The BMFA Model Flying Display Handbook has been prepared to give guidance to organisers of, and participants in, public displays which include model flying as part of a demonstration or entertainment. It contains a wealth of information that will assist the organisers in meeting their direct responsibility for the safety of spectators and nearby persons and property.
Our Article 16 Authorisation defines a model flying display as:
Any flying activity deliberately performed, by model aircraft, for the purpose of providing an exhibition or entertainment at an advertised event.
The recommendations contained herein are not intended to apply to:
(a) competitive model flying events where spectators attend in the knowledge that model aircraft will be taking part in contest flying; for these events specific safety rules are included in the appropriate competition rules; or
(b) general model flying, the safety requirements for which are covered in the BMFA Safety Code for General Flying.
We have developed a Tier system to help Event Organisers determine what requirements may apply:
Tier 1 - Contest/Event (not a Display) using Aircraft < 7.5Kg
Flown to local site rules under Article 16.
Tier 2 - Contest/Event (not a Display) using aircraft >7.5Kg but <25Kg >400ft
Flown to local site rules under Article 16 but requires a BMFA Site Permit. A NOTAM is also required unless the site is permanently notified in the Aeronautical Information Publication (AIP).
Tier 3 - Contest/Event (not a Display) using aircraft >25Kg >400ft
Flown to local site rules under Article 16 but requires a BMFA & LMA Site Permit. A NOTAM is also required unless the site is permanently notified in the Aeronautical Information Publication (AIP).
Tier 4 - Display (models up to 25Kg MTOM)
Requires BMFA Display Permit (which may permit aircraft >7.5Kg but <25Kg >400ft) and a NOTAM.
Tier 5 - Display featuring Large Models (>25Kg)
Requires BMFA & LMA Display Permits (which may permit >25kg >400ft) and a NOTAM.
Tier 6 - Display featuring Large Models (>25Kg) and full-size manned aircraft
Requires BMFA & LMA Display Permits (which may permit >25kg >400ft) and a NOTAM. Manned aircraft should be displayed in accordance with CAP403.
Section 1 provides an overview of the requirements for organising a model flying display, whilst Section 2 provides more detailed advice for display organisers.
Our Article 16 Authorisation permits members to operate model aircraft as part of a flying display within the terms set out. Model aircraft participating in a display of full sized manned aircraft must be operated in accordance with the terms of CAP 403.
If the flying display will exceed 400ft, it must be authorised by obtaining a BMFA Display Permit from the BMFA and notified to other airspace users using a NOTAM. The BMFA Display Permit may also authorise the operation of aircraft with a MTOM exceeding 7.5kg above 400ft which is no longer subject to the requirement for an exemption to be issued by the CAA.
Please note that pilots of aircraft with an MTOM of more than 25kg are subject to the requirements of a separate Article 16 Authorisation held by the Large Model Association as well as individual Operational Authorisations issued by the CAA for their aircraft. Pilots must be able to provide evidence of this before taking part in a BMFA authorised display.
Non-UK residents flying at a display may operate model aircraft in accordance with all operating conditions of our authorisation, provided that they meet all the following conditions:
- Hold temporary or full membership of a UK model flying association named in the authorisation
- Comply with the rules and practices of that association
Note 1: Any non-UK remote pilot must meet the requirements of the authorisation in respect of pilot competence
Note 2: Any non-UK UAS operator must comply with the registration requirements set out in the authorisation. This may be achieved by displaying the operator I.D. of a UK ‘host’ operator, with their agreement and understanding of their legal obligations as a UAS operator of the aircraft.
This Handbook has been prepared to give guidance to organisers of, and participants in, public displays which include model flying as part of a demonstration or entertainment. The Handbook will assist both pilots and organisers in meeting their direct responsibility for the safety of spectators and nearby persons and property.
The quoted minima for sites, distances maintained from spectators and proficiency standards required from flyers of model aircraft at displays are recommended in accordance with our Authorisation and as a result of many years’ experience. As there are several different types of model aircraft, they each require different facilities and site conditions for safe and effective displays. The different types will therefore be treated separately below.
The BMFA is available to give advice to display organisers, insurance companies, local authorities, etc., in specific cases.
