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EU Toys Technology

Record-Breaking 11000ft Flight Sparks Criticism In Pilot Community 233

An anonymous reader writes: In an attempt to break the world 'how high can you fly a consumer drone' record, an anonymous person from the Netherlands flew a Phantom 2 Quadcopter to a height of up to 3.4 km. That is more than 3 km above the maximum European Union legal height of 120 meters, which has applied since July 1, 2015 to hobby drones. Undoubtedly he set a new record of sorts, which also led to substantial discussions among the drone pilot community on the safe use of drones. At a height of 3.4 kilometers or 11000 feet you can indeed run into regular air traffic, or cause a lot of damage in case of a crash. Fortunately not in this flight -- but the battery had only 4% capacity at the moment of landing.
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Record-Breaking 11000ft Flight Sparks Criticism In Pilot Community

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  • by tlambert ( 566799 ) on Saturday March 05, 2016 @07:30PM (#51645715)

    So what you are actually saying... "but the battery had only 4% capacity at the moment of landing" ...is that these things need better/bigger batteries.

    • Battery life is the main reason I won't buy a drone. 1-2 hours to charge for 10-20 minutes of flight. It's not worth it. I'm sure if I built my own I could up the battery capacity but that's to much work not to mention to expensive. Guess in time.
    • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

      by Anonymous Coward

      Much bigger! Nuclear batteries. So they can fly even higher!

      • Much bigger! Nuclear batteries. So they can fly even higher!

        Higher, thus closer to the big yellow blob of a fusion power plant. I wonder if there's a technology to harness that...

      • by mikael ( 484 )

        It would seem easier to use a Helium balloon to do the lifting bit, then use a parachute to do the falling bit, then the battery to do the landing bit.

        Get the size of the balloon just right for neutral buoyancy, and the motors would only be needed for movement/stabilisation and not lift.

        • It would seem easier to use a Helium balloon to do the lifting bit, then use a parachute to do the falling bit, then the battery to do the landing bit.

          On a drone platform, out to sea, right? Because that's the smartest place to land things which have been at high altitude...

    • It is not much about the capacity of the batteries which are pretty constant in the last couple of years. The flight time is function of weight and energy efficiency with the battery capacity being constant. In other words, if you add battery capacity, you add weight and then the drone doesn't necessary fly longer.

      It is quite cool that DJI's line of Phantom models went from like 6 min flight time (with FPV) to 28 min flight time (with FPV, 3 axis gimbals, camera, collision detection and avoidance, much long

  • But honestly, what's the likelihood?

    • Big Sky, Small Plane Theory
    • by maxrate ( 886773 ) on Saturday March 05, 2016 @08:57PM (#51646063)
      I'm a pilot, but I love drones, built a quad copter 3 years ago, a DIY job - at 11,000', sorry to say, possibility of impact is exceptionally high. Best case scenario, damage to manned aircraft in the tens of thousands - Worst case scenario - injury and loss of life. Probability of merely tens of thousands of dollars of damage = low, probability of loss of life = high. This isn't about killing anyone's fun flying the drones....- this is about the real (and not far fetched) danger of me and my passengers losing our lives due to someone taking some aerial photography or just messin' about. Drones need to be regulated, there needs to be safe guards installed. Don't think for a minute a pilot would spot one of these little drones and be able to avoid it. We really are at your mercy, airplanes are not big strong 'tanks' people think they are. They have thin skin, structures to withstand (only) aerodynamic lift properties. In the sky, avoidance is paramount. Also, geese/birds aren't made of plastic and metal, they are flesh and bone is which 'can blend' (if we're lucky). Metal and plastic parts colliding will certainly elevate our chances of surviving an impact. Folks talk about 'rights' in flying these drones, what about my 'right' to survive? We need rules, we need folks to abide by them, we need everyone to get along. BY THE WAY: As far as flying, come get a pilot license!! I did the drone thing, flying the 'real' thing is so much more enjoyable. The general aviation community is relatively small, we always welcome more folks in the sky - G/A is a great hobby, meet lots of people, lot's of places to travel to.
      • by Anonymous Coward

        A drone in a 3km cubes (say 7.28 ^ 11 positions) overlapping a plane (say 50m x 50m x 50m, 216000 positions).

