[Headline: FPV demonstrations]
Although nearly all aeromodelers are familiar with First-Person View (FPV) flying at this point, and a surprising proportion of them have actually tried it themselves and even do it regularly, the concept is still largely unknown outside the hobby.
Furthermore, in the public imagination, FPV-capable small Unmanned Aircraft Systems (sUAS) are easily conflated with sinister drones orbiting over distant battlefields, capable of providing nearly omniscient surveillance and delivering fiery death from above.
Fortunately, as a member of AMA, you’re in a position to help dispel those fears and maybe bring some new people into the hobby while you’re at it, by putting on an effective FPV demonstration in your community.
Here at the Roswell Flight Test Crew, helping to educate the public about FPV flying, as well as its potentially beneficial applications, is a critical component of our mission. We’ve conducted quite a few public demonstrations during the past several years. Now we’d like to share what we’ve learned with you!
Every Day is an Air Show
Unless you fly exclusively in your own backyard or at an isolated AMA field, every day you fly has the potential to become a public demonstration. In fact, that’s how we got started as the Roswell Flight Test Crew.
We were flying our FPV quadcopters around a local park one day, and when it was time to bring the machines in for a landing, a crowd of people followed it back to our ground station. We spent the next 45 minutes answering questions and showing how these systems work.
Afterward, Techinstein turned to me and said, “We should put up a website with the answers to all of these questions, then get some business cards printed, so that we could just hand them out to people.” The rest, as they say, is history.
Be aware that if you’re flying in a public location—especially with a unique-looking aircraft type like an FPV multirotor—you may get people coming by to ask about it. If you want to make a lasting impression, or maybe even a new best friend, put your goggles on them and fly your aircraft eyes-on, so they can see the aerial perspective for themselves. It’s pure magic.
In addition to answering their questions, you may want to have something that you can give them if they want to learn more; perhaps a business card from your local hobby shop, a brochure for your AMA field, or even a handout with information about FPV.
We developed a simple, four-page document to use at public demonstrations, which you can download from Model Aviation’s website.
Here is one more thing to think about. If you don’t want people pestering you—such as when you’re testing a new aircraft—be sure to choose a remote location where you’re less likely to run into anyone. Otherwise you might spend the whole time answering questions, which can be frustrating when you’re trying to test a project.
Go Where People Are
If your goal is to actively seek out people and introduce them to FPV flying, the first step is to find a large group of individuals who are likely to be interested. In doing so, it would be wise to remember the words of American psychologist Abraham Maslow, who said: “To a man with only a hammer in his toolbox, every problem begins to resemble a nail.”
If what you have is an RC model airplane, you may decide that you need to find an AMA field because, well, that’s where RC model airplanes belong. That’s a perfectly reasonable conclusion and there is nothing wrong with performing a demonstration at your local field. However, you’d be missing out on a number of potential venues that would bring you into contact with people who aren’t currently involved in the hobby.
We’ve put on our most effective demonstrations at science and technology events that have no direct connection to model aviation, such as local Maker Faires and other community events organized by the Oregon Museum of Science and Industry (OMSI).
Of course, participating in large public events raises a number of issues, safety first and foremost among them. OMSI is located in the heart of downtown Portland, Oregon, directly beneath a major interstate freeway bridge and across the street from an electrical substation. Finding a safe place to fly surrounded by hundreds of people and critical infrastructure is not something to be taken for granted.
For us, the solution was simple, although it entailed some additional risk to our aircraft. The Willamette River flows through the middle of downtown Portland, a couple of dozen feet from OMSI’s back door. We arranged to set up our tent on its bank and fly over the river while doing our demonstrations.
In the event of a critical failure, our aircraft would plunge harmlessly into the Willamette. That would be painful for us, but we wouldn’t be responsible for injuring a bystander or knocking out power to 100,000 homes.
You can gain some additional peace of mind by working with an AMA CD to get your event sanctioned as an official Class D demonstration. This brings with it an additional $2.5 million in liability protection, on top of the $2.5 million of personal liability insurance you already enjoy as an AMA member.
Make the Most of It
After you’ve arranged to safely conduct your demonstration, there are some further steps you can take to make it more effective. To begin with, you will definitely want to have some literature available to hand out to people.
It helps to have some aircraft on hand besides the ones you are flying so that you can point out the different components and systems to people without having to pull your demonstration aircraft out of service. Little kids also love spinning the propellers, and it is best they don’t do that on models that have hot motors or batteries attached.
A spare set of video goggles is a must so that people can enjoy the immersive experience of FPV flying. We also bring along a flat screen television and plug it into our video receiver. When our booth gets crowded, people can catch a glimpse of the live FPV feed without having to wait in line to try on the goggles.
Having a television also makes it easier to point out the different elements of your On-Screen Display. Video goggles give some people vertigo, so it’s nice to have a way for them to get in on the action.
Perhaps the most important resource that you can bring with you to a public demonstration is friends. The pilot and the spotter should be completely focused on safely operating the aircraft, which means not dividing their attention by answering questions or helping people try on goggles. A safe and efficient public FPV demonstration requires at least three people: a pilot, spotter, and public relations specialist.
Recruiting helpers shouldn’t be too much of a problem, because putting on a public FPV demonstration is fun. The more people who experience it for themselves and see that it can be done safely and responsibly, the more support the hobby will have moving ahead.[dingbat]