I crashed the helicopter whilst trying to avoid the pink unicorn galloping towards me, and not, not you understand, because I forgot where my tail-rotor was.
A helicopter has crashed after reportedly manoeuvring hard to avoid a "DJI Phantom quadcopter," in what could be the first confirmed aircraft accident involving a drone. The crash was first reported this week by telly station Live 5 News, in South Carolina, USA, which saw a copy of a police report stating that a Robinson R22 …
It's unclear how the handover of control from the student to the instructor was performed1 but It sounds as though the instructor may have panicked a bit; he certainly tried to execute a maneuver that was unsafe, given the close proximity to the ground.
As the closing speeds between heli & drone would have been relatively low, it would have been safer to let the drone collide with the heli than to try to avoid it, especially when you consider that the drone would have had to get through the downwash from the heli's rotor before striking it, and even if it did then I suspect that the most damage the drone would have caused would have been some cracked plexiglass (that's if the downwash hadn't blown the drone into or below the skids).
1If control was not clearly handed over then there would have been a short period of time when neither the instructor nor the student were in control.
SmarterEveryDay flew that exact model helicopter (R22) and it's larger cousin R44 with an instructor in this video:
There's some good footage showing how handover happens. Seems to me the instructor can be in control in a matter of seconds when/if needed.
Small helicopters have a double yoke. Each person in cockpit can easily reach and share the cyclic stick.
They also have doubled pedals, just as a dual control car does, so taking control of the tail rotor is a non-issue, basically informing the student "my aircraft".
The collective pitch control typically resembles an old-fashioned handbrake lever and sits between the seats.
So no real issue at all unless the student screams "NO! *MY* aircraft" and initiates a pissing match.
Thanks to some actual tests on aircraft components we know that the amount of damage a quadcopter can cause is quite limited, its certainly no worse than hitting a bird.
Its difficult to regulate stupidity but fortunately modern quadcopters are equipped with multiple cameras that are used for collision avoidance. (Look up the latest DJI product -- its tiny, under the FAA weight limit for registration, and is verging on the intelligent.) We can only hope that helicopters will gradually get similarly sophisticated avionics as these inexpensive consumer products.
"...its certainly no worse than hitting a bird."
Clearly you aren't qualified to do more than sweep floors. By 2009, birds strikes caused $600M in damage per year. According to the FAA, about 500 planes were damaged by collisions with birds from 2000-2009, and 166 of those planes had to make emergency landings such as the one in the Hudson river in 2009. The worst U.S. plane crash blamed on birds came on April 10, 1960, when an Eastern Airlines aircraft crashed into Boston Harbor, killing 62 passengers. So yes a drone being "certainly no worse than hitting a bird" is a f*cking big deal.
Those bird strikes were likely caused by 10 to 20 pound Geese or similar sized birds and the Aircraft were at speeds of 180 to 500 mph. When a half pound drone hits a hovering Helicopter maybe doing 40 mph , if that (hover taxi maneuvering over rough ground ) , then yes, not much should have been expected. Imagine a slow hovering Helicopter close to rough ground practicing a TAXI maneuver and a drone is spotted-his move is to take over? Drones dont move that fast. Something doesn't add up. You sling a lot of stats around...too bad they had no bearing on this case. Whose the idiot now ?
Neither do dogs, deer, cats and squirrels, but they result in hundreds of car crashes every year.
Pilots are trained to AVOID collisions with anything, not just grit their teeth and see what happens.
It's a matter of training and reflex and thank Sikorsky for that. I don't want to be an a plane or helicopter driven by someone who wants to experiment.
Also, FYI Canada Goose (the most prevalent on the East Coast of the USA) typically masses more like 8.5 pounds. A twenty pound Canada Goose would not likely be in a position to collide with a helicopter, though it might threaten a Segway.
"Thanks to some actual tests on aircraft components we know that the amount of damage a quadcopter can cause is quite limited, its certainly no worse than hitting a bird.'