        We're looking at numbers of the order of 1 ^ 18 for simple instantaneous collission, say it passes 1000 of these cubes, 1 in 1 ^ 15.

        But that assumes pure random chance, that the drone pilot never sees the plane. Which is unlikely.

        Put this in context there are BILLIONS of birds in the sky, do you want to regulate them too?

        • There aren't billions of birds at 11,000 feet.

          And at low altitudes where planes commonly are (e.g. around airports) we scare them away with rockets or outright kill them.

          • There aren't billions of drones either.

            Ok let's ignore the AC for a moment and look at facts:

            From wikipedia: Estimating that 80% of bird strikes are unreported, there were 4,300 bird strikes listed by the United States Air Force and 5,900 by US civil aircraft in 2003.
            The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) estimates bird strikes cost US aviation 400 million dollars annually and have resulted in over 200 worldwide deaths since 1988.

            Now compare that to drones:

            Zero recorded strikes.
            Zero recorded fatalities.

      • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

        by Anonymous Coward

        at 11,000', sorry to say, possibility of impact is exceptionally high. Best case scenario, damage to manned aircraft in the tens of thousands - Worst case scenario - injury and loss of life. Probability of merely tens of thousands of dollars of damage = low, probability of loss of life = high.

        Your comment conjures numbers out of thin air with no evidence to back them up. What is "exceptionally high" to you? 1 in 100? 1 in 10,000? 1 in 1,000,000? Same question to your "high" probability for loss of life. How did you arrive at these conclusions?

        And when you appeal to your authority as a pilot, are you talking commercial airliner or Cessna 172?

        • You make the assumption that numbers are everything. In the Marine Corps, as an Artillery Operation Chief, we had to calculate air corridors for just this reason. While it is actually "little bullet big sky", the planning is "big bullet little sky". Why? Because the probability may be low. The possibility is always catastrophic. It is easy for an artillery man (or drone) to adjust his trajectory to avoid these corridors, it is impossible for a pilot to avoid something he cannot see. Even if you see th
      • Sorry, I meant to mod the parent post (+1, Interesting), but mis-scrolled and so modded up the idiot AC's reply instead. So I'll just post this to say thanks for sharing some real world perspective, and to cancel the AC mod.

      • by thegarbz ( 1787294 ) on Sunday March 06, 2016 @06:31AM (#51647621)

        sorry to say, possibility of impact is exceptionally high.

        For a pilot you have an unbelievably poor concept of risk evaluation.

        You're not the New York subway. You don't have a machine taking up 100% of the available moving space every 5 minutes. You have a plane 5m x 10m (generously) trying to strike something the size of a football by random chance within an area defined by several cubic kilometers.

        The possibilities of a strike happening by accident are TINY. The possibilities of a strike happening on purpose when someone actually tries to fly in the path of an aircraft equally would require a level of luck / skill that is borderline unachievable. Seriously I'm more concerned about terrorists, far more concerned about terrorists which is saying something because I don't give terrorism a second thought.

        The best chance that someone who tries to strike an aircraft has is by flying on the approach path to the runway, even then there's a massive amount of luck and effort involved in actually making it happen. And I agree idiots flying a drone around an airport should get thrown into a spinning turbine.

        • by maxrate ( 886773 )
          Respectfully, I don't think you can totally discredit what I have written simply due to the fact we have a disagreement on what 'possibility exceptionally high' is. Fact is, I'm up in the sky - there have been close calls with drones on aircraft already. It will happen one day. I have had a close call with a goose at 5,500'. I have only 184 hours of experience in the sky. Please don't get your undies in a knot without realizing I'm on the same team as the pilots AND the same team as the drone enthusiast
        • You are talking about one drone. Chances may be slim. Sure, this person in the middle of nowhere in the Netherlands isn't going to hit a plane. But if there is no regulation though, how about a flash mob of drones around the airport? What are the chances now?
    • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

      by Anonymous Coward

      The FAA was created when two planes flew into each other.