One person, the EVENT ORGANISER, should assume overall responsibility for the event; he will make arrangements for:
(a) Site assessment
(b) Risk assessment
(c) Spectator control or, in the case of an event at which model flying is part of a large function, the siting of the model flying area with respect to spectator enclosures, car parks etc.
(d) Verification of flyers' competence. The BMFA and other organisations have voluntary achievement schemes for R/C flyers and organisers should consider these as they are all guides to the proficiency of flyers wishing to take part in the display or event. Details of the BMFA Achievement Scheme are included in the Achievement Scheme Handbook.
(e) In the case of R/C flying, establishing effective transmitter control (see Section 2.16).
(f) Airworthiness and safety checking of all model aircraft and equipment to be used in the display.
(g) Verification of third-party insurance validity, covering individual flyers, the model flying club carrying out the flying and the display organisers.
The appointment of a FLYING DISPLAY DIRECTOR who will be responsible for the safe conduct of the flying display and who will assume overall responsibility for the planning, organisation and subsequent running of the event.
(h) The appointment of a FLIGHT LINE DIRECTOR who will assist in the planning of the flying, the briefing of pilots and who will take full control of the model flying area (in modelling terms, a Contest Director or CD).
The appointment of a FLIGHT LINE MARSHAL who is responsible to the Flight Line Director and who will directly control the active model flying.
A POLICE AND EMERGENCY SERVICES LIAISON OFFICER who is responsible for all contact with police and emergency services both before and during the display.
His duties will be to liaise with police and local authorities or, in the case of model flying as part of a wider function e.g. fetes, traction engine rallies etc, to notify the function organisers, in writing, of any special requirements.
The Flying Display Director and Flight Line Director’s posts can be held the same person but the Flight Line Marshal must be a separate post and it would be sensible if the Emergency Services Liaison Officer was a separate person too.
(I) The Flight Line Marshal must exercise authority over all flying matters as he is directly responsible for the flying safety of the display. He must not hesitate to discipline pilots if necessary and it cannot be stressed too strongly that his is the final say on all matters on the airside of the flightline.
This places a great deal of responsibility on the Flight Line Marshal and it almost defines his job. A very pro-active approach must be taken so that these responsibilities are fulfilled and all display organisers are urged to consider very carefully the quality of the person appointed to this task.
The CAA no longer issue authorisations for model flying displays or exemptions to permit the operation of aircraft with an MTOM greater than 7.5Kg at heights above 400ft. Responsibility for issuing model flying display permits (which may include operating aircraft with an MTOM greater than 7.5Kg at heights above 400ft) has now been delegated to the BMFA and LMA under the terms of our respective Article 16 Authorisations.
Applications must include the following:
- Full details of the event – when/where/what type of event.
- Details of the organiser, Flying Display Director (with evidence of their competency to fulfil the role), other key personnel (for larger displays) and the host Club (where applicable).
- Details of the site layout (including maps/diagrams showing the pilots box, active runways, pits area, crowd line and also any other features in the immediate area that may have a bearing on the overall safe running of the display such as nearby roads, buildings, car parking facilities or other attractions.
- Details of the pilots permitted to fly (number, level of competency required).
- Details of the types of aircraft to be flown and whether permission is sought for operation of aircraft with MTOM’s greater than 7.5Kg or 25Kg.
- Details of any special features (such as toffee bombing/pyrotechnics/night flying or inclusion of full-sized manned aircraft displays).
- Details of any arrangements for transmitter control.
- A risk assessment - guidance and templates for conducting a risk assessment are available at https://rcc.bmfa.uk/.
- Supporting documentation (such as a copy of any agreement if operating within an FRZ).
- A declaration that the organisers are familiar with the terms of our Article 16 Authorisation, BMFA Members Handbook and the BMFA Model Flying Display Handbook.
Applications for a BMFA Display Permit may be submitted via the BMFA website (https://rcc.bmfa.uk/exemptions/public-display-application). Applications should ideally be submitted at least 4 weeks prior to the date of the Display (preferably more).
The application will be reviewed by the BMFA and, subject to approval, a BMFA Display Permit will be issued which will detail the agreed parameters (our target is to review applications and issue Permits within 14 days of receipt). The BMFA may visit selected Displays to audit compliance.
