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How A Civilian Drone Crashed Into the US Army's Helicopter (arstechnica.com) 141

"In September, Slashdot reported on an in-flight collision between an Army UA60 helicopter and a hobby drone over Staten Island," writes Slashdot reader ElizabethGreene. "The NTSB has released its final report on the incident, blaming the drone pilot." Ars Technica reports: After waiting 30 minutes, [drone-owner] Tantashov assumed there had been a mechanical malfunction and that his drone had fallen into the water. He returned home. A week later, Tantashov received a call at work. It was an investigator from the National Transportation Safety Board... Would Tantashov be surprised to learn, the investigator asked, that his drone had not crashed into the water?

And that it had instead slammed into the main rotor of a US Army-operated Sikorsky UH-60M Black Hawk helicopter that was patrolling for the UN General Assembly in Manhattan? And that it had put a 1.5-inch dent in said rotor and led to the helicopter diverting back to its New Jersey base...? As the recently completed NTSB report on the incident puts it, "several [drone] components were lodged in the helicopter."

The drone's serial number was still legible on its motor, and investigators were able to track down its owner by contacting the manufacturer, who'd maintained a record of the sale. The drone's owner said he'd been unaware of "temporary flight restrictions" in effect that night, and "said that he relied on 'the app' to tell him if it was OK to fly." But for two months DJI had disabled the feature that checks for temporary flight restrictions (to perform troubleshooting), and the NTSB notes that that feature "is intended for advisory use only," and it's the responsibility of drone pilots to comply with FAA airspace regulations.

The NTSB also faults the drone's owner for letting it fly out of his line of sight.
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How A Civilian Drone Crashed Into the US Army's Helicopter

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  • by hierofalcon ( 1233282 ) on Saturday December 30, 2017 @06:22PM (#55836435)

    How much does a rotor blade on a UH-60M run anyway?

  • by Templer421 ( 4988421 ) on Saturday December 30, 2017 @06:29PM (#55836453)

    Going to have to start hardening aircraft against drone strikes.

    Many are already hardened against bird strikes like Canadian Geese.

    • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday December 30, 2017 @06:40PM (#55836501)

      Use a thawed drone.

    • by arth1 ( 260657 )

      Makes me wonder how these Black Hawk helicopters fare against flak and shrapnel.

      • by Nutria ( 679911 )

        Since the helicopter did not crash, they can obviously survive light shrapnel.

    • by Anonymous Coward

      That would make sense. If we followed the same logic we do with bird strikes as we do with geese, we should immediately fine any birds flying over 400 feet and within 5 miles of an airport.

      I would like to see President Trump kick all the Canadian Geese out of USAian skies though. They need to stay in Canadia where they belong.

      Death to Mexicans and Canadians walking or flying on USAian territory.

  • by p0p0 ( 1841106 ) on Saturday December 30, 2017 @06:46PM (#55836521)
    Ban assault drones!
  • They should have been looking out for drones.
    • by Anonymous Coward

      They could put a radar on these low-flying helicopters. One that goes "beep" when detecting small flying objects on a possible crash course. Hobbyist drones are not stealthy - they all have metal wires & motors in them. They may then avoid the drone without having to see it.

      • by arth1 ( 260657 )

        If it hadn't been in an urban area, I'd say it would be a nice time for target practice.

  • by King_TJ ( 85913 ) on Saturday December 30, 2017 @08:25PM (#55836887) Journal

    First? Yeah, I agree that this drone operator was being irresponsible. You shouldn't really be able to accidentally crash into a helicopter or airplane with one, IMO. That only happens when you're flying one way out of line of sight range and probably only when you fly in airspace that's fairly busy.

    Second? I feel like right after finally taking the plunge and investing a decent sum of money into a quality drone setup myself, the laws are just starting to appear at a fast and furious pace, to regulate what I can and can't do with this thing. We've got Trump demanding FAA registrations of drones must go on again, as part of some national security bill. We've got DJI pushing the "Aeroscope" tech to all the DC big-wigs, so anyone buying their tool can intercept your RF communications with a drone in flight and grab all your telemetry and registration info. And stories are appearing about law enforcement wanting to use drones to patrol for crime (and by extension, further limit what hobbyists can do with one that might "interfere" with their uses for them).

    I'm not liking where all this is headed at all. My drone flights have been for such things as taking a video survey of the condition of my roof on my house. If I'm at risk of colliding with anything, it'll be some tree or utility line I accidentally flew into ... not other aircraft! Yet technically, I'm already flying in violation of the rules if I don't make an effort to report my intent to fly to a small airport in the next city over. (Realistically, I don't think I've ever seen a small plane fly over that would have come from that airport. It's just not a factor here. But the rules don't factor in common sense.... only how miles away from the nearest airport.)

    I just wanted a video camera that could film from overhead and a little fun flying a modern version of your typical R/C helicopter or plane. But now, they're blowing this hobby out of proportion. It's like wanting to build and fly model rockets from the old Estes or Centuri kits and everyone eyeing you as a potential terrorist threat for launching missiles.