      With as many reckless operators, they are ensuring it's simply a question of when, not if.

    • It's not just about the even being unlikely - it's also about the consequences when it does happen. A one in a million event that dents someone's pride? No biggie. A one in million event that can result in multiple deaths or a mass casualty event? That's something to be concerned about.

    • If anyone and their mother start flying drones high enough, it is sadly a matter of time.

    • The chances [dailymail.co.uk] are [cnet.com] pretty [nbclosangeles.com] good [nbcnews.com] actually [latimes.com]. And that's just the first page of Google hits (ignore the one fake video).

      The near misses are happening frequently enough that there will eventually be a hit, likely several. Do you really want to stick your head in the sand and pretend there's no problem until there's loss of life? Aviation regulatory agencies like the FAA are frequently criticized for being too reactionary - not addressing problems until after there's been loss of life. They are attempting to
    • Far too much hype (from the media, the FAA and a bunch of pilots who realize that drones may eventually take their jobs). How about we consult a real "straight shooting" former US military pilot who now works for a major US airline as a passenger jet Captain?

      Airliners vs drones, calm down [wordpress.com]

      I think this guy (who puts his life on the line every day) is a far more credible source of information than a bunch of FAA bureaucrats and a media focused on creating click-bait headlines.

  • Serious question: if an aircraft were to hit or suck one of these things into its engines, what would happen? I would imagine that a flimsy construction of metal and plastic would simply vapourize (or glance off if just hitting the exterior) and do no harm. Certainly compared to a goose or other weighty bird, a drone seems like a pretty insubstantial thing.
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward

      There is speculaton that the lithium batteries could explode if sucked into the jet engine, with unknown effect.

      Geese rarely explode under similar conditions.

    • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

      by Nutria ( 679911 )

      Airplanes are made from relatively thin aluminum, and travel at hundreds of miles/hour. Thus, a hovering 2 kg drone struck by an airplane flying at 200 mph would generate a force of 640 kiloNewtons (5x the thrust of an F100's jet engine.

      • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

        by GrahamCox ( 741991 )
        I'll take your word for the figure, but that assumes that a) it's a head-on collision and b) the 640kN would be absorbed by the plane rather than the drone. Since the airflow around the plane is designed to flow smoothly, as the aircraft approached the drone would be deflected into the airstream and flow with it (being far lighter than the plane), so if it did hit it would not be anything like a head-on collision. But assuming that it was a worst-case scenario and did hit part of the plane hard enough to ge
        • by Nutria ( 679911 )

          that assumes that a) it's a head-on collision

          The stated assumption was hovering 2 kg drone struck by an airplane, so by definition it's head-on, since otherwise it wouldn't hit the drone.

          the drone would be deflected into the airstream and flow with it (being far lighter than the plane)

          Possibly. But even a glancing strike would do damage to the very thin aluminum.

        • by Kjella ( 173770 )

          Air is very compressible, there "air cushion" ahead of an airplane is really short and not very significant compared to the speed of the aircraft, the wake behind is another story entirely. It might move slightly off center so hitting the tip of the nose is unlikely but the relative impact velocity or angle of strike won't change much. That said, I'm not sure the relative difference between bird flesh and drone metal is all that significant at these speeds, with 200 mph difference hitting anything is like a

        • by rwyoder ( 759998 ) on Saturday March 05, 2016 @10:46PM (#51646475)

          Google Image search of "birdstrike aircraft": https://www.google.com/search?... [google.com]

          Now explain to all those birds that they should have been deflected around the aircraft.