Applications seeking approval for the display of aircraft >25Kg will also be subject to review and approval/endorsement by the LMA.
The process (including details of all Display Permits issued) will be audited annually by the CAA, who also reserve the right to carry out on-site inspections at selected displays.
The flying area shall be substantially flat. The aircraft are tethered and fly in a circular path; the minimum radius of the area required is the maximum control-line length to be used during the display, plus 13 metres.
A three metre diameter circle should be marked in the centre of the flying and pilots should ensure that they do not leave this circle while flying.
Under no circumstances should the boundary of the flying area be less than 50 metres from ANY overhead cables or masts supporting such cables.
A minimum area for take-off and landing of 100 x 40 metres, with the 100metre direction substantially parallel to the wind direction, shall be available, with a tarmac or mown grass surface.
To the upwind and downwind sides of this area there should be no spectators, parked or moving vehicles, or other obstructions within a minimum 150 metres of the boundaries of the take-off and landing area. Specific attention shall be paid to the possibility of turbulence caused by nearby tall buildings, trees, marquees, etc.
It is essential that the site be positioned so that all flying can take place without car parks and spectator areas being overflown.
No radio-controlled flying displays should take place within a Flight Restriction Zone of a Protected Aerodrome without prior permission of the air traffic control officer of the airfield, or the airfield itself. You can find details of these at: https://dronesafe.uk/restrictions. Any consultation should be sought at least 30 days before the display is due to take place.
Clubs wishing to organise or participate in displays away from their normal flying site must take great care not to interfere with the legitimate flying of other clubs or groups near the display site.
Enquiries should be made (with the BMFA, with local club contacts and local model shops) and if any club or group is flying within 2 miles of the display site, the display should only take place with their agreement and co-operation.
(a) Control Line Aircraft
Spectators should be behind stout rope barriers or similar restraints surrounding the flying area. Sufficient marshals should be available to ensure that spectators are adequately controlled and organised.
(b) Radio Controlled Aircraft
Spectators should be behind a stout rope or other barrier located parallel to the take-off and landing direction. They should thus be on only one side of the flying area for radio-controlled aircraft. In NO circumstances should take-off or landing be performed towards or over spectator or car park areas. Sufficient marshals should be appointed to ensure that spectators are appropriately controlled and supervised.
The Event Organiser should preferably be an experienced flyer of the type(s) of model aircraft being used at the display, but in any case must be thoroughly familiar with the operating characteristics of the aircraft taking part. The organiser is responsible for the postponing or cancelling of all or part of the display in case of adverse circumstances likely to cause a hazard to safety. It is also their responsibility to ensure that minimum nuisance is caused, and that no unauthorised flying takes place. All flyers should have had experience with the aircraft they are to fly and the types of manoeuvres to be performed. In the case of radio-controlled flying;
(i) It is recommended that all flyers should be BMFA ‘B’ Certificate holders or equivalent.
(ii) All helpers (as described in section 2.8 and 2.14) should be familiar with the relevant Safety Codes and Article 16 Authorisations.
(a) Control Line Flying
Model, control-lines, handle and safety straps shall be subjected to the pull test specified for the type of aircraft in the contest rule book before each flight, and visually examined for damage. Safety wrist straps shall be used at all times. All helpers in the control-line flying area shall wear safety helmets and should be familiar with the safety codes within this handbook. All control lines shall be of steel.
(b) Radio Controlled Flying
All display pilots should have a helper/caller with them when they are flying.
All ground helpers should be familiar with the relevant BMFA safety codes.
All flyers should hold the BMFA ‘B’ Certificate or its equivalent (SAA Silver Wings or LMA Proficiency Certificate).
When using the LMA Proficiency Certificate in place of the BMFA ‘B’ Certificate, the following conditions must be complied with.
(i) The pilot must be a paid-up member of both the BMFA and the LMA.
(ii) The pilot may only fly the type of model for which he holds an operational authorisation.
(iii) The terms of the applicable BMFA and LMA Article 16 Authorisations must be complied with.
(iv) The pilot’s helper/caller should be either a ‘B’ certificate or LMA Certificate holder.
It is STRONGLY recommended, especially for larger public shows, that only aircraft using 2.4GHz radio equipment should be included in the display, and the number of operating transmitters should be kept to a minimum.
