Drone and Manned Aircraft Collisions on the Rise

I recently wrote about the police drone collision in Canada where the drone struck a Cessna 172 causing damage to the propeller, engine, and cowling.

But that turns out to not be the first or only such occurrence.

At the end of 2020, a Cessna 182 Turbo struck a drone at 1,800 feet MSL in the Netherlands that resulted in similar damage to the propeller and cowling of the airplane. A Royal Netherlands Air Force helicopter was nearby and performed an aerial inspection to make sure it was safe to land.

Helicopters and airplanes are not new to aerial collisions. Birds have always been an issue. But striking a drone is entirely different. Birds don’t come with lithium batteries and the mechanics of the impact are different as well given the difference in the construction of a bird and a drone.

Last week an American Airlines flight operated by Envoy struck a drone on departure out of Chicago O’Hare. The impact occurred as the aircraft was climbing out at 2,500 feet MSL.

Air-ground communications show the crew of a JetBlue Embraer 190, departing the same runway for Boston about 1min before the Envoy service, notified Chicago tower controllers of a “drone” in the area.

The JetBlue crew told the controller that they saw a drone “right over that pond” to their left at about 1,000ft as the aircraft crossed a highway after take-off.

Flight Global stated, “There is no immediate confirmation that the drone observed by the JetBlue crew was the same object the Envoy crew reported striking.”

In January there was a collision between a Mavic drone and a Bell UH-57B helicopter operated by the Chilean Navy. This collision resulted in a serious injury to the mechanic flying in the left seat in the helicopter.

The drone pierced the helicopter’s plexiglass windscreen, apparently striking the mechanic on the head.

Drone And Manned Aircraft Collisions On The Rise

“The incident happened in Santo Domingo, in the Valparaíso region of Chile. The pilot reportedly landed the helicopter and the injured individual could receive treatment at the Santo Domingo CESFAM (family health centre). He was later taken to a naval hospital. Authorities now report that he is in good health. The drone stayed within the helicopter and was recovered. And from the pictures, it appears to be a DJI Mavic Air 2. It weighs 0.57kg (1.26lbs), stated this website.

Drone And Manned Aircraft Collisions On The Rise
The drone in the incident. The black item on the left, is the drone’s camera and gimbal. Photo by @veekay122002 via Twitter

Clearly, these drone pilots were operating far outside the aviation regulations but it only takes a few uneducated or anti-authority drone pilots to cause more regulations to be promulgated that impact all.

Put that into context with a quote I heard yesterday from a Fire Chief, “I don’t care if we have to fly Beyond Visual Line of Sight (BVLOS) when a call requires it.” That attitude is only going to lead to more avoidable accidents.

When you put these incidents into context with the issues I raised in this recent SAR flight it appears public safety manned and unmanned pilots could benefit from establishing aerial coordination to help avoid a future disaster at an incident scene.

One experienced forest service pilot asked me why public safety does not have any sort of policies and procedures like the forest service does for UAS and airplane/helicopter coordination. That’s a great question and one there should be an answer for.

Keep in mind there has already been a public safety incident of a drone striking a police helicopter. According to the Department of Justice, ” Andrew Rene Hernandez, 22, pleaded guilty to one misdemeanor count of unsafe operation of an unmanned aircraft.

According to his plea agreement, on September 18, 2020, at approximately 12:18 a.m., Hernandez heard police vehicles driving near his residence and a police helicopter flying overhead. Curious about the commotion, Hernandez launched a drone that he owned toward the police activity and in the helicopter’s direction.

An LAPD helicopter operated by two police officers was flying towards a reported emergency at a pharmacy in Hollywood. As the helicopter approached the pharmacy, the pilot saw the drone and attempted to evade the unmanned aircraft.

Despite the evasive efforts, the drone stuck the helicopter, forcing the pilot to initiate an emergency landing. According to an affidavit filed with a criminal complaint in this case, “if the drone had struck the helicopter’s main rotor instead of the fuselage, it could have brought the helicopter down.”

LAPD officers located parts of the drone near the pharmacy and discovered a vehicle damaged by the drone as it fell from the sky. Further investigation, including a review of the drone’s camera and secure digital (SD) card, led to the identification of Hernandez as the drone’s operator, according to court documents.

United States District Judge George H. Wu scheduled an April 12 sentencing hearing, at which time Hernandez will face a statutory maximum sentence of one year in federal prison. – Source