Flying with model aircraft

Hairy Dave's picture

Some notes from last night's meeting with Allen Elliott from the East Sussex Soaring Association.

The modellers are keen to break down any barriers between "us" glider pilots and "them" model pilots. We all recognise that we share the same airspace and the same land owners. Any incidents, be they in-air or ground-based confrontations, need to be resolved swiftly and amicably in the interests of safety and good land owner relations.

It is important to talk to the modellers. We can better understand each other's needs and flight plans. It seems that many of the model flyers have very limited knowledge of thermal flying and gliding practices and can benefit from the experience of SHGC pilots. By better understanding, we can better predict each other's actions and fly more safely together. For example, if the best thermal of the day is coming up the modellers bowl, what might be obvious to a glider pilot might not be to a model pilot focused on ridge soaring.

The biggest problem faced by the model flyers is that they are unable to keep a good lookout because they most keep focused on their model at all times. This produces a tunnel vision effect, so the first they might know of a glider's presence is when it arrives dangerously close to their model. WE CAN ATTRACT THEIR ATTENTION EARLY BY SHOUTING AS WE APPROACH AND PASS THROUGH THEIR AREA.

Allen agreed that all flyers must be full, insured members of their associations and operate in a sensible and responsible manner. He cited examples of young flyers with e-bay models and members of "the irresponsible idiots aerobatics club" as known problems. We can all look out for these types and explain the error of their ways. If a polite approach doesn't work, please refer to SHGC coaches, committee members or our counterparts in the East Sussex Soaring Association. Getting the land owner or police involved is a last resort and should never be necessary.

We discussed the different types of models flown on our sites and Allen proudly showed us his F3 racing model, a 3-5 kg, 2m wide solid carbon sailplane capable of 200 mph. While slow, light models are useful wind dummies and relatively safe to fly with if expertly piloted, some of these heavy, fast and aerobatic types do not mix well with gliders. It was a moot point whether a responsible model flyer should consider flying such things in mixed company.

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EdBewley's picture

Flying with Model Aircraft

The final paragraph of the Notes could leave HG/PG pilots with the impression that slow and light models are always safe to fly with, while heavy, racing models pose the real danger. Collisions with slow and light models have been fatal to foot-launched pilots, and any model poses a significant risk to us as long as the model flier is not aware of our proximity.

Allen would like to make the following points, which he feels could perhaps have been given more emphasis in his talk:

1) All models, regardless of construction, have a SPAR, so no matter how soft the model, in the wing is a full-length hard bit;

2) Even Foam models need to be rigid and relatively heavy (and have carbon rod spars);

3) Slope Soarers are not "Gliders" and do not have to be light to reduce sink rate. This means that a light construction, floaty model has no place on the slope, as it would get tossed about and be barely controllable.

If ANY model hits you the outcome is likely to spoil the day of both aviators. The risks of sharing airspace must be reduced to the lowest practicable level, and not merely tolerated.

NEVER enter a modeller’s airspace unless you are sure that they know you are there.

Here is what the 2013 Sites Guide has to say about aero modellers, in general, and for each site where they are mentioned:

Aero Modellers are good wind dummies and locally include some talented pilots. Please pass their launch site as quickly as possible. A cheery wave and “ hello” attracts attention and helps relations.

It is your responsibility to avoid collision. Accusation and counter-accusation about how two or more aircraft collided ignores the basic rule that each of us must take action to avoid collision. If the air is too crowded do not take off. If an aircraft is being flown erratically, give it a wide berth and talk to the pilot on the ground later.

Beachy Head
Our relationship with local aeromodellers is very friendly. Occasional groups of visiting modellers should be encouraged to use the Whitbread Hollow bowl in South East winds, thus ensuring adequate separation. Kite fliers should be encouraged to use the dedicated kite flying / buggying area on the other side of Whitbread Hollow.

Bo Peep
Aeromodellers generally use the big bowl to the west of the car park, though there is no formal agreement. The site is large enough that there should be no conflict.

Devil’s Dyke
The steep, wooded bowl to the north of the Pub (immediately to the right of the main take-off area) is for the use of model fliers only. It is not to be over-flown below 250 ft agl (950 ft amsl). The boundary is designated with a line of white posts.

Ditchling
This bowl is not often used by modellers. However, should you encounter any, ask them politely to maintain adequate separation.

Firle
Aero-modellers usually fly their models in the next bowl over to the west, though no formal agreement exists. Give them a wide berth when transiting this bowl.

Mount Caburn
Aero-modellers occasionally make use of this site, despite having no consent to do so from either the landowner or tenant farmer. Friction has occurred here in the past, though our current relationship with modellers on most of our sites is very good. If modellers are flying, go and have a polite word with them to ensure that they can guarantee zero risk of collision. (Their flying is controlled by the A.N.O.(Air Navigation Order) – the same law that regulates our activity.)