RCU Review: Greg Covey's Amp'd Issue 6: AMA Gets Electrified

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    Contributed by: Greg Covey | Published: April 2008 | Views: 21262 | email icon Email this Article | PDFpdf icon

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    Issue 6
    Article By Greg Covey

    Print Issue 6 "AMA Gets Electrified"

    Since I have only been in the R/C hobby for a decade, Dave Brown was the only AMA President that I had heard of. When I started my hobby, he had already served as president for two years, and been involved in the AMA since 1980, so his legacy was well known. After almost three decades of service on the AMA Executive Council, Dave has retired from the council. Although I never met him personally, I can admire his efforts to improve model aviation, thank him for his service to our hobby, and wish him good health.

    In 2002, the AMA membership hit its peak. Since then, a steady decline (shown on right) has resulted annually. A lack of participation from recent voting members has also revealed more evidence of a broken system.

    The dramatic rise in park flyers in the last few years has literally been an explosion. New technologies, Ready-To-Fly packages, and lower cost imports have flooded the market. Why has this increasing trend of electric flight not affected AMA membership?

    With an average AMA member age of about 58, has technology or social change outdated the need for the AMA? These questions, and many more, are investigated in this month's AMP'D as the AMA Gets Electrified!

    A New Era
    AMA President Dave Mathewson

    Welcome Dave Mathewson as the newly elected President of the Academy of Model Aeronautics (AMA). Dave served as the District II Vice President for many years so I have seen him at shows in the New York area doing his part to investigate change and promote the hobby. Dave is a real gentleman and is a pleasure to talk to. He always makes time for modeler's questions or concerns.

    Dave has entered his new position with a formidable set of tasks to accomplish for the AMA. His experience in model aviation, fresh outlook, and sensible approach to everything should provide an energized boost to the issues at hand.

    For a monthly report of Dave's thoughts and direction, read his "President's Perspective" column in Model Aviation. For those that do not have a subscription, you can view the columns on-line at the link below.

    Model Aviation On-line

    One on One

    I recently had an opportunity to see Dave at a local club meeting where he was invited to give a presentation on his objectives and long range plans for the AMA. The Rochester Aero Modeling Society (RAMS) hosted the presentation at a pub on the East side of Rochester, NY.

    After the presentation, I had some one on one time with Dave and asked him several very candid questions.

    AMP'D: Congratulations, Dave, on your successful bid to become the next AMA president. We have known each other for years and I feel that you will bring a new acceptance to changes we are seeing in technology. What are the key issues you are concerned with when it comes to the popularity of electric flight? When it comes to the future of the AMA?

    Dave: Thanks, Greg. I don't know that there are any key issues that I'm really concerned about. Maybe just the opposite. Electric powered model aviation has grown exponentially over the last few years and I see that only as a positive thing. I'm not sure there's anything you can't do today with an electric powered model that can be done with an internal combustion powered model. Flying sites are the lifeblood of what we do. Quiet flight opens up new doors to modelers when it comes to finding places to fly and that helps paint a bright future for modeling. I think, overall, electric powered flight will play a strong role in AMA's future. As you know, the sale of smaller, electric powered RC models is exploding and, up until now, AMA really didn't have a package of benefits that modelers entering the hobby through this discipline found attractive. To help with that, we've created our new Park Pilot Program.

    AMP'D: It seems that most R/C issues involving the AMA are debated with great passion and the new Park Pilot Program is no exception. Is this new program just another attempt at a tiered membership? While the traditional hobbyist seems to be disappearing, can the AMA realistically attract park fliers as members of a new class or have the technological and social changes already closed the door on this path?

    Dave: AMA's new Park Pilot Program was launched recently at the AMA Convention in Ontario, CA. I was more than pleasantly surprised at the positive reception it received. I think it's fair to say that tiered memberships can be defined as someone paying a different price based on, say the type of model they fly, for essentially the same benefits. The Park Pilot membership is anything but a tiered membership. What we've learned from our research over the last two years was that it wasn't necessarily the cost of membership that was keeping park fliers from joining AMA. It was the fact that the benefits of membership we offered were not a perceived value to these modelers. So we created a benefits package for Park Pilots that we think will be more attractive to these modelers. The foundation of this program is a package we've put together that members can use as a tool to help them approach property owners in their area about obtaining access to public areas for use as flying sites. The Park Pilot membership focuses on smaller quiet powered models. Areas like parks, schoolyards, soccer fields, etc. - the types of small open areas you find in more urban areas - make perfect flying sites for those that fly these models. With more and more communities creating ordinances that prohibit the flying of models in public areas, we think we can help reverse that trend.