        • by Nemyst ( 1383049 )
          The speed of an airplane makes your entire argument fall apart. The drone wouldn't be deviated much at all, it just wouldn't have the time to. At best, it'd get deviated towards a wing, which would be in no way better, and either way its speed on impact would remain drastically lower than that of the airplane, so it'd be for all intents and purposes a head-on collision. Also, the energy dissipated by the drone disintegrating would be minor, the rest would be transferred to the plane. A drone-airplane crash
    • What happens when something goes into the engine that shouldn't?

      Duck meets jet engine
      https://www.youtube.com/watch?... [youtube.com]

      granted the Phantom 2 weighs much less than the average duck but what about the drones that weigh more? Or are made of tougher materials?

      Now that the Internet chatter is about "record breaking" you can bet people are going to start trying to break the record. And they will start using bigger drones to do it.

    • by mikael ( 484 )

      Jet engines are designed to withstand the ingestion of a frozen turkey (at least not to explode and send blades flying through the aircraft). That's how they test them - there's a chicken cannon that is used to test that the engines can withstand bird impacts:

      https://www.youtube.com/watch?... [youtube.com]

      https://www.youtube.com/watch?... [youtube.com]

      • by geoskd ( 321194 )

        there's a chicken cannon that is used to test that the engines can withstand bird impacts:

        True, but ingesting things like that cause the affected engine to have to shut down. Running on reduced engine power is always dangerous for an aircraft, as they are now one failure closer to a fail-deadly condition, not to mention that the level of excitement created by an engine failure creates an atmosphere where pilots are running on adrenaline and are consequently more likely to make fatal mistakes.

        • by mikael ( 484 )

          I agree. Just look at the videos. They're impressive from a VFX perspective, but having a $150 million piece of high-precision engineering turned into several tonnes of scrap metal that is likely to fall off at any moment is not a good situation for the pilot, passengers or airline.

      • SOME planes are rated for bird strikes at takeoff speed. You'll notice in the second video a bunch of planes with major damage from bird strikes.

        This confusion led to a humorous moment on Mythbusters. They wanted to test the story about frozen chickens vs thawed, but even their thawed chickens kept going right through the aircraft. It turns out the junked aircraft they used for testing was not rated for bird strikes. Many (most?) general aviation planes aren't.

        • Many (most?) general aviation planes aren't.

          Probably because most general aviation planes are going slow enough that even a blind cripple of a bird can still avoid them. How many cars hit birds each year? How many cars are hit by birds targeting them? ;)

      • Jet engines are designed to withstand the ingestion of a frozen turkey (at least not to explode and send blades flying through the aircraft). That's how they test them - there's a chicken cannon that is used to test that the engines can withstand bird impacts:

        In this case, the turkey is on the ground.

      • by PPH ( 736903 )

        Jet engines are designed to withstand the ingestion of a frozen turkey

        Nope. Not frozen.

        There's a joke about this somewhere.

    • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

      by Anonymous Coward

      For jets, the maximum speed is frequently it's maximum rating for the windshield to withstand a bird strike. Once you're above roughly 8000 feet airspeed can frequently start climbing well past safe speeds from this perspective. This is because most strikes occur at or near airports. And once you're clear of the airport the odds of bird strike is dramatically reduced. At these speeds, you can easily kill a pilot and perhaps two. You can easily kill everyone on a jet. Control of an aircraft is difficult once

    • by AJWM ( 19027 )

      I would imagine that a flimsy construction of metal and plastic would simply vapourize (or glance off if just hitting the exterior) and do no harm.

      That's what they thought about the foam plastic insulation on the fuel tank of the shuttle Columbia, and we know how that turned out.

      Energy is proportional to the square of the (relative) velocity.

    • Aircraft are designed to survive bird strikes with minimal damage, and engines are designed to survive ingesting birds. Drones might present a problem because they contain small hard metal parts in the motors. Its not clear that a jet engine could survive that.

