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If you are planning on learning how to fly RC planes, you are probably also wondering if you need to get a license or registration to fly them outside of your backyard. It is common for these kinds of recreational activities to be regulated by some kind of licensing authority.
Do you need a license or registration to fly an RC plane? You currently need to register your RC flight fleet with the FAA, even if you are flying solely for recreational purposes. Rules regarding operator certification are gradually being implemented.
In this essential guide to the licensing and registration requirements of RC planes, we will cover the current and proposed regulations. We have also included sections on resources for RC pilots looking to come up to code with the FAA.
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Do You Need A License To Fly RC Planes?
You do not need to obtain a license to fly a model airplane for recreational purposes in the United States yet, although new regulations are being gradually implemented.
In 2018 the federal government of the United States moved forward with legislation that repealed the Special Rule for Model Aircraft and replaced it with new conditions concerning the operation of small unmanned aircraft.
Small unmanned aircraft include RC Planes.
As part of the legislation, it was determined that small aircraft such as model airplanes could be flown without Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) certification or a flying license, provided that the aircraft itself is registered as will be explained in the next section.
It seems as if plans to require FAA operator certification to fly model aircraft recreationally may be a part of future regulations.
Exceptions to the Rule
The FAA will provide an exception for recreational RC Plane flyers for the foreseeable future, though, as is stated in the “Exception for Limited Recreational Operations Of Unmanned Aircraft,” which was enacted in October 2018.
The new regulations state that you do not need to become a certified operator if:
● You fly your aircraft for recreational purposes
● The aircraft is flown within your visual line of sight
● You do not fly higher than 400 feet
A future requirement expected to be enacted is for Model Aircraft operators to provide proof that they have passed an aeronautical knowledge and safety test
What Is the FAA’s Upcoming Aeronautical Knowledge And Safety Test?
The aeronautical knowledge and safety test are currently being developed by the FAA. No doubt these new considerations and legislation are being developed because of the rise in the usage of drones and other unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs). RC plane users will find themselves subject to the same restrictions and regulations.
A link to the FAA plans on developing the test can be found here. As of now, an official safety test for recreational model aircraft has not yet been rolled out.
While some RC plane enthusiasts have been talking about a rollout date of sometime in 2020, the FAA seems to still be in Request for Information (RFI)- mode, with more than a dozen organizations, leagues, and other stakeholders helping to inform the details of the test.
The Academy Of Model Aeronautics(AMA) was one of the groups invited by the FAA to provide input regarding the content, requirements and administration of the test. The AMA has also been selected as one of the organizations that could potentially proctor a safety test for recreational model aircraft safety tests.
Here is a test guide put out by the FAA for the Unmanned Aircraft General (Small) that may shed some light on what may lie ahead for the Aeronautical Knowledge and Safety test.
How Can I Learn To Fly RC Planes?
You can learn a lot from a willing friend, but experienced users will recommend that you join a model flying club or join the Academy of Model Aeronautics.
Membership in the AMA will give you access to many more local flying clubs than you would have access to otherwise. There are currently just under 2,400 such clubs in the U.S. At clubs, you will have a chance to learn how to fly your RC plane.
Full membership with the AMA and the more affordable option, park pilot membership, both come with liability insurance.
Liability insurance through the AMA will cover you if you crash your RC plane into something.
The Intro-Pilot program allows flyers who are not currently AMA members to learn how to fly their RC Planes at a Chartered Club site and receive liability insurance over a period of 60 consecutive days.
You can also learn from a computer-based model flight simulators where you can learn the mechanics behind flying RC Planes with transmitters.
A list of the most recommended RC Plane flight simulator software can be found here.
What Are Some Study Materials For RC Plane Pilots?
Fortunately, newcomers to RC plane flying have plenty of resources at their disposal to learn more about model aircraft flying.
Some of the top recommended study materials for Model airplane flying include:
● RC Ground School: The Beginner’s Guide To Flying Electric RC Airplanes
○ This book is best suited for those who are looking to get immersed into the world of battery-powered RC aircraft and comes with a low price tag
●The Flite Test Book Of RC Airplanes: Everything You Need To Know Before Flying R/C
○ This book is a detailed look into the fundamentals of electric RC Airplanes including sections on how the components of the plane work and tips on how to fly
● One Week To Solo
○ This RC airplane flight training book is designed to get RC pilots off the ground in one week. One section of the book covers troubleshooting flying equipment.