    AMP'D: What is the deal with this new membership directory for the AMA? Why do so many current members feel it is just a scam to sell their personal information to vendors?

    Dave: AMA falls way short in the association world when it comes to the percentage of our overall revenue that we generate from non-dues sources. Every dollar that we produce from these types of programs is one less dollar that needs to come from membership dues. All of the costs associated with these programs, by the way, are borne by companies we partner with. It costs AMA absolutely nothing to be involved in or administer the program yet the potential is there for us to reap a fair benefit. The two current programs we're involved in, the TN Marketing program and the Harris Connect directory program have produced for us in the 2005 to 2007 period over a quarter of a million dollars. Where we've fallen short in the past, is that we haven't done nearly enough to explain to our members the value of these programs and how they work. A simple notice to our members prior to the launch of any new program like this would go a long way in helping eliminate the displeasure some of our members have when programs like this get dropped on them out of the blue. I'm not sure if we will or won't become involved in programs like this in the future but, if we do, we'll work to handle this better.

    AMP'D: There are so many different types of R/C flying, electric, helicopter, giant scale, micro-flight, turbine jet, control line, and free flight are just a few that come to mind. As an AMA member, what can I do to help bring cohesiveness to this great hobby?

    Dave: My friend, Dean Pappas one of our more prominent members, writes a column for Model Aviation called "If It Flies?.". Dean starts every column with the sentence, "If it flies, I'm interested in it." What a great line. And the truth is we should all feel that way. You and I fly in pretty much the same circle of friends and modelers. I think it's safe to say that this is the positive attitude we most often find among the group we fly with. It's a simple matter of respect. I look at some of the other modeling disciplines, even those outside the scope of RC, and I'm in awe of what I see. A rubber powered indoor Free Flight model that has the ability to stay aloft for nearly an hour or a pilot who can create geometric shapes with a Control Line model sharper than I can probably draw them takes a special talent. And it's that same special talent that someone needs to be able to hover a 3D profile model, fly radical aerobatics with a model helicopter, or build and fly a scale model capable of winning a National Championship. The common denominator among all of us is we all fly model aircraft. The only thing that's different is the type and what we prefer to do with it.

    Some key objectives that Dave talked about are highlighted on the left. A decline in AMA membership and in designated flying sites was among his highest concerns.

    Education will play a key part in many of the AMA's objectives. Making members more aware of programs that are already available through the AMA, broadcasting information to members about revenue plans, looking for ways to obtain new flying sites while promoting the AMA, and working with government agencies like the Department of Homeland Security are just some of the key objectives in the AMA's long range strategy.

    For more information about the AMA and its vision, go here: What is the AMA?

    The Park Pilot Program

    As Dave previously described in one of his answers to my questions above, the Park Pilot Program (PPP) is a benefits package for Park Pilots. The foundation of which can be used as a tool to help members (through insurance coverage) approach property owners in their area about obtaining access to public areas for use as flying sites. The Park Pilot membership focuses on smaller quiet powered models. Areas like parks, schoolyards, soccer fields, etc.

    The goal of the PPP is to increase the overall AMA membership and help reverse the current trend of lost flying sites due to noise ordinances or lack of proper liability and damage insurance.

    By educating new pilots on the benefits of the PPP, we all gain a greater voice from local facilities to government agencies.

    The Park Pilot Program should be recommended to all non-AMA R/Cers who fly only park flyer models. Most new R/C pilots are not aware of the AMA and not inclined to spend $58 annually for services they don't really need.

    The very first issue of AMP'D was dedicated to the definition of, "What is a Parkflyer?". The perspective of the column revealed how elusive this definition became when viewed by many perspectives, skill levels, and interests. The goal was to promote safety to people that fly in parks without an AMA license or who were not properly educated on the potential for danger.

    The AMA has defined the "Park Flyer" in a way that can be used to determine what are and are not appropriate sites to fly. The ?Legal Aircraft? Logo Program of the PPP is an identification program that will help both aero modeling consumers and clubs easily identify those aircraft that meet the AMA?s specifications for the Park Pilot Program. Participating manufacturers will be allowed to use this new logo on their park flyer products including box art, inserts, etc.

    The Park Pilot Program is very new so there are more questions than results at this time. A page of PPP Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) can be visited by those that wish to know more details. A quick reference comparison of Open vs. PPP memberships is also available on-line.

    Food For Thought

    Dave Mathewson still enjoys being an R/C pilot

    While social change can sometimes be difficult to understand or accept, changes in technology are usually easier to follow. The often difficult task of embracing change in our hobby many times leads us to finger pointing.

