18 Jun 2015

FAI Captures the Trend of Drones and Opens its Doors to this New Booming Activity

First ever FAI-sanctioned drone sporting activity coming soon!

From a rare object accessible only to a few to a widely distributed product affordable by many, drones have become incredibly popular in the space of a few years thanks to the miniaturisation of on-board electronic devices and advanced flight systems.

In this context, it was logical that the FAI, and particularly its Aeromodelling Commission (CIAM), actively contribute to their development, and even more natural to include them in its activities given their huge potential in terms of participants and types of event. This has now happened and drone model aircraft are officially part of CIAM following the publication of a CIAM draft rule document for sportive and recreational activities with drones and especially multi-rotors (rotorcraft with more than two rotors).

CIAM is now identifying correspondents in a maximum of FAI member countries in order to establish an informal CIAM group tasked to find out the best way to spread this sport internationally; to discuss topics such as the impact of Civil Aviation Authorities Regulations on drone model aircraft activities and to evaluate the CIAM draft rule document based on feedback from events organised with drones.

The objective is to modify the draft rules as necessary taking into account potential for growth, ease of organisation as well as media and spectator friendliness. In short, all that is needed to guarantee highly exciting, easy-to-follow and enjoyable competitions for the pilots and the spectators alike.

Indeed, CIAM’s intention is to be the main actor in the development of drone competitions and a point of reference for all the event organisers. With this purpose, a new section has been created on the FAI website where visitors can find official information about drones and download the CIAM draft rule document for events.

“Having drones integrated within CIAM shows how responsive we have been to the fast-paced development of this new and dynamic activity. The draft rules that we managed to quickly put in place will lay the groundwork for exciting events for this booming discipline. I hope to see them soon fully adopted by the Aeromodelling Commission – to put it plainly, at the next annual CIAM Plenary Meeting in April 2016. And why not have the creation of a dedicated FPV [First Person View, or video piloting] Racing World Cup and even Championship as a short term objective,” said Bruno Delor, 1st CIAM Vice-president.

Multi-rotor Competitions

The concept of multi-rotor competition integrates FPV Racing as well as Freestyle Aerobatics. Speed and precision are the key skills to win this highly challenging competition piloting a multi-rotor drone.

Competitors wear hi-tech video goggles which allow them to see the images captured by the on-board cameras installed on the drones. As these images can also be transmitted live on a big screen, spectators are not only able to follow the drones fly along the defined circuit from where they stand, but also put themselves in the competitors shoes by seeing the images that the pilots see in their goggles. The winner is the pilot who completes the path in the shortest time.

In the Freestyle Aerobatics contest, flights are going to be scored on a series of criteria which include difficulty, harmony, creativity, precision and safety presentation for both the Freestyle and the Music Freestyle rounds.

Recreational Events

These events are going to be based on exciting and challenging flight tasks to be completed by rotorcraft or fixed wing (aeroplane or glider) drone model aircraft in a given time. They include deck landing, ground targets to find, speed, tunnel, slalom and pylon racing, to name a few. Some of them are adapted for FPV flight.

Drone model aircraft and Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV)

To precisely determine what drones and UAV's are was the first task carried out by the temporary CIAM Working Group chaired in 2014 by Bruno Delor. Indeed, both are aircraft that do not carry human beings, so what differentiates them?

Drones are aircraft of limited dimensions which are used for competitions, sport or recreational purposes.

UAV's (or RPA's) however, are aerodynes (aircraft heavier than air) with a means of propulsion and are used for scientific research for commercial, governmental or military purposes.

Compared to other model aircraft, drones are equipped with on-board electronic devices (video cameras, gyro sensors, altimeter, telemetry, GPS, etc.) for catch of sight and/or for automatic control.

Beside defining and describing drones, the CIAM draft rule document gives recommendations on what their main characteristics should be. For instance, it is recommended for a drone model aircraft to have a maximum flying mass of 5kg. Just like all model aircraft, drones must, for the whole flight, be within visual line of sight (VLOS) of the person who directly assumes its control or who is in a situation to take the direct control at any moment, including if the model is being flown automatically to a selected location. Finally, an important point to mention about the rules is that they are compatible with most of the Civil Aviation Authorities Regulations.

A bright future for drone model aircraft

“Drone competitions are only in their infant stage, which means that it is up to CIAM to shape up a bright future for this activity,” Bruno Delor commented.

The first tests events organised with the draft rules have proved to be both popular and successful. For example, the FPV Race 28, which took place earlier this month in Chartres, France, saw the participation of more than 100 pilots.

“Using the event formats as defined in the draft rule document help for a safe, fair, exciting and successful event. We encourage all organisers of drone events to use it and inform CIAM of their feedback.”