CFI Brief: Drone vs. Aircraft at 238 MPH!

Reports of small unmanned aircraft systems, or drones as they are commonly called, operating within the vicinity of airports without authorization is on the rise. Drone ownership has skyrocketed in the past few years and everyone from teenagers to government agencies have their hands on one. The increase of drones being spotted near and close to airports is a direct correlation to the number of drones operating within the National Airspace System. The responsible and safe operation of drones is a pressing concern for the Federal Aviation Administration, with a focus on maintaining separation of unmanned and manned aircraft.

The overwhelming majority of owners operate in a responsible and safe manner, however there are those select few who choose to either push the boundaries or just ignore the rules all together. Whether or not owners are ignoring rules because they choose not to follow them or because they simply do not know the rules varies. If you ask me, I think it’s a little bit of both.

It’s important as a drone operator to understand that these rules or regulations are in place to prevent mid-air collisions between manned aircraft and unmanned aircraft. Such a collision has the likelihood of resulting in a catastrophic crash and loss of life.

The University of Dayton Research Institute recently conducted testing to determine the outcome of a small unmanned aircraft system colliding with the wing of a small single engine general aviation aircraft. The below video shows the result of a DJI Phantom 2 Quadcopter impacting the wing of a Mooney M20 aircraft at a combined impact speed of 238 miles per hour.

You can see the result is devastating to both aircraft involved.

Fortunately to date there have been very few collisions reported between unmanned and manned aircraft. One such incident took place over Canada in 2017 when a drone collided with a passenger plane coming in for landing at an altitude of 1,500 feet. This is the first known incident involving a collision between a passenger plane and a drone. Another incident took place over New York when a drone collided with an Army Helicopter monitoring the United Nations General Assembly. The drone had been operating out of line-of-sight and within a Temporary Flight Restriction (TFR). The incident resulted in substantial damage to the helicopters rotor blade but was able to make a safe landing (the helicopter, not the drone).

In the case of the drone versus Army helicopter, the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) investigated and was able to find the owner and operator of the drone. During an interview with the operator he was asked if he understood the rules pertaining to drone operations. The owner stated he knew to stay below 400 feet and out of class B airspace, however did not know about further airspace restrictions like TFRs.

The NTSB found the probable cause of the crash to be “the failure of the drone pilot to see and avoid the helicopter due to his intentional flight beyond visual line of sight. Contributing to the incident was the drone pilot’s incomplete knowledge of the regulations and safe operating practices.”

This incident is a great example of a pilot both pushing the boundaries and not being 100% familiar with the rules.

If you don’t want to find yourself in a situation like the one above, become familiar with the National Airspace System and Regulations surrounding drone operations. This will make you a safer, more competent drone operator. There are several books and programs available in the marketplace to help you learn this knowledge. One I would like to recommend is ASA Virtual Test Prep for Remote Pilots. This is a compressive ground school containing five-hours worth of on screen instruction covering regulations, the National Airspace System, weather, preflight considerations, and flight operations. The videos are available as individual lessons or as a set. Check them out!

Virtual Test Prep Remote Pilot Set

Virtual Test Prep Remote Pilot Individual Lessons

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