If a DJI Phantom hits a rotor blade and leaves any sort of damage, that requires a new and very expensive rotor blade. The "bird" comparison is a cop out. Birds are a big problem too, but there is no comparison. The drone incidents are avoidable where birds are not.
"If a DJI Phantom hits a rotor blade and leaves any sort of damage, that requires a new and very expensive rotor blade."
Which is _STILL_ cheaper than having to replace the rotor, gearboxes, tail, landing gear and crush seats after a rollover crash and you'll have evidence that it was actually a drone and not a plastic shopping bag caught in a wind gust.
I mention that specifically because of the case at Heathrow of a "dronestrike" which turned out to be exactly that - a plastic shopping bag which was still wrapped over the nose on inspection
Instructors aren't million-hour gods. In the case of light aircraft and helicoptors they're usually people with a few hundred hours under their belts working up to a commercial seat and when I was learning I had a couple allow me to make quite boneheaded procedural errors without them noticing it (busting height limits against an incoming civil transport and not squawking in military airspace. Minor, but should have been picked up on in the checklists.)
A quadcoptor drone flown into a helicoptor (even a R22) will be tossed into the ground _hard_ by the downwash if it gets that close - the outwash donut from the rotor disc in ground effect will probably flip it long before it gets near.
Fact: UFO reports are down by pilots.
So are bird reports.
In fact at Heathrow (along with most other airports) there's a near linear relationship between the decrease in bird sightings and the increase in drone sightings.
Never mind that the airspace around airports is heavily surveilled and anything with weather radar looking for microbursts is going to see drones lit up like christmas trees thanks to both their metal content and the doppler effects of the rotors.
Not the OP but he may be right:
"The number of drone incidents involving Heathrow planes nearly quadrupled from seven in 2015 to 26 last year (Note: The article date means this refers to 2016!), according to reports by the UK Airprox Board."
That's one every two weeks at Heathrow alone just 2 years ago, after previously quadrupling. Nothing to suggest that the trend can't have extended to one every week at Heathrow alone.
You're assuming that every one of those unconfirmed sightings was both genuinely an object*, and was a drone**.
* And not a reflection, refraction, cloud, star, planet, or some other confusing visual phenomena that used to be reported as a "UFO".
** And not a balloon, carrier bag etc
If a pilot sees a weird thing these days, is it more likely that they'll report it as a "drone sighting" or a UFO?
"The number of drone incidents involving Heathrow planes nearly quadrupled from seven in 2015 to 26 last year (Note: The article date means this refers to 2016!), according to reports by the UK Airprox Board."
Now go back and compare with the number of bird reports over the same period.
Not quite weekly, however, incidents such as this are reported to the UK Airprox board, which has seen an exponential increase of such reports relating to drones. 2015: 29. 2016: 71. 81 incidents from Jan to Sept 2017 alone. Want some actual evidence rather than hyperbole? Here: Airprox Drone statistics;
It is an issue - it was a matter of time before an accident resulted, and unless something is done to mitigate this risk it will happen again.
you know nothing from this. a helicopter can fly a damn site faster and longer than a legally flown drone. why assume it's the drone pilots fault ? He could have been flying in a field quite legally at a couple of hundred feet, and then next moment a helicopter flies through for all you know.
weekly at heathrow.... I can smell the shite from here.
"...and then next moment a helicopter flies through for all you know"
The big difference there is that the helicopter will be flying at a safe altitude and following a logged flight plan and communicating with air traffic control, where as the drone is just flying wherever its operator feels like it, so nobody but the operator knows its there.
"The big difference there is that the helicopter will be flying at a safe altitude and following a logged flight plan and communicating with air traffic control":
On the assumption that this was Class G airspace, the Heli driver doesn't have to be "communicating with air traffic control".
And if his tail boom was able to strike a - "small" - tree and he was doing an instruction outside of the home ATZ, then he wasn't "flying at a safe altitude" nor was following a logged flight plan... unless you think radioning "Tower, we'll be over there somewhere" constiutes "a logged flight plan".
