Flying Model Aircraft Comes Under Scrutiny After Fatal Accident in Brooklyn Park

By Matt Flegenheimer and Lisa W. Foderaro

  • Sept. 6, 2013

New York City is well acquainted with many of its hobbyists — the bird watchers of Central Park and the skateboarders of Union Square, the train buffs who ride the rails and the car-lovers who prefer to avoid them.

But this week, a fatal accident introduced many residents to another group for the first time: the relatively small but passionate band of remote-controlled-aircraft enthusiasts, who on Thursday lost one of their own, Roman Pirozek Jr., 19, after the model helicopter he was piloting in a Brooklyn park struck him in the head.

In a flash, the hobby was thrust into the spotlight, with practitioners fielding questions about its safety, seeking to thwart suggestions of a moratorium on flying and holding close to the pastime that has bound them together.

“When you love something so much,” said Matthew Mascialino, 42, who often flies models over Marine Park, “you fear that it could be taken away.”

Councilman Domenic M. Recchia Jr. of Brooklyn called on the city on Thursday to suspend helicopter flying in Calvert Vaux Park in Brooklyn, the popular patch where the accident occurred, “until we find out what exactly transpired.”

The city’s parks department said Friday that it would “be looking into all aspects of the accident to see if any changes are needed to ensure that this hobby can continue safely in our parks.” But helicopters and planes will continue to be allowed in designated areas, officials said, unless an investigation uncovers a reason that would justify a ban.

According to the department’s Web site, there are only a small number of other locations where remote-controlled hobby aircraft are allowed, including Flushing Meadows-Corona Park and Forest Park in Queens, and La Tourette Park on Staten Island.

Flying experts took pains on Friday to cast the accident as a fluke. The Academy of Model Aeronautics, the hobby’s governing body, said Mr. Pirozek’s death was only the second fatal episode involving remote-control helicopters in the United States in decades. In 2003, an instructor in Texas was killed after the blades from a student’s model struck him in the throat.

“It has an excellent safety record,” Richard Hanson, an official of the academy, said of the hobby. “This particular accident is very, very tragic but also very, very unusual.”

As a condition of membership in the academy, fliers must agree to adhere to a safety code, Mr. Hanson said. Craft operated by remote control are prohibited, for instance, from “flying directly over unprotected people, vessels, vehicles or structures.” Pilots may not fly model aircraft higher than 400 feet above ground level when within three miles of an airport, unless the airport operator is notified.

Mr. Hanson said Mr. Pirozek — a member of the academy since 2001, when he was a child — had learned from his father, an avid flier. The younger Mr. Pirozek had developed a reputation as “a very accomplished and competent helicopter pilot,” Mr. Hanson said.

According to Mr. Mascialino, a former president of the Radio Control Society of Marine Park, Mr. Pirozek had come to the club’s attention as a gifted flier, despite flying with a different club, the Seaview Rotary Wings.

Speaking to reporters on Friday, Police Commissioner Raymond W. Kelly said Mr. Pirozek “obviously was experienced” in flying.

“He was on YouTube, he was known for his ability to do it,” Mr. Kelly said. “It seemed to be, according to witnesses, some aggressive maneuvers, and it just came back.”

Though pilots said Friday that their hobby was already well-regulated, the death supplied an unwelcome reminder of its dangers.

In Marine Park — where a model runway is hemmed in by a wooded area, with sea gulls and, occasionally, full-size planes flying overhead — Andy Fomin, 48, revealed a scar from a gash that required 15 stitches, when he cut his hand five years ago on the propellers of his model plane. He also recalled “a few times when it was too close to me and I had to jump aside to avoid being hit.”

Rick Cabero, from Midwood, Brooklyn, who arrived with three foam planes, noted the occasional scourge of exploding batteries. While he said he did not believe that his passion was dangerous, he cautioned, “It’s not for kids, it’s not a toy.”

And yet for many fliers, the childlike thrill remains part of the appeal. Mr. Mascialino bemoaned that young people today “like to play with their phones, their video games.”

Model flight, he suggested, offered something more.

“Flying a helicopter or a plane is essentially playing a video game,” he said, “but in real life.”


RC Plane Safety Tips

This entry was posted on 3 June by George Keefe TCAF Safety Officer

Original article March 9, 2018 by Gozarian.

The hobby has many things that we should do and just as many things that we should not do. After talking with some old hands, I’ve taken the time to come up with a comprehensive list of do’s and don’ts based on our collective experience.

This guide is based on common sense. We want you to think about what might go wrong and how to reduce the chance of it going wrong. Remember that guidelines are not rules are they are not set in stone. They are more about common sense and flying responsibly. RC flying is a great hobby and I think we all want to keep it that way, so it’s important to be responsible.