    • by Anonymous Coward
      Ladders don't need charging, or governmental regulation.
      • falling off or through a roof is probably more risky than a careful hobby pilot crashing into anything.... much less hurting someone. Perhaps OP has a two-story home.. increasing the "ladder risk" you propose.

    • by E-Lad ( 1262 ) on Saturday December 30, 2017 @11:53PM (#55837391)

      Model rockets are in fact governed as aircraft in that one must also adhere to TFRs and other permanent airspace rules. The thing is that the typical Estes hobby rocket's incursion is so fleeting that it doesn't really matter, and the people engaged in this hobby are so comparatively few that they're pretty serious about it, along with handling things like tubes of packed black powder, that they generally don't cause trouble due to their innate sense of responsibility. The high-performance rocketeers even coordinate with the FAA to arrange NOTAMs and even TFRs for their activity so that other users of the airspace are notified and may plan accordingly.

      But, I have to say this - your attitude, though, does fit 2 of the 5 Aviation Hazardous Attitudes[1]. Remember, these regulations are *not* about YOU.

      Regulations cannot be tailor-made to everyone, and while you inspecting your roof with a drone 20 miles from the nearest airport is in reality a so-what deal, the FAA isn't going to spell out every possible exception to every FAR just to suit every drone-flying nerd in every possible situation. There are people (such as the one TFA is about) who completely flaunt the FARs and don't exercise even basic common sense on top of it. They don't understand that all drone pilots are now sharing airspace with actual aircraft, and thus all occupants of the airspace must play by the same rulebook. This matters most in the most congested airspace, and are largely the target audience of these rules.

      We already have stories from around the world where dumbasses are flying their drones along major airport approach and departure paths, with near-misses now being a common report. These rules, as draconian to the non-pilot normies as they may seem, are an attempt to get people to act straight and not do this shit because no one wants to find out the hard way what happens when a drone collides with an aircraft that's on climb-out - an aircraft that might be experiencing a flame-out on one engine due to unrelated problems, only to have a drone get sucked into the one remaining operational one. No one thought USAir 1549 would happen - until it actually did. Same goes for a lot of other accidents, be they mechanical, environmental, or human-caused.

      You have a drone, that's great. This also makes you a pilot. I highly suggest that you start thinking like one, and then follow that up with acting like one. Given your missive above, the below link would be a great place to start (and yes, these hazardous attitudes and their antidotes are questions indeed posed on the PPL written exam.)

      [1] http://aviationknowledge.wikid... [wikidot.com]

      • by djinn6 ( 1868030 )

        Regulations cannot be tailor-made to everyone, and while you inspecting your roof with a drone 20 miles from the nearest airport is in reality a so-what deal...

        It's actually 5 miles [faa.gov] from an airport.

        More importantly, if he is flying low over his own property (possibly as high as 500 feet AGL), FAA may not have any legal standing to regulate his use of it. At least according to the Supreme Court [wikipedia.org], such airspace is considered private property, not navigable airspace, and the government cannot interfere with "their possession and enjoyment of it or with any use they might conceivably make of it".

    • Yet technically, I'm already flying in violation of the rules if I don't make an effort to report my intent to fly to a small airport in the next city over. (Realistically, I don't think I've ever seen a small plane fly over that would have come from that airport. It's just not a factor here. But the rules don't factor in common sense.... only how miles away from the nearest airport.)

      That distance is five miles. You're within five miles of the nearest airport? I drive past one any time I go anyplace, pretty much, and yet I'm not within five miles of it. I'm just outside. I can't fly more than a quarter-mile or so towards the airport, but I can fly as far as I can see in any other direction.

      You can also just notify the airport via mail that you're going to be flying regularly in your area. You're still responsible for checking for no-fly zones, though.

      • by King_TJ ( 85913 )

        Yes.... just barely 5 miles from a small municipal airport. And sure, I could drive a little bit the opposite direction of it and find a place to fly that's outside that 5 mile range. But the point here is, I'd usually want to do videography of things in my own small town. There's not much of anything video-worthy out that other direction, outside of town.

        I'd be subject to far more restrictions if i lived closer to any of the nearby cities, because closer to the DC metro area you've got airports and "no fly

      • That distance is five miles. You're within five miles of the nearest airport? I drive past one any time I go anyplace, pretty much, and yet I'm not within five miles of it. I'm just outside

        I'm within 5 miles of about 13 airports. See, airport doesn't include just the places with the control towers. It also includes uncontrolled strips, and any place anyone's designated as a place to land a helicopter, which is not only the local hospitals but a few sports fields. The FAA claims I'm required to notify eac

  • so all it takes to bring down a military helicopter is a dozen or two dozen shitty drones ?

    well, that's gotta have the military none too happy

  • DJI’s “GEO” system did offer some guidance on TFRs, but it was problematic; according to the NTSB, DJI responded by disabling the TFR features in GEO some time in August 2017, not restoring it until October. Thus, “relying on the app” was of limited use in September, when Tantashov made his flight. In any event, DJI stresses that GEO is only an “advisory” system and that drone pilots are responsible for knowing what restrictions exist in their areas.