Under UK ANOs (which tend to mirror JAA rules), IF the drone pilot was under 400ft and outside an ATZ - as the heli being near "a small tree" would indicate, as there aren't many small trees inside airfields or hovering at 400 AGL - then the drone pilot was doing nothing wrong.
The pilot of the heli should have stayed put. Likely, the operator of the 'drone*' would have eventually seen the heli and flown it away. If the 'drone*' did make contact with the rotors, it would have been pinged off and destroyed, and the heli would have continued as if nothing had happened. Taking evasive action, and in turn crashing into a 'small tree', is what caused the crash here.
* if there was indeed a drone there at all
"it would have been pinged off and destroyed, and the heli would have continued as if nothing had happened."
A chunk knocked off of one of the rotors would have unbalanced them and set off a very uncomfortable vibration which might cause further damage. The cost of replacing and balancing a main rotor is many thousands.
A drone would have to come to contact with the rotor from above though, as it wouldn't get past the downwash any other way.
Most drone / aircraft encounter stories do seem a bit fanciful though.
'it would have been pinged off and destroyed, and the heli would have continued as if nothing had happened'
Probably not, rotor blades aren't that strong, otherwise they'd be too heavy. I'm not saying it would be catastrophic but you'd certainly want to land immediately and get an engineer to check things out. If it hit the tail rotor it's probably more likely the blade would suffer structural failure which can get interesting.
They may be stronger than you think... See https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Z-zI_VpTFp8 which shows almost the same chopper flying into a powerline which, having a high tensile steel core would do much more damage than a bit of plastic with very small motors attached.
'They may be stronger than you think... See https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Z-zI_VpTFp8 which shows almost the same chopper flying into a powerline which'
The R-44 in the video has more substantial rotor blades than the R-22, which would be nice but they're on about the 8th modification state and they still have problems with them coming apart. It's also worth noting that they're unlikely to take-off again in that aircraft until they've had the blades replaced, unless they've got a death wish.
Report here of a similar incident with photos of the damage: http://www.aaiu.ie/sites/default/files/report-attachments/REPORT%202017-014.pdf those dents will have substantially weakened the blades which are basically an aluminium skin around a spar and honeycomb structure.
I have flown the R-44 which is about the least robust helicopter I'd like to fly in on purpose.
Bullshit. My old man flew those things when getting shot at. He's got a picture of one he flew back with a pretty damn big hole in it. Scary, maybe a 30mm round, hard to tell from the pic. Pop didn't notice, mechanic showed it to him. I've seen a drone disentigrate tapping a clothes line. Average drone hits a chopper blade I'm not sure if you'd even notice. Drone would be obliterated. You act like they make helicopter blades out of tissue paper or something.
That being said they should outlaw drones, for myriad other reasons.
'My old man flew those things when getting shot at. He's got a picture of one he flew back with a pretty damn big hole in it.'
He was shot at in an R-22? If it was something like a Huey (Bell 205) then I'd have no problem believing that, they have big solid blades with something like the outer third containing a bronze lump to give the rotors plenty of inertia in case the engine failed. To spin this around the Bell has a 1100 horse power engine. The R-22 is basically built of tin foil and has a very light weight rotor system with virtually no inertia, because of this it's one of the few helicopters the FAA requires additional training for auto-rotations in. It has a mighty 124 hp to spin things around and you can't even start the engine connected to the transmission.
So you'd definitely notice a Phantom sized drone hitting the rotors, and it'd probably leave marks. The problem is you then have no idea what has happened to the internal structure, which is so reassuringly solid part of the pre-flight checks are to tap the blades with a coin to see if there's a change of noise to indicate de-lamination is taking place.
Disclaimer, I've flown the R-22 and the Bell 206 which shares its elder brothers robust rotor system.
