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VFS Advocates for Unmanned VTOL Technology and Safety

Syma X5SW QuadcopterThe Vertical Flight Society has been a strong advocate for unmanned aircraft. We established the Unmanned VTOL Aircraft & Rotorcraft Technical Committee in 2000 and have held annual technical sessions at the VFS Forum, as well as Unmanned Rotorcraft Systems conferences biennially since 2005.

In 2011, we began our annual Micro Air Vehicle (MAV) Student Challenge to help students develop skills and understanding of the challenges of unmanned VTOL aircraft and autonomy. In addition, several of our recent Student Design Competitions have focused on unmanned Vertical Take-Off and Landing (VTOL) aircraft.

VFS has also been one of the loudest voices warning of the dangers of unmanned aircraft systems (UAS, but often referred to as “drones” in the press) in several Vertiflite Commentaries and articles; in meetings with government officials, study panels and other associations; media interviews on the topic; and a social media campaign to educate the public. For example, past Vertiflite articles:

  • Vertiflite, May/June 2018: Drone Safety: Even the Sky Has Limits: "The number of accidents and near-misses of drones and manned aircraft continues to rise at a frightful rate."
  • Vertiflite, Sep/Oct 2015: Flying the Crowded Skies. "With UAS usage today appearing to be frightfully like the 'Wild West,' a dramatic change is needed in public awareness and attitudes toward flying unmanned aircraft near areas of operations for fixed-wing and rotary-wing aircraft."
  • Vertiflite, Sep/Oct 2014: Innovation Outpaces Regulation. "Government regulators must work collaboratively with industry to help the regulatory environment keep pace with innovation – allowing vertical flight to reach its full potential, while ensuring safe skies around the world.

As a member of the Know Before You Fly industry campaign, VFS has been working to highlight the threat to helicopters and other manned aircraft of not flying safely with unmanned systems. (VFS was successful in getting the campaign’s literature updated in 2016 to highlight the threat to helicopters.)


B4UFLY Screens The FAA has published a mobile device app, B4UFLY for iOS and Androids, to help keep UAS operators aware of local airfields, including helipads. B4UFLY is an easy-to-use smartphone app that helps unmanned aircraft operators determine whether there are any restrictions or requirements in effect at the location where they want to fly. Features include:

  • A clear "status" indicator that immediately informs the operator about the current or planned location. For example, it shows flying in the Special Flight Rules Area around Washington, D.C. is prohibited. 
  • Information on the parameters that drive the status indicator 
  • A "Planner Mode" for future flights in different locations 
  • Informative, interactive maps with filtering options 
  • Links to other FAA UAS resources and regulatory information


Interim Final New Rule (Dec. 2014)

I Fly Safe The FAA announced an Interim Final Rule on Small UAS registration on Dec. 14, 2015. All operators of unmanned aircraft in US airspace must first register their aircraft if it weighs more than 0.55 lb (8.8 oz or 250 g) and less than 55 lb (just under 25 kg) including payloads such as on-board cameras. (Unmanned aircraft larger than 55 lb must go through a more rigorous process.) The FAA set up a streamlined site for owners of toys or other small UAS (up to 55 lb) if they are used only for hobby and recreation purposes. Registration is required prior to first outdoors flight of the aircraft, and an N-registration number must be displayed or otherwise included on the drone. Registration costs $5 and can be found at registermyuas.faa.gov.

Section 107 Final Rule (Aug. 2016)

In June 2016, the FAA finalized the first operational rules for routine commercial use of small UAS, which went into effect on Aug. 29, 2016. The Part 107 rules allow UAS that are less than 55 lb (25 kg) to fly in visual line-of-sight conditions only, in daylight (or twilight with lights), up to 100 mph (87 kt or 161 km/h) and 400 ft (122 m) above ground level. The guidance specifically bans flights “near other aircraft,” including within 5 miles (8 km) of airports, heliports, or anywhere that manned aircraft are operating. For details, go to www.faa.gov/uas.

VFS Study on One-Way Attack (OWA) Drones

In May 2023, VFS published an expansive report on one-way attack drones, also known as loitering munitions. The study, “One-Way Attack Drones: Loitering Munitions of Past and Present,” finds that the origins of these weapons are more complex than often understood and that the market for one-way attack (OWA) drones has grown larger than expected. Drawing on an original database of over 200 types of OWA drones, the study finds that more than 120 entities in over 30 countries are developing or producing these weapons, or have done so previously. VTOL one-way attack drones represent a rapidly emerging segment of the market and currently comprise more than one-in-four models of OWA drones, a reflection of a broader trend towards lightweight, hand-carried models. Learn more at www.vtol.org/drone-report

Posted Nov. 1, 2016. Updated May 4, 2023