RC flying do’s

  • Keep away people at all times and this includes your new drone. Drones might be the shiny new kid on the block but they can cause permanent and debilitating injuries.
  • Fly what you’re capable of not what you like the look of. This means a trainer and whilst you might now be in love with the look that’s fine. It’s hardly going to be a forever plane and more importantly, you’re not going to be upset when you drive it a foot into the ground whilst you’re learning which way the sticks go.
  • Do your homework and find a club close by. They may have instructors that can teach you how to fly and in addition, they can offer you insurance. When you consider the potential risks, $50 a year for a policy is nothing. The devil is in the detail so be sure to understand the policy, excess and conditions etc.
  • Every country will have different laws covering the operation of model aircraft. Commonly known as remotely piloted vehicles and the definition is quite broad. This generally covers RC planes, helicopter, drones, rockets, balloons and everything in-between. If you join a club they have simplified the rules to help you understand the legalese.
  • If you cannot join a club because one does not exist or it’s a great distance away, be sure you select your flying site very carefully. Unlike the club environment where the public is generally not wandering around on the field, a park is full of dangers like, dogs, kids, people on bikes, rangers, birds, trees and all sorts of things that generally make for a very dangerous flying site. Whilst a seasoned flyer is acutely aware of the risks it may not be immediately obvious a new flyer.
  • If you’re going to fly in public check the rules and find out if you are required to hold an insurance policy and if so what type. If something goes wrong you’ll be glad you held a policy because if you hit someone then damages could easily run into 7 figures.
  • Even if you don’t want to join a club go alone to your local. Have a chat and see what those guys are like. You’ll find there are just like you and happy to help you get in the air. Try not to hold preconceived notions.
  • There is no need to be using anything other than 2.4ghz radio equipment these days. (Sure some other systems exist for long range however we can ignore that for now)
  • Don’t fly near houses, factories, buildings and never fly over people no matter the reason and keep as far away as possible.
  • Choose a large open area that is free from obstacles of any kind
  • Plan where you are going to fly and where you’re going to land prior to taking off. Take note of the wind because if it changes you may need to land from another direction. Ensure you have plenty of open space for flying.
  • It is essential that you check your aircraft thoroughly before you fly. Check screws, servos, hinges, battery and even a range check. It too late once you are in the air as you don’t get a do-over.
  • Be respectful and don’t be a pest. People hate noise so try not to make any because nothing will get you moved on faster than a noise complaint.
  • Time your flight and be acutely aware of the battery voltage. If you don’t you will likely find yourself in a very dangerous situation because the aircraft is going to come down on its terms. This can catch even the most experienced flyer and has caught me in the past.
  • If the worst happens the aircraft can be full throttle and lose complete control and this can end badly at a club let alone a public place.
  • Write your name and phone number somewhere on the inside of the aircraft because if you happen to lose it a good Samaritan may find it. Perhaps even offer a reward for returning a lost plane.
  • Fly only what you’re comfortable with and take your time. There is no rush and there are a lot of skills to acquire along the way. Not just flying but repairing.
  • Use common sense, keep it safe, sensible and responsible at all times.

RC flying don’ts

  • Don’t be a pest and annoy your neighbours, as your stay will be very short. They will know when you’re flying as they will be able to hear you and report you.
  • If you’re not allowed to fly there don’t do it. Fines are expensive and there might be reasons that you’ve not thought about. Close to airports, hospital helipads, flight paths any number of other reasons.
  • If it looks dangerous to fly there don’t. Avoid completely built-up areas, main roads, or anywhere where you fly into the public.
  • Trees, lighting posts, telegraph poles, communication equipment don’t mix with RC planes. I once flew in a park back in my early days of flight and I struck a telegraph pole straight on. The bird stopped completely midair and fell straight down destroying everything. I got away lightly on that occasion. It could have been much worse.
  • Stay away from animals and livestock. Your drone or plane just doesn’t need to annoy them or spook them. Animals are easily spooked and can run into fences injuring themselves.
  • Don’t fly over or close to animals, wild or domestic.
  • Don’t fly off into the distance as you’ll lose orientation. Stay within a good visual line of sight.
  • Don’t fly beyond visual line of sight for any reason. Yes, FPV is a thing and its here to stay but don’t fly beyond visual line of sight. That video feed coming into you your goggles can drop out at a moment’s notice.
  • Don’t fly into the sun as you’ll lose your orientation and crash your plane plus looking into the sun is just a plain dumb idea.
  • Don’t fly on windy days as it’s not comfortable. There is nothing pleasant about flying on a windy day and it’s highly likely that you’ll crash.

The guide above is really about common sense and doing the right thing. Taking a little time to think about the risks and weighing those up. Many of us might be familiar with the phrase risk and reward. Flying in a highly populated area in the wind would be considered high-risk, low reward. Put it away and fly another day.