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Electronic Conspicuity, the CAA and Model Aircraft

Posted: September 13th, 2017, 11:52 am
by Rob Buckley
The CAA has made a public statement on the future of electronic conspicuity in general aviation and launched a survey here-,-says-CAA/?catid=4294967430

Although the survey doesn’t include model flying, please fill it in if you also fly full-size aircraft and haven’t already done, or if just interested.

How does this involve us model flyers? Well, I’m on the CAA working group for electronic conspicuity representing model flyers, as it’s better to be involved than have something foisted on us from out of the proverbial blue. It also shows the intent from our side that we are responsible users of airspace, and are keen to be involved with improving aviation safety.

And now I come to it, what is electronic conspicuity? Similar to the very expensive TCAS systems that airliners have, there is a desire to have smaller aircraft fitted with machinery that will make them visible to each other electronically so that the pilots can be warned they might be about to his something without relying solely on seeing it out of the window, either with an audio 'bandits 3 o'clock high' a visible warning on a moving map display, or both.

Based on this, there are also clear benefits to having model aircraft electronically visible to other airspace users, to reduce the risk of midair collisions, and models / full-size getting too close to each other. This helps from both the perspective that none of us wants to have our models in a midair collision / near miss with a full-size aircraft, but also from the perceived threat that ‘drones’ are to full-size aircraft. If full-size aircraft can ‘see’ us electronically and be given traffic warnings of model aircraft, they are less likely to be agitating for models to be lumped with ‘drones’ and banned as a menace to manned aviation.

Having every single model fitted with a transponder is clearly not going to work (even though the technology exists – at around £2000 per model it’s on the spendy side!), but having the model flying site itself electronically visible would serve the purpose.

There is a widespread expectation in full-size aviation circles that whenever model flying takes place a NOTAM is published to warn full-size aircraft of the presence of the models, and some surprise when explained that this isn’t the case. This then leads to proximity reports being filed by full-size aircraft when they are surprised to find models flying.

Some model flying sites are now marked on the full-size aviation charts, but aren’t in operation all the time, and rely on the full-size pilots both noticing and knowing exactly where they are..

A ground-based solution that creates an electronic ‘bubble’ around the model flying site is currently seen as the best way forward, so any aircraft that is potentially going to fly into he ‘bubble’ of model flying would be given a warning, and the ability to steer around the area. The ground machinery could also give a warning to the model flyers of approaching full-size traffic, and give them the opportunity to move out of the aircraft’s path.

I’m currently speaking to manufacturers of the equipment about the potential of a ground based device that would generate a ‘Temporary NOTAM’ of model flying, with the aim to have a cheap, simple solution that could be used at flying sites (temporary or permanent) to make the model flying electronically visible.

The same equipment could also be used for ground-based operations that project into the sky, such as large kite gatherings, glider winch cables etc., and the CAA working group is aimed at adapting the rules to make electronic conspicuity equipment available and attractive to use. There’s no intent to mandate any of this, but there are those who would like to see electronic identification of all unmanned aircraft. Having a working solution in place that addresses safety concerns would be a good defence against such mandated burdens on our current model flying freedoms.

Any questions or comments, please let me know.

Also, don’t forget that the window to comment on EASA’s proposed rules for unmanned aircraft closes on the 15th (this Friday), so if you’ve not commented there is still time.

Rob Buckley

LMA Secretary

Re: Electronic Conspicuity, the CAA and Model Aircraft

Posted: September 13th, 2017, 7:35 pm
by Steve Perry
I would have thought a standard light aircraft / glider transponder sat on the ground would do the job. Instead of an aircraft reg it could be set to broadcast e.g MF1000 for model flying to 1000 feet and return an altitude of 750 feet, that should trip a warning on any aircraft approaching that are suitably equipped.

Re: Electronic Conspicuity, the CAA and Model Aircraft

Posted: September 13th, 2017, 7:48 pm
by Rob Buckley
It would after being frigged to report an incorrect altitude, but transponders are expensive, power hungry, need proper antennas and so on.

A standalone box for a few quid that does ads-b out and can be properly programmed with maximum height of operation and 'unmanned aircraft here' would be a far simpler solution, and be able to give the warnings to the model fliers too.