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Podcast: What IS an Airplane?


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.

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