At the top of Santa's list, small-unmanned aircraft systems

  • Published
  • By Lt. Col. James Hudnell
  • 42nd Operations Squadron
It's getting near to the time of year when we may be shopping for young ones and those young at heart.  On the top of the list for many will be small-unmanned aircraft systems or other remote controlled aircraft.  The technology is fantastic these days allowing control by smart phones and tablets.  The commercial industry is even taking advantage of these systems to survey buildings, record data, and inspect pipelines to name just a few.  They provide great angles for camera shots. 

However, there is some important information you should know before launching for takeoff.  FAA rules prohibit use of these systems within towered air traffic control airspace, without air traffic control's prior approval.  In addition, the operator must have physical line of sight of their unmanned system at all times. 

At Maxwell Air Force Base, recreational UAS operations are not approved within the air traffic control tower airspace that includes all the confines of Maxwell AFB.  Public use or governmental agencies require formal letters of agreement established and major command approval before operating a UAS in Maxwell's airspace.  The research is still ongoing; however, these systems can damage aircraft and may present an operations security concern for the base. 

For more information about the dos and don'ts of small UAS type operations, go to  It is an education campaign founded by the Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International and the Academy of Model Aeronautics in partnership with the Federal Aviation Administration, to educate prospective users about the safe and responsible operation of unmanned aircraft systems. 

In addition to this resource, the FAA recently tested a beta app known as B4UFLY.  It is an easy-to-use smartphone app that helps unmanned aircraft operators determine via visual status indicators, if any restrictions or requirements exist at the location where they want to fly.  The FAA is expected to role this app out to the public in a couple months.  More information on this app is available at
For governmental offices wishing to procure small unmanned aircraft systems to perform official functions, the FAA and Air Force has separate procedures that may be reviewed further by calling the 42d Operations Support Squadron as a starting point.  Small unmanned aircraft systems such as quad copters are expected to be on the top of many shopping lists and the FAA continues to evolve policies on their use.  They are a tool for many businesses, provide recreational enjoyment, and beat the very soul that inspires aviation enthusiast.  Please just remember to use them responsibly, and know before you fly.