"The pilot of the heli should have stayed put. Likely, the operator of the 'drone*' would have eventually seen the heli and flown it away."
Unless it was Blue Thunder or Airwolf in whisper mode, anyone within a mile should have well aware there was a helicopter flying very low to the ground. They're not exactly quiet, and the drone operator is supposed to be in line of sight. Whether there really was a drone and/or who was at fault is far from clear yet, but it sounds like the helicopter instructor picked a very poor place for practising hover taxiing if they managed to hit a tree and the drone operator should have been very aware of the helicopter being there.
"the helicopter will be flying at a safe altitude and following a logged flight plan "
Wrong, in the UK general aviation (GA) do not need flight a plan, or even a radio to talk to ATC. All they need to do is stay clear of controlled airspace, which for most GA means keeping clear of major airports.
YesForthIsQuiteNice suggested: "It's time to do something [about] these pricks that deliberately fly drones close to aircraft. It's happening weekly at Heathrow. Jammers might do it. Make the fucking things drop out of the sky."
It's time to do something about those pricks that deliberately operate radio jammers close to airports and aircraft. It's happening weekly at Heathrow. Maybe attack drones could be used. Make the fucking pricks drop their radio jammers when attacked by our drones.
The helicopter was flying at very low level practicing taxiing. It hit a scrub tree with the tail rotor and immediately hit on the rear skid, so probably 5-10 feet (2-3 meters). So it probably wasn't especially visible .
it would be quite difficult for a drone to approach horizontally. A hovering or slowly moving helicopter would easily blow it away no matter which direction the drone approached from. It would, however, be possible for a quickly moving helicopter to fly into a hovering drone.
Which really suggests that the helicopter caused the encounter with a legally operated drone and subsequently crashed due to a bad pilot reaction.
My guess, however, is really 'crashed due to pink unicorn' and a subsequent "lets blame a 'drone'".
Since all helicopters fly in a vortex ring (the trick being not to be at the epicentre of that ring) there is no guarantee that a drone would have been blown away. Even if a drone approaches below the level of the helicopter, the ring causes anything close enough to be recirculated. Just watch videos of helicopters landing on a dusty or sandy field.
Having said that, there is always the possibility that the instructor forgot about the dangers of "vortex ring state" especially on uneven ground (as referred to in the article) and ended up not going where he expected. Much easier to blame a drone than say you forgot about the intrinsic danger of moving slowly when near the ground.
Interestingly if you search for vortex ring crash, you get just as many DJI Phantoms shown crashing due to "vortex ring state" (not continuously moving out of the vortex) as you do helicopters. Videos that do show choppers crashing due to vortex ring often show them landing heavily on the rear end of the skids before toppling.
'Having said that, there is always the possibility that the instructor forgot about the dangers of "vortex ring state"'
You can't get into vortex ring state that close to the ground, the pre-conditions are power applied, slow forward airspeed (~20 knots although generally that's because the airspeed indicator won't read lower anyway) and a high rate of decent. It's very hard to have the last one close to the ground for long enough to enter vortex ring state without just hitting the ground.
Note in a lot of cases people mis-identify settling with power as vortex ring state, in that case you just don't have enough power left to stop the descent.
It appears that the drone didn't actually collide but rather the instructor hit a tree and messed up a landing.
So what's with the drone? The heli pilot should have gone UP, something his aircraft could do better than a drone. The down draft from the helicopter would have likely driven the drone down, increasing the separation.
Hopefully the drone camera caught the whole incident and can reveal the truth rather than a humans excuses.
'The heli pilot should have gone UP, something his aircraft could do better than a drone.'
Oddly that wouldn't be intuitive in an R-22, or most single engine helicopters. Long story short, you want to avoid flight at slow speed between ~10-400 feet as if the engine fails you're poorly placed for a successful auto-rotation, so instead you stay below 10' until you're doing around 40 knots and then start a climb.
