IS RC AVIATION IN A NOSEDIVE ?
It wasn't so long ago when the rc hobbyist had to take their plane, perform the necessary maintenance checks, off load the radio transmitter and prepare both it and the aircraft for flight. Though these procedures are still performed for a number of rc planes, the introduction of lightweight materials such as compressed foam and some plastics have made rc aircraft lighter and easier to fly. Many of the current radio transmitters utilize digital frequency selection along with transistorized components for simplicity of operation. Lithium Polymer or LIPO batteries, offer a number of rc planes and helicopters near gas engine performance, often with greater endurance. With many of the recent advances in radio control flight, one would expect rc aviation to attract more participants. However, this is not currently the case with traditional rc aviation. During this blog, we'll delve into some of the factors affecting the current trend in radio control aviation.
Radio control aviation of today is facing a number of challenges. One of these on the rise over the last ten years is that of governmental regulation. In 2018, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) passed The FAA Reauthorization Act of 2018, which forced hobbyists to follow the same rules and regulations as certified Part 107 governing remote pilots. Some of the key components of this act require rc aircraft operators to register their unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) if they are .55 lbs. or heavier. Hobbyists are also not permitted to fly in National Parks or near National Monuments, limited to a maximum altitude of 400 ft. Another element of the 2018 act requires the rc aircraft to be equipped with remote identification technology, transmitting a signal from the rc plane to a remote FAA receiver, displaying the aircraft's position on an internet screen. However, the rc pilots have a few options, such as a limited remote id, in which the rc aircraft transmits its location through the internet alone, but must fly within line of sight of the operator. This has largely been overcome in recent years with the advent of homing technology on a number of rc models. Another option allows rc operators to fly their craft without location id transmitters if they are flown in community-based organization sites registered with the FAA, thus forcing the rc pilot to join an rc aviation club. The weight regulation may tend to restrict the rc hobbyist's choice of aircraft.
Another factor in the decline of the traditional rc hobby is the lack of both model kits and spare parts for radio control planes. There are several contributing factors to this. The first is a cultural one, in which many of our youth are accustomed to instant gratification, as promoted by the internet and smart phones, as well as video games. The virtue of building and completing a project (and the satisfaction of doing so) has gone by the way in favor of almost ready to fly and ready to fly rc planes and helicopters. Not to fault these products, as they have their place in the rc product network, but they are sold on the premise of ease of assembly and use. Another facet of this is the relative lack of dedicated radio control hobby shops. Hobbyists are now purchasing their products at a distance, rather than from a trusted hometown merchant. In addition to the internet, a number of stores totally unrelated to rc products are now selling them, such as building supply stores and discount merchants, although not at the quality of dedicated hobby stores. Both the tools and materials necessary to build rc models are sometimes in short supply. The current pandemic has also affected radio control aviation. As passenger air traffic decreased, the cost of sending cargo by air changed rapidly. Three months into the pandemic, the overall cost of sending cargo by air nearly tripled with cargo capacity down by about twenty per cent during the first half of 2020, though this was alleviated by using passenger jetliners to haul cargo. Nevertheless, the supply chain flow of radio control products was disrupted for well neigh a year.
Technology can be a blessing as well as a curse to rc aviation. Over the past twenty years, electric-powered rc planes have brought a large number of rc hobbyists to the field, who might not have been there. While viewed as a temporary novelty by traditional rc hobbyists, electric-powered (EP) rc planes began winning converts almost immediately. Using powerful brushless motors, electronic speed controls and lithium-based battery technology, they have performance equal to or greater than that of gasoline-powered rc planes-at a much lower cost. Another advantage offered by electric-powered aircraft and the accompanying electronics are the downsizing of rc planes and helicopters. The smaller EP aircraft, as well as being relatively inexpensive, are also easier to fly and can do so in less space than their gasoline-powered counterparts. Another advantage of electric-powered planes is they are easily adaptable to power larger rc planes. A follow on to the electric motor is the introduction of the Lithium Polymer or LIPO battery in the early 2000's. The polymer is a putty like substance connected to wires which transmit power to the aircraft. Lithium Polymer batteries are relatively light when compared with other rc power sources and can deliver near gasoline engine performance. While LIPO batteries can not provide the power and endurance equal to that of gasoline and electric power sources for use with large rc planes, great strides have been made in their development over the last five years, offering a real potential for future adaptation.
So, what are the future trends in rc aviation? According to Transparency Market Research, the emerging popularity of drones (quadcopters) will be a strong market force driver over the next five years. As drones have progressively evolved into smaller craft, they have had an increased impact on the consumer market, both in the United States and globally. Drones provide a number of benefits to the rc pilot, such as maneuverability, ease of operation, and a relatively low cost when compared with conventional rc planes and helicopters. While initially available only to government agencies and private industry, camera equipped drones are now being offered to the consumer. Toy makers are now aggressively introducing drones capable of producing their own videos, due to the interest of children sharing videos from their drones with friends. Drone products are also expected to become more sophisticated over time, paralleling the trend in the electronics industry as a whole. This, plus the trend toward developing smaller drones will serve to drop the price on all units produced. While the number of traditional hobbyists has declined in recent years, there remains a base dedicated to the joy of building their own plane and flying it successfully.