● First Flight: A Beginner’s Guide To RC Airplanes: How To Choose The Right Book And Teach Yourself To Fly
○ This book serves as a guide to RC plane flying for the absolute beginner. Included amongst other sections of this book is a section on operating the model aircraft safely
1st R/C Flight School
If you are willing to take the journey to Shawano, Wisconsin, you can learn how to fly your RC aircraft from expert flight coach Dave Scott.
Dave Scott also is the author of One Week To Solo, which is one of the top-selling books on RC flying.
The solo course runs each spring for one week. Class sizes are extremely limited, in order to give a personalized experience.
Students are taught how to fly through a buddy system in which the instructor has a transmitter connected to the same plane that the student is flying so that they can help correct mistakes.
This course would be a great option for those looking to become a certified operator once those FAA requirements become official. The lessons learned through flight school courses such as the ones taught at the 1st flight school should more than equip students for the FAA aeronautical knowledge and safety test.
RC Flight Training Simulator
One way you can hone your RC flying skills for FAA operator certification is to train yourself using RC Flight Simulators.
Considering the cost of some RC Flight schools, RC flight simulators can be viable options. One such RC flight simulator is the Real Flight 9 . You may view user reviews for the simulator here. Here are some things you can expect from this simulator:
· Choose from a fleet of more than 160 aircraft and more than 40 different flying sites in the program.
· Have the opportunity to edit flying sites so that you can learn about tricks for flying at sites that are more like what you will be used to seeing in the region where you live.
· Most importantly, the program comes with a virtual flight instructor option that will allow learning, at your own pace, the lessons you will need in the future for FAA certification.
When considering the cost of flight simulator software, keep in mind that you can:
· Utilize the software at your leisure for the duration of the product’s lifetime. For many busy adults, this flexibility is invaluable.
· Go back to review and run-through lessons again at any time.
Virtual RC flight simulators allow you to rewind to specific tips and tricks that you may not feel confident you know before you take an aeronautical knowledge and safety test.
The Benefits of Virtual Flight Simulators
In-person flight lessons certainly have their benefits, including an organized training schedule that covers only the material that is absolutely necessary. However, with in-person lessons, you will have to pay extra if you want to repeat lessons or want to delve further into a lesson.
There are many AMA flight instructors strewn throughout the United States, but many of them are located near large metro areas.
If you happen to live in a more remote or rural area, virtual RC flight simulators are certainly a worthwhile investment when you consider the added cost of transporting yourself to and from an RC flying club that offers courses.
You can also share the software with friends and family who are looking to get into RC flying, but not quite sure about it yet.
RC Flight Training Online Videos
You may also consider searching for videos covering RC flying online.
These videos can help prep you for flight training ahead of taking an approved FAA aeronautical knowledge and safety test for becoming a certified operator.
One of the most popular YouTube channels on the subject matter of RC flying is FliteTest. On the channel is a playlist entitled RC Planes- Beginner Series.
The playlist includes videos on the subjects of:
● Choosing the right RC plane for your expectations or skill level
● Basic aerodynamics
● The ins and outs of the R/C system
●Launching and landing
● A variety of other topics
Watching videos online represents an excellent opportunity for you to get to know what to expect when flying RC Planes.
Stay Up to Speed in Your Learning
The FAA has begun tightening the regulations on novice RC pilots. Rapid changes in regulations can be hard to catch unless you are in communication with someone in the know.
· Stay in touch with RC community resources: Credible online streaming channels such as FliteTest are run by RC plane enthusiasts who are instructors themselves. They need to maintain familiarity with current regulations.
· Make sure your instructor is up-to date. Do your research, it’s also always a good idea to know what you are getting yourself into before you register and pay for an in-person flight instruction class.
· Get some hands-on experience. While you may benefit greatly from virtual and video instruction, it is important to pursue hands-on training as well, to learn the intricacies of maneuvering the aircraft and troubleshoot issues with the RC system.
