Remote-control aircraft pilot Raphael “Trappy” Pirker blurs the lines separating hobby, art, and madness. A master of the new first-person view, or FPV, wing of the radio-control aircraft scene, with fliers piloting their relatively-tiny planes over relatively-great distances by means of remote on-board cameras, Trappy has garnered attention—and no small amount of controversy—with a recent series of flights over Manhattan, the Statue of Liberty, and the Brooklyn Bridge.
Trappy’s aircraft didn’t come from the local hobby shop, and he didn’t learn his skills from the pages of Popular Mechanics and Boys Life. His custom-modified rig costs more than two thousand dollars, and involves a hefty dose of engineering. The range and power of the RC units with planes of this calibre is astounding; Trappy, who set the long-range record of 27 miles for an RC craft, suggests elsewhere that his system’s range may top out at 120 miles.
Before taking off over New York City, Trappy honed his skills not only by flying long distances, but by buzzing the cliffs and ramparts of the Alps. This video of a previous record-breaking flight shows the mountain fastnesses into which Trappy peers—and his touchdown near a friend’s house to switch out the batteries on the way home (at 1:10) is a pretty neat trick:
While spectacular, the NYC flights have caused a measure of controversy in the RC world and beyond. (The safety measures Trappy and his team took, discussed in this interview, are fairly persuasive.) Looking beyond the immediate risk of crashing into buildings or people, some have suggested that Trappy has “shown the terrorists how to attack NYC.” But of course they already had that figured out long ago—and with long-distance armed drones in the international arms mix, the prospect of a weaponized RC airplane like the miniscule Ritewing Zephyr would seem a remote and minor affair. Indeed, the magic of Trappy’s stunt, at once antic and breathtaking—like Philippe Petit’s long-ago taut-wire act between the twin towers—might just help give back the New York skies to joy and wonder.[via Singularity Hub]