MultiRotor Safety

An Airspace Lesson for Drone Pilots

Drones and Midair Collisions

View from the cockpit of a Lockheed Martin C-5 Galaxy.

To avoid real aircraft with your drone, all you need to do is fly below 400 feet Above Ground Level (AGL) and it’s all good, RIGHT?

Wrong. It is a little more complicated than that.

If you enjoy flying drones, even as a hobby – you’ve unwittingly thrown yourself into the world of aviation. As an aviator, there are certain responsibilities that inherently come with the territory. The moment you lift off and send your drone into the heavens, you become responsible for any damage or injury it may cause to property or people. This includes other aircraft, and is no small responsibility. It is important to understand how your actions can affect the lives of others both in the air and on the ground.

In this post I’ll run through some things drone pilots can do to minimize the risk of having a midair collision with full scale aircraft. I will also provide you with links to some helpful documents and online tools you can use to be a better, more knowledgeable drone pilot. I have flown both drones and normal aircraft which range in size/complexity – from a Cessna 152 to a C-5 Galaxy. Therefore this writing comes from a shared perspective.

How to reduce the risk of midair collisions with full scale aircraft:
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10 Ways to Avoid Being Annoying with your new DJI Phantom

DJI Phantom 2 Quadcopter
Ok folks, at this point there is really no way to fight it – so I am going to address this directly. Why, you ask?

Well, gone are the times when the only choices for getting up into the air with a MultiRotor Drone were either: 1) Fork over $10k+ for a ready to fly Draganflyer, or 2) Do all the research and learning necessary and then build one yourself. At this point in time a novice with no knowledge of radio control or Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) rules and regulations can order themselves up a DJI Phantom 2 Quadcopter for $679 and be in the air the same day. It is for those folks that I’m writing these 10 tips. While my headline here is meant to be a bit funny, the real intent of this list is to provide some practical tips that will keep people who are new to all this and those around them safe, and having fun. Fun is the point, isn’t it?

Here’s the short list on how not to be “one of those DJI Phantom guys(or girls)”:
1. Please understand that flying is a privilege and not a right.
2. Never fly over people.
3. Read your entire manual and the pilot training guide published by DJI before taking your first flight.
4. Do not rely on GPS position hold, return to home, or altitude hold to get you out of a bad situation.
5. Crawl before you walk. Or, flap those little wings before you go supersonic.
6. Don’t take your Phantom to the nearest well known landmark and go flying with it.
7. Please, pretty please – do not claim to run an aerial photography or video business the day after you purchase you Phantom.
8. Be aware of real air traffic in your area and stay below 400′ above ground level (AGL).
9. When you’re out flying and strangers ask you questions, just be cool.
10. Keep yourself and others clear of the propellers.

Here’s the long version:

1. Please understand that flying is a privilege and not a right. At this point in time hobby flying and commercial drone usage of our lightweight MultiRotors is a topic that is under attack by the media, politicians, and the Federal Aviation Administration. We need to be on our best behavior when in public and we must respect the fact that our privilege to fly may be heavily restricted if our actions are thoughtless. You are responsible for any damage or injuries caused by your Phantom, so live up to that responsibility.
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Journalist Sues CT Police Who Grounded His Drone (Phantom 2 Vision)

Issues with Drone JournalismPhoto Credit: Pedro Rivera

Every time there’s an idiot out there that does something to screw up this hobby and potentially my photography/video profession, I tend to take it personally. There was the Fool in Manhattan, another random nitwit flying over a crowd of people, and now our current journalist friend here. Thank you Mr. Pedro Rivera for bringing QuadCopters and Drone Photography into the public eye once again under a negative light.

The story goes like this: Mr. Pedro Rivera works as a freelance journalist (does that mean unemployed?) for WFSB Television in Connecticut. He was flying his little plastic toy Phantom 2 Vision over the site of a fatal accident scene; with a dead body still on site. The Hartford, CT Police Department were concerned for the victim’s privacy and in their attempt to control the accident site they asked him to stop flying in the area. Police then questioned Rivera and he was allowed to leave. He stated to police that he was not filming/photographing as a journalist for WFSB Television, but as a private citizen. Right, sure. He’s chasing accidents with a Phantom because he’s got nothing better to do with his time. I feel sorry for his family then. The only ID he had on his person was his WFSB TV ID card.

Turns out WFSB Television saw it fit to suspend Pedro Rivera for a week, while Connecticut Police investigated whether he did anything illegal. The police informed news agencies that they were concerned about officer safety as well as the possibility of the drone intruding on the victim’s privacy. Valid points – no family wants to see journalist post bodies of their dead relatives — anywhere or any time. What about public safety though guys? Rivera was flying in a populated area on a busy street with cars, pedestrians, accident victim(s), and emergency personnel running around. Not the best place to put a 2.5 lb flying white (potential) falling rock 200 feet into the air (the altitude he was allegedly flying at).
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Be Safe or Give Blood – MultiRotors, Safety, FAA Regulations

Please be warned, the video below is very graphic, so if you have a weak stomach – skip it.

As more new people get into MultiRotors and drones a very important topic needs to be addressed – Safety. The two videos on this page illustrate in a very blunt manner, just a few of the risks involved in operating these machines. Simply put, if safety practices are not learned very early on – a person can easily injure themselves or someone else. In the top video, the poor fellow essentially injures himself by forgetting to unplug the battery before picking up a faulty machine. He was left with stitches and nerve damage. In the video below, a photographer flies a small quadcopter into the groom’s head while filming at a wedding. Only minor injuries with this one, but it could have been worse. Both accidents would have been avoided if basic safety protocol was followed.

MultiRotor manufacturers are working overtime to put user friendly MultiRotors in the hands of more of the mainstream populous because it’s good for their business. The are readily using phrases such as “can be flown by anyone”, without really considering that they may in fact be placing a lightweight weapon into the hands of an idiot who possesses little to no judgement. The problem for us non-idiots is the same as it has been since the dawn of man…some idiot is going to ruin the fun for the rest of us, and soon. There needs to be some sort of safety education that occurs whenever a new person decides they want to put a MultiRotor into the air. I would say that part of the responsibility to provide this safety education should rest with those companies who decide to build and sell “easy to fly” MultiRotors. The rest of the responsibility rests with our government and with our current community of flyers. To do my part, I finally got down to starting the learning section of this website — and guess what the first part covers?
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Irresponsible Human Crashes DJI Phantom into NYC Sidewalk

NEW YORK, NY – September 30th, 2013

I’ve told all my friends that it was bound to happen sooner or later, and sure enough it happened today – a MultiRotor fell out of the sky and onto a busy New York City street. It nearly hit a businessman, who was on his way home from work. “My first thought was, ‘Someone’s done something reckless,’ ” the man told ABC/7. “They made an active decision to fly something that they don’t have control over, obviously, through the most crowded city in the most crowded time of the day.”

As you’ll see in the news video above and full video below, the operator of this DJI Phantom Quadcopter is clearly a novice and had no business flying over an area known to be congested by commuting human beings.
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