Is the sky falling?
I’ve been a modeler for a long time. I flew my first model airplane as a kid with my dad in 1960. My first radio system was a hand-me-down. The transmitter sat on the ground and had an antenna twice as tall as I was.
Sometimes the radio worked, and sometimes it didn’t. Bringing your model home in one piece was considered a successful day at the field. Today we’re surprised if a radio failure ever occurs. If nothing else, it’s certainly rare.
The point of all this is that I’ve been around for a while. I’ve watched in awe as model aviation has evolved.
Every once in a while, along this evolutionary path, something new comes along that raises the eyebrows of modelers.
It was sometime in the late 1960s that modelers began designing RC model helicopters. This was innovation from the ground up.
The first commercially produced model helicopters began to appear in the US in the early 1970s. These early machines had no gyros, no collective pitch, and were, to say the least, difficult to fly. Yet, from those early beginnings came one of the most-participated-in model aviation activities of today.
In the mid-1970s, we began to see the advent of Giant Scale models. A group of six modelers designed and built 1/4-scale Bristol Scouts. Many of the parts, including propellers, were created from scratch since much of what was needed to construct the models was unavailable for purchase.
By today’s standards, those models would be considered small, yet one could argue that these early efforts sparked what today is International Miniature Aircraft Association (IMAA) and International Miniature Aerobatic Cclub (IMAC) competition.
The next big thing to come along was turbine engines. It literally took a team to get a turbine-powered model into the air. There were special start-up procedures, special shut-down procedures, and there was even a member of the pit crew standing by with a fire extinguisher in case it was needed. It took special knowledge of the equipment to have any chance of being successful.
What was once something for the engineer types among us, has become an activity enjoyed by many. Technology has meant that many of those special procedures have been replaced by the flip of a switch.
Recent advancements include LiPo batteries and brushless motors. The ability to get longer run times, with more powerful motors, while decreasing weight changed the landscape of model aviation. Today electric-powered models rival their internal-combustion counterparts in popularity.
What is it that each of these revolutionary changes in model aviation have in common? Each was looked at with skepticism by the model aviation community. Many felt that these new innovations would spell the end of aeromodeling.
Maybe this is understandable. It is fear of the unknown combined with a fierce desire to protect what we have. However, history has taught us that none of these innovations caused the demise of modeling. In fact, many would argue that each has enhanced model aviation.
The latest in the evolution of model aviation is clearly first-person view (FPV) and semiautonomous flight. This faction of aeromodeling is growing exponentially and the new technology is again raising the eyebrows of some modelers. There are some distant cries of “the sky is falling.”
However, just as it didn’t before, the sky is not falling today. What we’re seeing is the continued evolution of model aviation as was seen with model helicopters, Giant Scale aircraft, and turbine-powered and LiPo-powered models. Before long FPV and semiautonomous flight will be assimilated into aeromodeling as were previous innovations.
As we have done in the past, AMA is taking a measured approach to this new discipline. Some have criticized us for moving too slowly, yet every decision we make has the potential to have a collateral effect on all of our members, no matter what form of aeromodeling they enjoy. We are confident that these new activities will assimilate seamlessly into aeromodeling.
It won’t be long before something new comes along to take the place of FPV and semiautonomous flight as the next big thing. When that happens there will surely be some who, once again, think the sky is falling. It isn’t now and it won’t be then.
See you next time …