      The odds of hitting an aircraft are pretty low but mid-air collisions do happen with aircraft, and they show up on radar and pilots who are actively trying to avoid collisions.

      • Aircraft are designed to survive bird strikes with minimal damage, and engines are designed to survive ingesting birds.

        No, they're designed to not fail catastrophically and cut the rest of the plane in half with incredibly energetic chunks of turbine blade flying out. What they're not generally designed to do is survive in an operational manner.

    • by scsirob ( 246572 )

      For the really big passenger planes up there it would cause substantial damage but probably no immediate danger. For the smaller General Aviation aircraft, a 2kg brick-in-the-sky is lethal. It will kill the single engine, it will pierce the wing, it will kill the pilot if it hits the windshield.

      This guy has shown totally irresponsible behavior. There's rules for a reason and aviation isn't a playground. However unlikely, he willingly took the risk of killing people and should be dealt with accordingly.

  • Idioot brengt hobbydrone tot hoogte van 3,4 km

    Today I learned the Dutch for "idiot."

  • by DNS-and-BIND ( 461968 ) on Saturday March 05, 2016 @09:23PM (#51646153) Homepage
    The only conclusion I can draw from stunts like this is that quadcopter enthusiasts want quadcopters eliminated. Because this is precisely this bullshit that is going to get them banned, and yet again and again we hear these stories. If they would just be cool, and be responsible with their quadcopters, things would be great. But noooooo, that's not happening. You'd figure the Dutch would be especially sensitive after Malaysia Airlines Flight 17, but noooooo. So, government is going to step in and take away their toys before we lose an airliner.
    • by Max_W ( 812974 )
      Just as a matter of record, there was not a single collision of a quadcopter with a manned aircraft in the whole world.
  • by Toad-san ( 64810 ) on Saturday March 05, 2016 @09:28PM (#51646175)

    3KM or so is impressive enough I suppose. But now I'm waiting for someone to take a C-130 up to 25,000 feet or so, lower the tailgate, and toss a drone out the back :-) Then start orbiting (the C-130), and let the drone climb as high from there as it can. I wonder what it would max out at? Might be better to make more efficient high altitude props on the drone for the thin air up there.

    I'm also wondering if a drone can autorotate if its batteries went flat.

    • I bet it can use it's props for autorotate, but unless you can generate some power from it, you don't have any form of control as the battery is flat. Those drones don't look like they're exactly aerodynamically stable enough for this.

      What I do wonder is how much difference it makes for the final impact when falling from 120m or 3400m. I expect the 120m to be enough to reach terminal velocity.

  • Would not the fans on a drone go into autorotation just like a helicopter if the propulsion failed?
    • by rwyoder ( 759998 )

      Would not the fans on a drone go into autorotation just like a helicopter if the propulsion failed?

      Auto-rotation requires changing the collective pitch from positive to negative.
      How many drones are on sale with variable-pitch propellors?

  • by davidwr ( 791652 ) on Saturday March 05, 2016 @09:45PM (#51646243) Homepage Journal

    Air-traffic authorities should provide for this sort of thing by allowing trained (licensed?) hobbyists to file a flight plan ahead of time, to give the authorities time to say "no, the airspace is busy at the time you requested" or "yes, go ahead, we've put you in the system and will alert other airspace users of your presence. Please use transponder code ABCXYZ."

    • by tlhIngan ( 30335 ) <slashdot.worf@net> on Sunday March 06, 2016 @08:18AM (#51647791)

      Air-traffic authorities should provide for this sort of thing by allowing trained (licensed?) hobbyists to file a flight plan ahead of time, to give the authorities time to say "no, the airspace is busy at the time you requested" or "yes, go ahead, we've put you in the system and will alert other airspace users of your presence. Please use transponder code ABCXYZ."

      They do, actually. Rocketry enthusiasts routinely submit NOTAMs (Notice to Airmen) to the FAA for distribution notifying that areas of airspace are to be closed off for rocket flights. Granted, these vehicles routinely reach anywhere from 1000' to 30,000' so they just close it all off.