Do RC Planes Need To Be Registered?
RC Planes must be registered with the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA).
All aircraft weighing greater than 0.55 pounds(250 grams) and less than 55 pounds (about 55 kilograms) must be registered in the FAA Small Unmanned Aircraft (UAS) registry.
· There is a $5 fee associated with this FAA Registration. The registration is good for 3 years.
· A random n-number is assigned to you at no extra cost unless you want to be able to choose a special n-number, in which case you will need to pay a $10 fee.
· You will place the n-number on all of your aircrafts.
You probably still have questions regarding the changes to the recreational RC flying regulations set by the FAA.
There are a plethora of videos clarifying FAA rules on recreational RC flying online also. The RC plane pilot in this video explains how to register your RC aircraft properly and how to display your FAA registration number.
Common Questions Associated With the FAA Small Unmanned Aircraft (sUAV) Registration Requirement
Taking effect on February 25, 2019, the FAA Interim Final Rule requires all drone pilots as well as RC plane pilots to display their n-number on the outside of their aircraft.
The following are some common questions and concerns voiced by members of the RC flying community.
Wasn’t the FAA registration requirement for RC Planes recently overturned?
Congress reinstated the registration requirement for RC Planes with the passing of the National Defense Authorization Act In December 2017.
The rule requiring the display of the registration number (or n-number) was initially lenient, allowing for the display of the number within an inner compartment of the model plane.
However, due to concerns about the potential of first responders triggering an explosive device by opening up a compartment in search of the number, the registration number is now required to be displayed on the exterior of the craft.
Why does the FAA appear to say that only drones are required to register as small unmanned aircraft?
When the FAA uses the word “drone” to refer to small unmanned aircraft, they mean model aircraft as well. The FAA uses the word “drone” as an all-encompassing descriptor of model aircraft as well as actual drones.
Are Any RC Planes Exempt From The Small Unmanned Aircraft Registration Requirement?
Some model aircraft are indeed exempt from FAA registration.
Models exempt from registration include:
● Model aircraft models weighing less than 250 grams, which is approximately half a pound
● Free Flight Models
● Control Line Models
● Indoor Models
What if I registered my model aircraft prior to December 12, 2017?
After the FAA registration requirement for model aircraft was initially halted, those who registered their craft were encouraged to apply to have their registration canceled and to receive a refund.
If you never canceled your FAA small unmanned aircraft registration and are looking to renew the registration, then your registration would have already been renewed automatically for another 3-year cycle.
If you are unsure of whether you canceled your small unmanned aircraft registration with the FAA, you are encouraged to check up on your registration status.
Is There A Minimum Age Requirement For Those FAA Unmanned Aircraft Registration?
There is indeed a minimum age requirement for RC plane flyers to be eligible to register their model aircraft with the FAA.
According to the FAA, RC plane flyers must be at least 13 years of age to register their aircraft.
Are kids under the age of 13 restricted from flying RC Aircraft? No, kids under the age of 13 can still fly model aircraft provided that:
● The model aircraft they are flying weighs less than 250 grams (about half a pound)
● They are flying a model airplane indoors (a gymnasium, armory, etc.)
● They are flying the aircraft under the direction of an individual who is 13 or older who has properly registered their model aircraft with the FAA
How Do I Know Which RC Airplane Is Best For My Skill Level?
Another one of the entities that the FAA is seeking guidance from in developing remote control aircraft training is Horizon Hobby LLC.
Horizon Hobby LLC is one of the leading online retailers of RC aircraft and RC aircraft accessories.
On their website, you can access an educational portal called Explore RC.
Here you will be taught on a myriad of topics related to flying model aircraft such as:
● Design characteristics to look for when you are selecting your first RC plane
● RC aircraft electric power systems
●How to fly RC Planes
● Trimming for acrobatics
● Choosing the power systems for RC Planes
Horizon Hobby has also partnered with the AMA to create the Horizon Hobby Flight School.
The Horizon Hobby Flight School represents a way for inexperienced model aircraft pilots to connect with expert coaches who will teach them how to fly their RC planes.
