Whirlybirds is a sport aviation club originating in North Vancouver. Their goal is to become leaders in the next generation of R/C (Remote Control) pilots. These aren't scale modelers building giant aircraft with loud gasoline or nitro powered engines in order to impress the neighborhood. They are kids, mostly teens and young adults flying miniature electric aircraft (250 - 500g) in circuits around courses no bigger than a soccer field in heated races.
It's one of today's hottest growing sports and within reach of not only the most athletic, but almost anyone including the handicapped. In 2016 Dubai hosted The World Drone Prix. On June 22, 2017 Intel and the International Olympic Committee announced a new partnership which will last through 2024 allowing drones to fly at the Olympics. Who knows, you may be watching these pioneers fly at the 2018 games.
Note: It's a good thing that the next Olympics won't be in Canada because the Canadian government has been doing all they can to kill the sport.
Our goal is to establish a safe environment where these flyers can network, hone their skills, and promote FPV racing. We are up against an aversion to change and that is the challenge, we have to educate the masses.
Whirlybirds came about as the result of having no better alternative, let me explain.
The Evolution of Recreational Drones
Although there have been people experimenting with drones for years, nobody seemed to care.. until now. Anyone interested in flying a model plane would visit a hobby shop, buy an ARF (Almost Ready to Fly) or a kit and build it, get a MAAC (Model Aeronautics Association of Canada) membership, join a local club who had volunteers to teach how to fly, and they were off to the races. Since 1949 when a group of 11 modelers formed MAAC this has been how its done.
It takes a great deal of skill to fly a model aircraft requiring good eye/hand coordination and lots of practice. Every year we would see dozens of new faces at the field wanting to join our club and learn to fly, most with new planes they just purchased at the hobby store who directed them to us for guidance.
But year after year, the only ones active at the field were seasoned flyers. In some cases new flyers just decided they had better things to do but in most cases they either visited the field when noone was there to help them, or took their plane somewhere else to fly and crashed. Its after the first crash, sometimes the second, but most new flyers either lose interest at the onset or spend a lot of time and money learning to fly.
For years R/C flying clubs have been straining to make their clubs grow. The interest just hasn't been there but as long as the clubs had enough members to keep the club together there was no urgency to grow. It's been nice since most of their radio equipment requires a dedicated channel and with limited channels available only one or two aircraft can fly at the same time. If a few hundred new members were to sign-up there would almost certainly be kaos.
(Drone radios run digital at 2.4 and 5.8Ghz multiplexed so just as a single cable running into your house can carry hundreds of channels, so can these radios making them perfect for racing.)
The Drone Arrives
In 2012 a company named DJI developed a four prop helicopter (Phantom 1) that could have a GoPRO camera mounted to it with enough intelligence that anyone could fly it with little or no training. This changed recreational R/C flying forever. Not only were these birds easier to fly with better control, but having a camera attached meant they could actually be used for photography as well as sport flying.
Since then the hobby has snowballed with dozens of companies manufacturing hundreds of drones that are easier to fly and have more capabilities than ever before. Walmart, Canadian Tire, Future Shop, Staples, virtually every store you walk in sells drones and has become the new hobby shop. With the decreased space available and pressure from the municipalities to keep the noise down, interest is declining on scale modeling and hobby shops are falling by the wayside.
Until recently, the influx of drone activity hasn't been a problem for R/C flyers. The R/C flyers kept to their fields and the drone flyers could fly wherever they wanted. With the recent Transport Canada crackdown all this has changed.
Transport Canada Regulates Drone Usage
On June 16, 2017 the Minister of Transport, pursuant to subsection 6.41(1) of the Aeronautics Act, made the annexed https://www.tc.gc.ca/eng/mediaroom/interim-order-respecting-use-model-ai...(Intrim Order No. 8 Respecting the Use of Model Aircraft). This essentially puts the hammer down introducing severe regulations for drone usage with heavy penalties or even jail time for infractions. A quick YouTube search will show that for many drone hobbiests this makes it impossible to fly. It would certainly seem to make it impossible to use a drone for any practicle purpose such as inspection, surveying, mapping, or even search & rescue.
An Exemption From the Rules
Section 3(2) of Order No. 8 clearly states that It does not apply to (b) "model aircraft operated at events organized by the Model Aeronautics Association of Canada (MAAC) or at airfields located in a zone administered by MAAC or a MAAC club." This means that if you want to be exempt from these rules you must fly at a MAAC field. It should say (but doesn't) that you must be a MAAC member but that is implied since you have to be a MAAC member to fly on a MAAC field. That's where the R/C flyers get affected and their precious fields are in jeopardy.
In Search for an Airfield
So with this knowledge and MAAC's list of sanctioned sites it shouldn't be too hard to find a place you can fly right?
There just happens to be an MAAC sanctioned field not far from my home at Inter River Park just off Lillooet Rd in North Vancouver. With a quick trip to the field I found it empty with two large wooden signs posted indicating:
- the field was for the exclusive use of the North Vancouver Radio Control Flying Club (NVRCFC)
- in order to fly at the field you must be
- an MAAC member
- a member of NVRCFC
There were no people, cars, bicycles, or any other sign of life in or around the park. Not even any coffee cups, wrappers, or other waste on the grounds or in the garbage; and this was around 11:00am on a Saturday. I stuck around for about an hour and when noone showed up decided to see if I could find them online.
At home I did find them online and found that they had a website at http://www.nvrcfc.com which I visited.
Much to my surprise I found that not a thing had been posted on their website since 2011 over six years ago. Selecting Club History from the sidebar menu revealed that they did once publish newsletters but not a single newsletter had been published since 2010 even though the last post was in 2011. Clicking the [Newsletters] link on the top menu bar also indicated they had not posted AGM minutes since 2011.
My first impression was that the club was now defunct which is not unreasonable considering there was no flyers at the field, no newsletters since 2011, no AGM minutes since 2011, and no action on their website for six years.
So from the contacts page I got the membership secretary's email address and sent him an email. I basically explained to him that I was a long time flyer who was now getting into drone flying, mentioned the recent Transport Canada regulations and that I had visited their website that hasn't seen any changes for over six years.
I asked him if the club was defunct stating that there was no membership fee posted on the site and that if there was a membership fee, what it was and what it covered.
Two days later I got a response not from the membership secretary but from Roy Swift (treasurer)
These are direct quotes from that response
"The direction of the club is to offer a safe flying environment for members and is aimed directly at fixed wing and helicopter pilots. We have limited the number of drone pilots for a number of reasons. The District of North Van is totally behind us and let's us run the club in the manner we see fit."
"Bottom line is that we are not retiring just yet, are happy with what we do and have a positive direction NOT to be a drone oriented club. This is our decision and we are fully supported by the DNV, I have literally just spoken to them regarding this subject and I know where we stand."
He sounded a little agitated so I sent him back a message appologizing for any negative impressions I might have been giving him. I asked him when the next meeting was so that I could attend and asked to be put on their mailing list.
"I would appreciate being notified of your next club meeting, or event so I can see for myself."
"STICK ME ON YOUR MAILING LIST - Certainly that can't be exclusive to club members.. or if it is, you better re-think that one."
The following day he posted what is now on the front page of their website (http://www.nvrcfc.com/index.html) indicating that membership was closed.
He also indicated that no drones were getting in the club even though it clearly states on the MAAC website (of which I am a member) that MAAC sanctions all forms of model aircraft flight.
So We Started a New Club (Whirlybirds)
We are currently registering a business and the club as an NPO and our accountant is setting it up.
When this is complete we are starting a membership drive at which time we will be negotiating with DNV over club space.