      And I believe in the areas allowed, it's actually marked on charts as restricted airspace so you must fly around it or get permission from the controlling authority.

      Of course, the problem is this usually takes place far away from civilization into basically deserted areas (also far away from popular air routes). which takes a lot of fun out of the whole thing when you have to drive 2-3 hours to get to the cleared area, but it means no one is even close to being put in danger.

      Right now, we're relying on big sky theory ("see and avoid"). It works, most of the time, until your big sky gets a little crowded. Near misses happen pretty routinely, even under control of ATC. It's also why ADS-B is a new and exciting technology - before that, smaller aircraft don't usually have TCAS systems, while the bigger airlines do. (Proactive pilots routinely purchased "PCAS" Personal Collision Avoidance Systems - basically a portable transponder receiver that works identically to a TCAS except it can't do a TCAS negotiation). A TCAS to TCAS link means two aircraft converging would communicate for a non-conflicting resolution - one will climb, the other emergency descent. A TCAS advisory is considered so important, they are to be immediately obeyed even if it goes against ATC. (In the early days of TCAS, this did cause collisions).

      ADS-B tries to provide same but is available to all.

      And let's just say TCAS advisories, PCAS advisories and ADS-B traffic displays have been praised by many a pilot.

  • This surely won't be the last such attempt of going for height records. People always like to seek limits and surpass them. The only thing I can really fault this person for is not notifying air traffic control about the attempt.

    A more sensible idea over an outright ban would be a mechanism to allow for such attempts. Weather balloons routinely go way higher than these drones, and don't cause problems, so why can't drones be treated like them? Get similar regulations/licenses/whatever as there are for ballo

  • There are many comments about the odds of hitting a bird... But don't birds actively try to avoid hitting planes?
    • I was in an aircraft that ate a goose during takeoff. The plane turned around and landed no problem, but we still had to change aircraft because they wanted to do a full check of the engine. Not a "meh, looks good to me" scenario.

  • Why not take your drone to a high mountain and launch it there
    Quite a few mountains are more than 11,000 feet

  • It is in the USA 400 feet, or 121.6 meters, but in Europe it is 150 meters. UAVs can fly up to 150 meters.
  • There is a lot of talk of civil UAVs flying here and there causing a risk, but there was not a single test of an actual collision between and UAV and manned aircraft. Similar testing is done for cars, for aircraft and birds extensively but for some reason not for UAVs.

    An UAV could be constructed being frangible after 200 km/h speed collision. And by this not causing any harm to the manned aircraft.
    • You realize some consumer drones are huge and can actually carry cargo, right? There's a reason for the ceiling and there is a reason there are no-fly zones around airports. I'm pretty sure we don't need testing to know that an aircraft slamming into an 8 rotor drone with an aluminium body carrying a camera, a bunch of batteries, and a delivery package would not be a good scenario.

      • by CBravo ( 35450 )
        Although, if you keep a max ceiling of 120 meters, I'm not sure why the area around the airfield is chosen to be so large. No aircraft will fly that low unless he is in the pattern.
    • by PPH ( 736903 )

      I suppose any UAV manufacturer could step up and pay Boeing or GE to conduct certification tests on some airframes or engines with their product.

  • Choose one, not both.

  • by nehumanuscrede ( 624750 ) on Sunday March 06, 2016 @06:02PM (#51649845)

    Before someone counters with " omgthinkoftheplanes " the only reason this is even IN the news is because it contains the word " Drone " somewhere within it.

    How many photos have you seen of folks strapping various items to balloons with a Go-Pro attached taking selfies of said items with the Earths curvature as the backdrop ?

    I would think they are just as much a hazard to aircraft as any drone, yet no one is running about in a panic or demanding legislation requiring folks register their balloons when purchased :|

    Seriously news types, drones are nothing new. RC craft have been around quite a while so find somthing else to sensationalize if you wouldn't mind.

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