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Where Can You Fly An RC Plane? The Law Explained

If you are a new owner of an RC plane or a drone, then you likely want to fly it as soon as you can. With the rise in RC plane popularity in recent years, there have been more regulations passed regarding where you can legally fly an RC plane. 

Where can you fly an RC plane? Anyone flying an RC plane or drone is responsible for flying under FAA rules and regulations. Some suitable locations for flying RC planes include RC flying clubs, private open land, and public land where permitted. 

Knowing suitable and legal locations to fly your RC plane is one of the first steps in learning to fly. Not only can flying in the wrong locations land you with a fine, but it can also tarnish the name of the RC flying community as a whole. As more people pick up the hobby of RC planes, the more considerate and cautious we all need to be. So do your research and fly safe! 

Where Can You Fly An RC Plane? The Law Explained

When it comes to flying your model plane, you will basically have three choices as to where to fly: a club, private property, or some public land spaces. Keep in mind; not all areas will have the same regulations. Plus, with the growing popularity, the Federal Aviation Administration is also changing some laws to include RC planes and drones. 

RC Flying Club

Not everyone will have access to this option, but if you are one of the lucky ones that have close access to a flying club, utilize it! If you are able to find a flying club near you, you will most likely have to pay a fee to fly. Most locations have a reasonable yearly membership cost. 

If you’re willing to pay for a membership, you will always have access to a premier location to fly your RC plane. Plus, you will likely meet many other RC plane enthusiasts with whom you can enjoy your hobby. Many clubs also offer great instructional opportunities, so they are great for beginners that need help building and getting off the ground. We will explain these benefits in more detail later.

In the event that there is a club and you don’t fly often enough, or it is out of your price range and you don’t want to join, they are still a great resource. Stop by at least once to consult staff and members about other locations in the area that allow any RC plane flying. 

Private Property

This is the ideal space to be flying an RC plane. If you do not own the land yourself, you will need permission from the landowner to fly in their airspace. However, once you have permission, you will be able to do what you want for the most part. 

Public and club flying spaces tend to have certain rules to ensure the safety of bystanders. If you are the only plane in the area, then you will have more freedom to fly the way you want. This can also be a great option for learning. There are likely fewer obstacles and distractions in this setting, so you can focus on your technique. 

Public Land

You will only be able to utilize public land if it is permitted in your area. If it is legal, find a space like an open park, field, or hillside. Basically, you will want to look for a place that doesn’t have many trees or obstacles for you to fly around. If you are specifically limited to flying in public spaces, the size of your airplane will also be an important consideration. 

When you are able to find an open and spacious location to fly, you will want to ensure that you are able to keep flying there. This means being ultra-sensitive to other patrons of the park you are using. Model RC airplanes do not amuse everyone, and as they become more popular, city regulations have become much stricter. 

While this can be frustrating, when someone alerts you to their annoyance to your flying, take it kindly. Perhaps it is noisy and distracting, and after all, you are using public airspace. The more considerate you are of others when using a public space, the less likely it is that they will report RC planes as a public nuisance, and the longer you will be able to utilize the public space. 

One hot tip for choosing a public space to fly is to check it out via Google maps first. If it looks like an open space with limited obstructions, then you may have found your next flight zone. 

Rules, Regulations, and Laws

Half the battle of choosing where to fly your RC plane is understanding the rules and regulations in your area. There have been more restrictive laws put into place, and there are many key players in those regulations. 

The primary driver of UAS flight is the Federal Aviation Administration. However, there are other organizations that have their own laws or influence the laws in some way, such as the Federal Communications Commission, the National Park Service, State/Local Governments, and the Academy of Model Aeronautics. 

Federal Aviation Administration Guidelines

With all of the technological advances in the model aircraft world, the FAA has had to release more stringent guidelines in regards to drones and remote-controlled gadgets. There used to be a distinction between RC planes and drones. Now, the FAA defines a model aircraft as any type of unmanned aerial system (UAS). This then can include RC planes as well as drones. The distinctions for regulations then must come from vehicle size and what it is used for (recreation, military, business, etc). 

For more information about the FAA rules and regulations, as well as recent changes to their defining laws, visit the FAA website

Governing Bodies for Model Flying

Other than the FAA, each country and region has their own regulations regarding RC airplanes. Even some city parks have their own regulations and restrictions around flying. Do your research with your federal, state, and local governments before you choose to fly. 

This is important even if you are flying on private land. New FAA rules have restrictions in certain zones regarding airspace for all UAS. 

National Park Service

Although the FAA exclusively governs airspace, the National Park Service is allowed to prohibit the civilian use of model aircraft and unmanned aircraft on all their land. There are very few exemptions to this rule. Some preexisting model aircraft fields on land owned by the National Park Service that was established prior to the adoption of their no-fly rule still allow model aircraft. 

Some state and local parks also prohibit the operation of unmanned aircraft on their land. Always consult a ranger or your local government before flying in parks near you. 

Mobile Flight App

With the help of Kittyhawk, the FAA recently released the B4UFly mobile app. This app primarily targets drone owners, but it can be applied to any UAS owners. This gives recreational flyers information regarding where and when they can fly. 

Some key app features that are helpful to all flyers include: 

  • Safety status that confirms where it is okay to fly.
  • Links to in-depth FAA flight regulations and restrictions
  • Ability to search by locations and drop pins to clarify if it is safe and legal to fly
  • Interactive maps with filtering options
  • Information and alerts about controlled airspaces and flight restrictions in your area

Other RC Flight Precautions 

While the number one thing to remember when choosing a site is the laws involved, there are other aspects flying you may want to consider. 

