Let's take a look at three Federal Aviation Administration (FAA)-approved CBOs, their guidelines, which one is best for you, and when you need them.
What is a CBO?
First, you may be wondering what a CBO actually is, and that's a great question.
A CBO, or community-based organization, is a nationwide, non-profit organization that promotes recreational flying.
- They offer community events, seminars, guidance, and mentorship for those interested in getting into the hobby.
- They also offer guidelines on how to operate your drone safely.
And as of the end of 2022, you MUST choose guidelines from an FAA-approved CBO before you fly a drone recreationally, regardless of the size of your drone.
Flite Test Community Association
Flite Test Community Organization is the arm of Flite Test, the popular YouTube channel that puts out educational and entertaining videos of foamy airplanes.
FliteTest also spends tremendous time educating the younger generation via its STEM programs nationwide. We will refer to them as FTCA for the rest of the video.
FPV Freedom Coalition
FPV Freedom Coalition is an avid voice for first-person-view pilots across the country and works closely with legislators to protect the privilege of airspace access.
Academy of Model Aeronautics or AMA
The Academy of Model Aeronautics, or AMA, has a variety of clubs across the country where members can fly mostly fixed-wing RC aircraft and share their passions with other like-minded individuals.
Now let's be clear here: you can select a different CBO guideline before each flight!
CBOs typically have specialties, whether it's fixed-wing RC or FPV drone, or flying very large drone, and everything in between.
You might like FTCA for flying your fixed-wing RC, but the FPV Freedom Coalition guidelines might make more sense when flying your quadcopter.
And, no. Access to these guidelines doesn't require membership in a CBO. It is all FREE.
No CBO needed if you fly under Part 107
If you're flying under Part 107, this is NOT necessary.
The guidelines for FTCA and FPV Freedom Coalition were both easy to find on the homepage of their website.
The AMA, on the other hand, had you dig around 6 pages before finding the document, and even then, it wasn't clear at all.
Every guideline covers a variety of what I call “common sense rules.” You will quickly know what I'm talking about when you read them. I won't cover those.
But let's talk about an important aspect of flying unmanned aircraft: flying near or over people and objects.
If you want to follow along, download the cheat sheet linked in the video description.
All 3 CBOs prohibit flying over people, which makes sense because it is also not allowed under Part 107.
Keep in mind that if you heard about categories of drones, like Category 1, 2, and 3, that is only a rule under Part 107 which means that it does not apply to recreational flying.
In addition to not flying over people, FTCA states that you should remain 25 feet away from other pilots and 50 feet away from spectators.
The FPV Freedom Coalition guidelines state that you should not disrupt or pose a danger to emergency response, large gatherings, or civil infrastructures.
And if you wonder what civil infrastructures are, they are power, water, or transportation infrastructures found across the nation.
Think about your water treatment facilities, large power distribution sites, etc. Note that the FPVFC guidelines do not mention any distance from other pilots or spectators.
The AMA had somewhat conflicting information about distance from people/objects. In one paragraph, it states that you must stay 100 feet away from spectators during free flights, but in another, it mentions staying 25 feet away from individuals, 50 feet away from spectators, and 50 feet away from power lines.
Their guidelines also state that you should not fly over occupied structures. This one gets us scratching our heads a little bit.
Does this mean that you cannot fly over houses with people in them? Your guess is as good as ours.
Visual line of sight
On the topic of visual line of sight or VLOS, all CBOs mentioned that visual observers are optional unless the pilot is using FPV goggles.
They also all mentioned that the visual observer, if one is used, should be co-located next to the pilot. This means your VO can't be a mile away from you using a radio to communicate. This method is actually allowed under Part 107, so it can be confusing.
FTCA matches the requirements from Part 107 when it comes to visual line of sight, which requires that both the operator AND the VO (if used) must be able to see the drone at all times, but that only one of them actually MUST see the drone at all times.
So, for example, if you have your goggles on, at all times, you should be able to see the drone if you remove your goggles, and your VO should always look at the aircraft while you're under the goggles.
FPVFC guidelines on VLOS were pretty close, with the only exception that either the VO OR the pilot must be able to see the drone.
This means that, in theory, the drone could disappear from the pilot's view as long as it is in the VO's view.
But keep in mind that your VO must be collocated, so it's almost the same end result. You just can't daisy chain VOs to fly 10 miles away from the pilot.
Note that the FPVFC guidelines are applicable to FPV AND non-FPV operations.
For specific FPV operations, FTCA requires that you are familiar with FPV operations before flying and that you announce powering your aircraft (a good habit, even if it's not in the guidelines!)
They also prohibited FPV operations for drones over 55 lbs. We were disappointed to find that not only did the AMA have guidelines for flying FPV indoors (where the FAA has no authority), but they also required a membership to fly FPV under their guidelines.
The FAA is pretty clear that membership is not required to follow approved guidelines, so we're not sure how they got away with that!
The last topic is night operations. Both FTCA and AMA required an anti-collision light visible from 3SM.
FTCA specified that if the area is well-lit, you can forego the anti-collision light, which makes sense. They also recommend flying at night with a guide if you're a novice.
AMA went one step further in also requiring a light that shows the attitude and direction of flight.
They also require night training through AMA, which we are guessing is not free.
We were surprised to see no specific night operations information in the FPVFC guidelines.
Keep in mind, if you own a small drone under 250 grams, putting a light on it for night flying might take it over the 250-gram limit, which requires registration.
While registration is only $5 for 3 years and is available on the FAA DroneZone website, this is something to plan for before your night flight.
There were also a few interesting nuggets in those guidelines. FPVFC had a great definition of ground level, which clarified that flying from the top of a 200-foot tall building already puts you 200 feet above the ground already!
I'm glad to see that in there because it was one of the things I asked the FAA to clarify in the Advisory Circular, which they did!
Another nugget is that the AMA limits 4S batteries for drone racing. The current standard is 6S, so it sounds like a lot of FPV racers, including MultiGP, should find new guidelines to make sure they remain within the rules!
If you plan to fly a drone over 55 pounds recreationally using the AMA guidelines, you will need to operate from an AMA fixed site, which requires membership, so does flying a turbine-powered RC aircraft. There's actually a $15 application fee for that last one.
So go ahead, download the guidelines, read all the details, print a copy, and follow them during each flight. Leave a comment if you have any questions.
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