Through the program, you can apply for a 3 month AMA membership trial. By enrolling in the program, you will receive a personal flight lesson.
If you are able to complete the RC plane training program successfully, you will receive a certificate of completion and a coupon code that can be used towards the purchase of an RC Plane from Horizon Hobby.
You can find a nearby flight coach here.
Am I Allowed To Fly My RC Plane Anywhere I Want?
The FAA does provide guidance on where you should and shouldn’t fly your RC plane.
The FAA says that aircraft should always be flown at a safe distance from populated areas and other aircraft.
You should NOT fly your RC plane near the controlled airspace around airports unless you:
● Are able to receive authorization to fly in controlled airspace through Low Altitude Authorization And Notification Capability, which will be explained in further detail later
● Are flying at a fixed site for recreational flyers that is in agreement with the FAA
When in doubt, you can always download the B4UFLY mobile app. The app will show you on a map where you can and can’t fly your RC plane.
You also may be tempted to fly near large sports stadiums during sporting events. However, federal law prohibits you from flying your RC aircraft within a 3 nautical mile radius of any stadium with a seating capacity of 30,000 or greater.
This regulation applies to Major League Baseball events, National Football League events, NCAA Division I football games, and major motor speedway events.
The rules take effect 1 hour before the event is scheduled to begin and apply until 1 hour after the event is finished.
Low Altitude Authorization And Notification Capability
The Low Altitude Authorization And Notification Capability (LAANC) is a valuable resource available for RC pilots living in or near controlled airspace that became effective in July 2019.
Controlled airspace includes areas within 5 miles of airports. All model aircraft flying within controlled airspace zones must be authorized to do so by the FAA. You will automatically have FAA approval to fly in controlled airspace if you are flying at the Academy of Model Aeronautics(AMA) established club flight sites.
If you are not at an established AMA flight site, you will need special approval from the FAA to fly your RC plane in a controlled airspace.
The LAANC is designed to streamline the process in which RC pilots can get FAA approval to fly in controlled airspace.
You can quickly apply for FAA approval by either going online or downloading a mobile app. Access to the LAANC is provided by service companies.
There are several service companies providing access to LAANC. Service company options include the following:
○ Allows users to select a circular flight area or a polygonal flight area, both with an option to adjust the size
○ Allows users to select a circular or polygonal pattern where they can adjust the size of the flight area
○ Date and time of flight can be set up to 90 days in the future
○ Upon launch, the program will show you the weather at your location and a map of your current location
○ You can schedule a flight up to 90 days in the future
You will need to keep in mind that LAANC covers registration in most, but not all, controlled airspace zones.
If you want to fly in controlled airspace where registration via LAANC is not available, you can get FAA approval by using the manual application process through the FAA’s DroneZone. The FAA DroneZone can be accessed here.
In summary, the LAANC program offers an opportunity for RC pilots to gain access to controlled air zones by requesting approval from the FAA.
Requests can be approved within minutes if you use one of 3 LAANC service providers: UASidekick, AirMap, or Kittyhawk.
Here is a short video explaining everything you need to know about registration guidelines.
The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) requires the pilots of RC planes weighing more than 250 grams to register their model aircraft as small unmanned aircraft systems (sUAS). The registration lasts for three years, and one registration number covers your entire fleet of RC aircraft.
When the FAA says “drone,” that also means RC planes. There are currently not any operator certification requirements for the recreational operation of small unmanned aircraft, but the FAA does have a certification test for small Unmanned Aircraft (sUAV), which may give an idea of what may be coming in the upcoming test.
In order to ensure that you will be able to pass the test and be ready to fly an RC plane we recommend you do at least one of these:
● Take flight instruction courses through the AMA or other accredited flight academy mentioned in this article
● Read through one or more of the flight training books mentioned in this article
● Purchase a virtual RC flight simulator such as the one mentioned in this article
The FAA has been moving forward with steps to ensure that RC aircraft pilots understand the ins and outs of RC aircraft operation before they hit the air.
Understanding the registration requirements, as well as other flight limitations such as controlled airspace zones, will help keep you from getting in trouble with the FAA.