When has an American industry truly arrived?  When competitions are held and champions crowned, of course.  Embry-Riddle announced its sponsorship of a UAS Challenge in Reno, Nevada, Sept. 12-14, during the 48th annual National Championships (aka the Reno Air Races).

The competition will feature an obstacle course, lifting maneuvers and a time trial.  And for those wondering if it runs afoul of the FAA, have no fear – it’s indoors.  Of course, this raises an interesting question.  What if the race were held outdoors?

The FAA’s position is that all UASs are aircraft, and there must be some specific authority to fly them.  For hobbyists, that authority is the Special Rule for Model Aircraft. If the race fell under this regulatory regime, then no additional FAA approval would be required.  That would mean that the UASs would have to weigh less than 55 pounds, the operators would have to be able to see the UASs at all times, they would have to stay out of navigable airspace, and, presuming the race was held at or near an airport, air traffic control would have to approve the race.

Presumably the racers are flying for the pure joy of flying, and they are engaged in a recreational pursuit.  Unfortunately, we still have to deal with the sticky question of prize money for the winner.  Does the offering of a prize turn the race into a commercial venture?  If only the winner gets a prize, is his hobby activity converted retroactively into a commercial activity?  What if the race promoters charge an entry fee?  Is the entire race now a commercial activity?  Are the racers then flying commercially even though they may get no compensation for their participation?  What if there is an entrance fee for the entire airshow, but the UAS race is free as a promotional event?  Hmm. . . . maybe it’s better they stay inside for now.

We hope in future years the drones can see the light of day.  As for now, it is yet another sign of a growing industry, and one quickly becoming part of Americana.  May the best man (-made machine) win.

We wonder . . . . will a blimp or a UAS be used to broadcast the event . . . Hmmm?

(Originally posted July 25, 2014)