Podcast: What IS an Airplane?

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Free markets have a way of answering questions for themselves, or at the very least, forcing those reluctant to grapple with realities to act. Unmanned Aerial Systems (UAS) have matured beyond curiosity to commercialization, and U.S. regulators who have been hoping to put off the complex issues involved in integrating UAS into regular airspace can't do so any longer.

The 2011 case of Raphael Pirker and his five-pound Ritewing Zephyr has brought all the issues to a head. FAA fined Pirker $10,000 for buzzing the University of Virginia campus with the Zephyr, saying it was dangerous and constituted operating an aircraft without a pilot's license; this past March, the National Transportation Safety Board overturned the fine, saying Pirker was flying a model airplane, not a real one. Last week, FAA appealed that decision and the agency's appeal turns very much on just what makes an airplane an airplane.

Is it possible that 111 years after the Wright Brothers' first flight the world's two premier aviation safety organizations are debating what constitutes an airplane? Graham Warwick, our Managing Editor for Technology, Safety Editor John Croft and I explored the topic and what might be coming next on this week's Check Six podcast.

Discuss this Blog Entry 2

Anonymous (not verified)
on Apr 28, 2014

Any heavier than aircraft deriving it's lift from the flow of air over a fixed airfoil or wing.
Pretty simple, so yes the aircraft in question is an airplane.

on Apr 29, 2014

I couldn't agree more with the discussion. I believe that many "users" have not spent the time to define or understand the risks of UAV usage. I see more responsibility from the RC community than most private UAV users. Regarding "what is an aircraft?", I believe that all of these UAVs are "aircraft" that need to be broken down by "class" of aircraft. I also agree that this needs to be viewed as a UAS - the entire system which includes the operator, control, transmitter, antenna, air vehicle, etc. Great Podcast.

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