FAA grants exemption to unmanned Yamaha RMAX helicopter

Avatar for Elan HeadBy Elan Head | May 6, 2015

Estimated reading time 4 minutes, 13 seconds.

Yamaha’s RMAX helicopter has already flown in California for research purposes with UC Davis. The FAA has now granted Yamaha approval to conduct commercial operations with the UAS. Joe Proudman/UC Davis Photo
Yamaha Motor Corporation will be able to conduct agricultural operations in the United States using its remotely piloted RMAX helicopter under a new exemption from the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA).
The “Section 333” unmanned aircraft system (UAS) exemption approval will enable Yamaha to conduct commercial agricultural operations under Federal Aviation Regulations Part 137 with an RMAX Type II G UAS, subject to certain conditions and limitations.
Among other requirements, Yamaha must operate the aircraft within visual line of sight at all times, and cannot fly at airspeeds greater than 45 miles per hour, or at an altitude above 400 feet. All operations must be conducted over private or controlled-access property, and cannot take place within five nautical miles of an airport. Moreover, the person operating the aircraft must be a rated pilot, and must comply with the additional knowledge and applicable skill requirements in Part 137.
The exemption approval is significant, because the RMAX — which has an empty weight of around 141 pounds (64 kilograms) — is larger and heavier than UAS previously approved to operate under Section 333 of the 2012 FAA reauthorization law.
In granting its exemption, the FAA relied heavily on the proven safety record of the RMAX, which has logged more than two million flight hours since 1997, primarily in aerial application operations in Japan. More recently, the RMAX has been approved for use in Australia and South Korea (it has also been spraying some vineyards in California through a research partnership with the University of California, Davis).
“During this two decade period, there have been no injuries due to problems with the aircraft in Japan, Australia, or South Korea, and in the limited instances where a problem with the aircraft has occurred, the RMAX has either been safely landed and shut down by the pilot or fallen to the ground without personal injury. There have been no collisions with other aircraft,” the FAA states in its grant of exemption. The complete grant of exemption can be found on the FAA website
The Yamaha RMAX is on display this week at Unmanned Systems 2015 in Atlanta, Ga. Mike Reyno Photo
In a statement, the Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International (AUVSI) — which is currently holding the Unmanned Systems 2015 trade show in Atlanta, Ga. — applauded the FAA’s decision to grant the exemption.
“This latest exemption continues to highlight the tremendous potential UAS have in agriculture, helping farmers to more safely, effectively and efficiently manage their crops and improve yields,” stated AUVSI president and CEO Brian Wynne. “Yamaha’s exemption represents the first time the agency has approved a UAS for crop-spraying and it is also the largest platform granted permission to operate in the U.S.”
According to a recent AUVSI report, precision agriculture could soon account for up to 80 percent of the commercial UAS market in the U.S. In addition to crop spraying, emerging agricultural markets for UAS include crop and livestock monitoring.  

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