    As a 50 year old engineer that has only been in the hobby for a decade, my passion for electric flight has often skewed my perspective on the AMA, clubs, hobby shops, and the Internet. The wide dynamic scope of electric flight has provided me with models weighing less than an ounce to almost 30lbs. My original "club" was a great group of guys on the E-Zone back in the late '90s. I am neither an old "hat" nor a young "gun" but I have learned much from both types.

    One of the primary functions of the AMA is to bring together a community of R/C flyers and promote R/C flying. Has the Internet replaced this AMA function? Recent polls on several of the popular forums reveal that 2/3 (66%) of the on-line members are also AMA members. This demonstrates that the Internet is merely a tool that most of us are using to supplement club participation, acquire knowledge, and obtain hobby products. Perhaps the new Park Pilot Program will attract the third of members that are not currently in the AMA.

    The chart on the right details the age group percentages of on-line R/Cers. The numbers are age groups and the slice of pie the percentage polled. This reveals that while the average age of an AMA member is around 58, the average age of an on-line R/Cer may be much younger.

    I am guilty of using Almost-Ready-to Fly (ARF) planes and of ordering on the Internet. I am also guilty of wanting instant gratification in my hobby. Some may think that this makes me a poor modeler or a pure pilot. More often than not, people in my local clubs and flying show circuit flock to see my trailer filled with the latest technology and most recent models. In return, I have received a wealth of information that benefits my knowledge on building techniques, materials, set-up, covering, and other forms of power like glow, gas, turbine, and thermal. We learn from each other and use each other as parts of a whole group...just like on the Internet. This relationship can only exist with mutual respect.

    Proof that the AMA's shrinking membership is not unique to the R/C airplane hobby can be seen in the sport pilot industry. The Experimental Aircraft Association (EAA) has seen "the number of active private pilots decline by almost 30% since 1984 and active student pilots had declined by 42%". After determining that "the root causes were time and money", their solution was to create a program that could get pilots in the air for less then half the price. The media and electronic tools of today all compete for our time and money. We do much more in a single day today than we did a few decades ago. This change enhances our lives and should be embraced with the future, not compared against the past.

    Several key areas for AMA growth are in education and awareness. This must be done at all levels from the President to its members. By listening to it members, the AMA's direction will stay true. By informing new and existing hobbyists about AMA programs, we will all benefit from the promotion of model aviation as a revered recreational and educational activity. Our passion for model aviation still exists, it has simply evolved.


    The AMA has seen some major changes this year. The new Park Pilot Program will attempt to increase the overall AMA membership and help reverse the current trend of lost flying sites due to noise ordinances or lack of proper liability and damage insurance. An array of AMA Programs for Members are available to aid in promoting the hobby, support education, recognize clubs and individuals, and provide additional benefits.

    The new AMA president, Dave Mathewson, will provide a fresh outlook, and sensible approach to give an energized boost to the issues at hand. I sincerely believe that model aviation enthusiasts, new and old, are witnessing a revolution in the hobby. The social

    change often lags behind any technical advancement so we need patience and determination to help stay on course. In 2008 and beyond, we should all participate in the changes, as the AMA Gets Electrified!

    When you fly electric, fly clean, fly quiet, and fly safe!

    Special thanks for contributions by:
    "Papa Jeff" Ring

    This section of AMP'D covers some of the questions that our readers have sent in and I thought would be interesting for others.

    David from the UK asks: "Hi Greg,

    Did you finish developing VTOL Magister for transitional flight? Are you considering a currently available model for next phase?


    Greg: We will begin the final testing of the VTOL Magister in late April or May as I plan to demo it this season which culminates at the NEAT Fair in September. I have solicited Ray and Kyle Stacy to help me. Ray is the helicopter columnist for the AMA's Model Aviation magazine and his young son Kyle, now 12, will fly the demos. Kyle has placed 1st and 3rd in two categories of the World Indoor Heli Championships. He is quite a 3D heli expert.

    Look for a complete 2-part write-up coming soon in AMP'D. Thank you for your interest!

    Paul W. asks: "Is running a 4350mAh pack and a 5000mAh pack in series ok?

    Greg: In general, it is safer to say that it is not a good idea for several reasons. People may not be balancing the packs or trying to recharge them together. In reality, it is ok as long as the packs have similar current delivery (like both 20C) and that you recharge and balance each pack afterwards separately.

    In the real world, our packs all have slightly different capacity because they vary with age, abuse, and cell quality. When the lower capacity 4350mAh pack is done, you won't be able to fly anymore. You can measure the cell voltages after the first few flights as a sanity check to see that they are all over 3v/cell when unloaded. After that, fly it and forget it.

    Ask questions by e-mailing me at greg@rcuniverse.com

    Tru-Spin Prop Balancer

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    Print Issue 6 "AMA Gets Electrified"

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