Here are recommendations for safe and legal flying:

  • Keep your RC plane in sight at all times. 
  • Remain clear of and do not interfere with manned aircraft.
  • Consult airport and control towers if you will be flying within 5 miles of their landing zones.
  • Do not operate your RC plane under the influence of alcohol or other drugs. 
  • Do not fly your aircraft over people or moving vehicles and try to stay at least 25 feet away from objects. 
  • Check the weather before you fly and do not fly in dangerous weather conditions. Try to fly when there is little to no wind as even 10mph winds can whisk smaller RC planes away.
  • Always check with your local laws before flying in any area. 
  • Consult your neighbors if you will be flying over private property. 
  • Do not use your aircraft to conduct surveillance of other persons. 
  • Do not fly over animals, domesticated or wild, as the aircraft will easily scare them.
  • Don’t turn on your MHz transmitter if you see other sUAS in the area. Check with the other modelers to see what their frequency is first. This will help you to avoid frequency clashes. 
  • Always perform your pre-flight checks before you go.

Overall, when you have found a place that you can safely enjoy flying your RC plane, it will come down to common sense. You will need to be aware of your limitations and skill level. Many RC planes can be noisy so it is important that you respect others that are also trying to enjoy the space. 

Other considerations when choosing where and how to fly, you also need to consider the size and type of airplane you are flying. If you have a larger model plane, there will be different regulations in place, whereas some small model planes can even be flown indoors. 

Depending on the type of engine that your plane has, it may be quite loud. If the engine is loud, you will want to strictly fly on private land or at a club. Loud RC planes are often the ones that give the rest of the community a bad rap when they fly in public parks. Again, this all comes down to being considerate and courteous to others in the area you are flying. 

Do You Need a License?

The federal regulatory law regarding RC planes is currently relatively unclear. The FAA has designated clear guidelines for drones and requires them to be registered and licensed. There are some discrepancies and differences in regards to the types of sUAS (small unmanned aircraft system) that fall under the law, and it is being reevaluated for 2020. 

If you have a drone, you can register it on the FAA website.

The only unanimous law at this time regarding all sUAS is that reckless or careless flying can be penalized. This is usually handed in the form of a hefty fine but can result in revoking of flying privileges. As with most crimes, it is handled on a case to case basis and dependant on the severity of the reckless behavior. 

Do You Need Insurance? 

In most cases, liability insurance is strongly encouraged among RC aircraft owners. If you belong to a club, it is usually a requirement upon becoming a member. It is also recommended for those that fly in public spaces often. This can protect you if your aircraft damages another person or their property. 

If you primarily fly on your own land, it doesn’t seem like a necessary cost. Accidents still happen and depending on the worth of your RC plane, it might be worth it. 

Join Your Local RC Plane Club

Flying clubs have been mentioned a number of times throughout the articleOften and for good reason. With all of the new regulations being put out by the FAA, flying at a club is becoming more necessary. Beyond that, there are a number of other benefits.

Primary reasons to join an RC Plane Club:

  1. Always have a relatively unrestricted place to safely fly your plane
  2. Guided instruction and assembly of planes (great if you’re new to the hobby)
  3. Pilot instructor trainings
  4. Join a community that shares the same enthusiasm for the hobby as you
  5. Club meetings about new laws, regulations, and topics relevant 
  6. Member cookouts and community events

The number one draw to the RC clubs is usually an open space to fly. However, many members find themselves staying a part of the club because of the community they are able to build with fellow RC pilots. Having others to share news, events, and flying tips with is a great way to learn more about the activity that you already enjoy. 

How To Find A Club Near Me

Unfortunately, not everyone reading this will have immediate access to an RC plane club. There have been more and more locations pop up over the last few years as laws become more restrictive, and popularity is on the rise. Oftentimes, the best way to find a club nearest to you is to use a Google Map search. 

AMA Memberships

Another great way to search if you are looking for a club in your area is to check out the Academy of Model Aeronautics website. Many clubs require that members become AMA members upon joining the club. This can seem like a lot on top of your club membership, but AMA has a lot of member benefits that can save you money in the long-run. While all membership types have benefits, the extent will be dependant on the option that you choose. 

Benefits of an AMA Membership: 

  1. The primary benefit of an AMA membership is personal liability insurance. 
  2. Certain membership options also include fire, vandalism, and theft insurance.
  3. A subscription to the Model Aviation Monthly Magazine
  4. More flying privileges 
  5. Ability to enter and compete in RC Plane competitions

The two biggest draws to an AMA membership is the insurance and ability to fly at a club. Many RC plane clubs began to require AMA memberships to ensure that their members had proper insurance and that they would not be liable for damages or stolen property. Finding the proper insurance for your plane can be tricky, but AMA takes most of the hassle out of it. 

If you’re interested in becoming an AMA member, visit the AMA website to view membership options and prices. Youth memberships and add-on memberships are discounted.  

Flying Outside the United States of America

RC model planes are not just popular in the United States. Many other countries and regions have large RC plane clubs and an extensive number of hobbyists. Many English speaking countries, such as Canada, Australia, England, and New Zealand, have their Aeronautic Membership Associations. These organizations also have membership options and directories to model aircraft clubs in their countries. 

If you’re looking for clubs in other locations worldwide, you will need to consult your local directory. No matter where you live in the world, it is possible to find an RC plane community. If there isn’t a club in your immediate area, you can also join competitions to meet the model plane enthusiasts in your country. 

Another great resource is the World Air Sports Federation. They are the leader in all things air sports. This includes model planes and full-side, manned aircraft. They are a great resource to find global competitions and global regulations.