At the planning stage enquiries should be made to ascertain whether any hospitals, factories, military or public service establishments in the vicinity may use radio equipment or any other electronic or electromechanical devices likely to cause interference.
Strict control of all operating transmitters is highly desirable.
All control functions of each aircraft shall be checked before each flight (1) when the radio is switched on and (2) with the engine at full throttle before take-off. All power-driven aircraft flown at displays should have throttle control.
Particular attention should be paid to the state of both transmitter and receiver batteries - dry batteries must not be used and rechargeable battery packs should be fully charged at the start of the display.
No flying should take place if the surface wind speed exceeds 25 knots, or if the visibility is less than 500 metres.
No turn should terminate with the aircraft on a heading towards the spectator enclosure.
No aircraft may be flown within 30 metres of spectators. For models over 7.5 kg and all gas turbine powered models this distance should be 50 metres. This may be reduced to 30 metres for take-off and landing only.
The organisers, especially the Flight Line Marshal, should also consider the need to add additional separation distance for models of exceptional dimensions, weight or performance and any models of this type should be specifically noted in the application for a Display Permit.
The Flight Line Marshal must position the pilots so that they are between the spectators and the flying models.
Note that the distance of 30 metres shown in the diagram must be a minimum of 50 metres for models over 7.5 kg and 75 metres for large models over 25Kg and gas turbine powered models.
(c) Toffee Bombers
Our Authorisation permits the dropping of materials from model aircraft subject to the condition that:
a) The remote pilot must not cause or permit any article or animal to be dropped from an unmanned aircraft so as to endanger persons or property.
Models dropping toffees should not weigh in excess of 7.5 kg. The toffee bomber should fly alone. All other models should remain on the ground during the toffee drop. An area within the public enclosure should be provided for those children wishing to take part.
The toffee bomber should make its drop from as high an altitude as is practical. It should then circle at height upwind and should not fly over the area where the toffees have landed. If this is not possible without flying over car parks, houses, roads etc, no toffee drop should be included in the programme.
Children should be controlled by officials and/or the PA system and prevented from leaving the enclosure until the toffees have been dropped and the model is away from the area. The field should then be cleared as soon as possible after the drop. All children must be safely back in the spectator’s enclosure before the pilot is permitted to bring the model back for its landing.
(d) Young Pilots
Organiser must be aware of the minimum age requirements (section 3.3) as set out in our Authorisation. Whenever a young pilot takes part in a display, it is very strongly recommended that a suitable person is tasked to stand with them as a safety pilot. This should be a person known to the organisers as being proficient.
(e) Smoke Systems
Some of the oils used in model aircraft smoke systems are known to be carcinogenic when burnt and all of them are irritants to varying degrees, even the purer types.
Smoke should only be used when the wind is blowing away or at least along the pits / flightline area and there is no possibility of the smoke cloud being blown over pilots or spectators.
It is important that a written description of arrangements for the model flying programme be circulated in advance to all people participating in the display. This should be reinforced and, if necessary, updated by a further oral briefing on the day of the display.
The Model Flying Display Handbook was written to cover the larger type of display and questions are often asked about what to do in the case of the smaller display or club fly-in.
The answer lies, as it so often does, in the organisers acting in what may be seen to be a reasonable manner.
As an organiser, you should read the Model Flying Display Handbook very carefully and pick out the parts that you feel apply to your event and apply them carefully. If it’s a big event, then it is likely that it will all apply.
There is no doubt that a Display Organiser to take overall control of the event and a Flight Line Marshall to take responsibility for all the flying would be required posts regardless of the size of the event.
However, you may feel that you do not need the full range of other personnel that would be required at a larger display and, although most of the jobs are valid, the responsibilities could be shared by a smaller number of people.
The requirement for pilots to hold a ‘B’ Certificate is also sensible for a large display but at a smaller event it could be appropriate to accept a lesser/alternative qualification (or conduct a flight test with the pilot prior to the event) and take care that the flying is carefully monitored.
Checking a pilot’s insurance details and CAA Operator Registration is essential and should always be done.
The Model Flying Display Handbook will give you the guidance you need and you should try to operate within the spirit of the document. You should also remember that, if there is an incident, your actions will be judged on the basis of ‘did you act reasonably?’.