity crisis known as HDD (Helicopter Drone Disorder) ;-)

HDD Therapy Session

Wishing Everyone Happy "Helidays" ;-)

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Some Kind Words From A Loyal Visitor


Hi John, I would just like to say that your eBooks regarding RC helicopters are the best guidelines and help that I have discovered on the internet.

I have now got to a point where I can do my own setup and not rely on someone else.

Your videos on learning how to fly really makes learning how to fly a lot more fun with very little stress. Congratulations and keep it up.

I have introduced quite a few friends starting off to your website, and everyone rates it no.1.

Best Regards, Johan Botha - South Africa