    Classic idiot software problem: There is a function called IsItSafe() and when the system does not know, it returned TRUE instead of FALSE. *facepalm* If it did not know for certain that there were no flight restrictions in place, it should have assumed that it was not safe! Better yet, it should display the message "Service temporarily disabled, check https://notams.aim.faa.gov/not... [faa.gov] for up-to-date flight restrictions."

    • by epine ( 68316 )

      Classic idiot software problem: There is a function called IsItSafe() and when the system does not know, it returned TRUE instead of FALSE. *facepalm* If it did not know for certain that there were no flight restrictions in place, it should have assumed that it was not safe! Better yet, it should display the message "Service temporarily disabled, check https://notams.aim.faa.gov/not... [faa.gov] for up-to-date flight restrictions."

      You got that right.

      And it's not like billions of dollars of sleek aerospace t

  • ... draft the drones. No more civilian ones.

  • by Harlequin80 ( 1671040 ) on Sunday December 31, 2017 @01:05AM (#55837539)

    Firstly you can't ban drones. The genie is out of the bottle and you can't shove it back. While DJI is the largest manufacturer of "ready to fly" drones you can build a drone very cheaply from readily available components. And unless you want to ban Arduinos or raspberry pis there isn't a way to control for the flight controllers, let alone trying to ban brushless motors.

    Secondly there is no question that the drone operator was at fault. The reasoning is he flew beyond visual range in an area that has a high amount of manned air traffic. While he was under 400ft at the time of the incident there is still too much air traffic to be flying beyond visual range.

    On the flip side though notams are difficult to read if your aren't familiar with the terminology. And accessing the information isn't simple and easy. Drones are not going away. What's more, at some point DJI will lose its dominant position and drones will be controlled by iNav, betaflight, cleanflight, ardupilot or what ever. All of which run on a generic STM chip. Regulation via manufacturer will not be possible either.

    Sure, it would be great if people used their brains more. But it aint happening. So steps need to be taken to mitigate risk. CASA, the Australian Civil Aviation Safety Authority, has released an app which contains real time air safety information which drone users can use to check if their location is ok to fly their drone. This should become the standard approach world wide.

  • If you check the actual FAA report, you will see that both craft are defined as "Helicopter" in that report.

    Therefore, this was a collision between like-craft.

    And it's also interesting to note that registration did nothing to either prevent the incident nor to track down the operator of the "unmanned" helicopter involved.

    So can someone explain why US drone owners have to register again?

  • Otherwise they are a menace. We cannot count on the general public operating drones safely, and a collision can result in catastrophe. Many aircraft fly at low altitude at points. Also, some drones can fly very high. They are aircraft, and they are too small to see from an airplane - they all need to have transponders.
    • Spotted the FAA lackey. If I have to put a $1500 transponder and a $600 GPS (all FAA approved, remember), each weighing a few ounces, plus the electrical system to support them, in an model aircraft which costs under $1000 and weighs about a pound, I might as well give it up. Especially since I have several such models. Obviously that's what the FAA wants; they don't want anything in the airspace (including an inch off the ground) not flown by a Real Pilot with thousands of hours of instruction and medic

      • I know it is burdensome, but consider what happens when a private aircraft with people on board strikes a drone - all the people are at risk of dying, and the damage to the aircraft can be catastrophic. Many amphibious sport aviation aircraft fly at low altitude over lakes or near local private runways - now pilots have to worry about someone flying a drone over the lake or near a private runway. It is just too risky. This is very serious. Perhaps the cost of the transponders will come down if all drones mu
        • I know it is burdensome

          The word you are looking for is "prohibitive". Look, if you want to argue for banning model aircraft, argue for banning model aircraft. Pretending a transponder regulation is some reasonable common-sense regulation when it amounts to prohibition is dishonest.

          Perhaps the cost of the transponders will come down if all drones must have them.

          And perhaps the check really is in the mail.

          • Hi. The difference is that model aircraft is a true hobby - people who use model aircraft are a small minority of the population, and are aficionados - they tend to be knowledgeable and responsible; whereas drones are mass marketed and every kid and goofball tends to have one. Drones also have cameras on them - I think most model aircraft don't - and so there is a tendency to want to send a drone far and wide to see what is there - violating the line of sight rules. There needs to be a way to either (1) re
  • Having software that claims to control for no-fly zones but fails to do so is a recipe for disaster, because it encourages people to use that software and believe that they're compliant. If I'm flying drones and know I need to check, then I can check in whatever ways are available to me (and acceptable methods for checking need to be determined and made public). If I fail to check, then obviously the fault is on me. But if I utilize tools that I chose because they said the checking was built-in and it turns

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