So although the R-22 probably could have safely avoided the drone by going straight up it wouldn't be an automatic reaction for the pilot as he'd be putting himself into a speed/height regime that he's trained to avoid. I mean it's literally known as the avoid curve.
> So what's with the drone? The heli pilot should have gone UP, something his aircraft could do better than a drone. The down draft from the helicopter would have likely driven the drone down, increasing the separation.
If the helicopter was so low that it hit a tree then it's entirely possible that the drone came towards them at a higher altitude and was going to pass overhead. The instructor would then be acutely aware that the downdraft would suck the drone into the rotors, which might explain his hasty reaction. There's not enough info in the story as reported to say for sure.
"FAA investigations normally produce a detailed report of all the circumstances leading up to aviation incident."
The FAA are the regulator, the NTSB are the agency in charge of investigating incidents and accidents and issuing recommendations. The two must be necessarily separate and independent, as required by Chicago 1946.
(In the UK, the respective equivalents are the CAA and the AAIB)
According to DJI's website the maximum weight of a Phantom is 1.2Kg. So basically it's a flying bag of sugar, or equivalently, a typical city pigeon.
Still, imagine what could happen if one of themgot tangled in a chopper's tail rotor...
My coat is the one that's being blown across the field by the rotor down-draft. Thanks.
Time to ban elks.
An elk is wildlife and we need elks as they clean up the forests ... you cannot ban wildlife. Typical USian flawed logic.
Here*, we have a drone pilot who by no means can claim he did not see the chopper, by no means can claim he did not hear the chopper, yet flew his drone ever closer. You should all know that piloting a chopper is not that straight forward and I invite those who blame the pilot to take a single chopper pilot's lesson ...
* Provided, of course, there was a drone and it flew near the chopper, we have not heard the version of the drone pilot, yet.
No, because in that case the powerboat is supposed to give way to the sailboat. I'm not totally sure what the FAA's position is but the CAA's is along the lines of drones are supposed to give way to manned aircraft. i.e. in the UK it's a criminal offence if a drone endangers the safety of an aircraft. You could probably argue in court that if the pilot felt he had to take avoiding action then the aircraft's safety was endangered, i.e. you don't have to have the two colliding for an offence to be committed.
zaax mentioned, "If you think System engineers are highly paid you [want] to see the paycheck of an Aeronautical engineer[.]"
What if one is working as a Systems engineer on an Aeronautical vehicle, including getting involved in all the aeronautical aspects?
Did anyone else see the drone? also if a helicopter is so close to the ground that they were unable to avoid hitting a tree then was the drone actually doing anything wrong? Who is most responsible for a crash when the drone doesnt actually hit anything.
If the crap pilots could get away with "the tree jumped into my aircraft " then you could bet that there would be calls for legislation to remove trees. So I would say that drone claims need to be backed up with indepedant witnesses
To this end I would say human carrying aircraft need dash cameras, I am not saying that there are no drone pilots who are dicks merely that currently "a drone made me do it" seems a very popular excuse for crashes.
Lastly I do not have a drone but it would seem that the simpless answer is to not allow drones to fly outside of drone approved airspace and passenger aircraft not to fly in drone space, a simple height limiter for both and a signal strength limit on RC transmitter would seem to be sufficent. If the drone is flying beyond your range of vision then can it be said to be under control and once it looses signal it should autoland. Similarly private helicopters flying at tree height outside of designated areas surrounded by a no drone area should not be allowed. Personally I would question the sanity of any occasion where any aircraft needed to land or fly outside of an designated area.
I did some "back of the envelope" calculations after searching for the mass of "a helicopter" and "a drone" and increased the drone / decreased the helicopter a bit.
I would have thought the drones would not do well in the wind from the main rotor, to maintain position below and "close" to the helicopter would be surely impossible (there's no way it could do the numbers)
What am I missing here?
The drone manufacturers need to be charged the cost of testing some of the drones and how they impact planes and helicopters. Aircraft manufacturers pay to test bird strikes.
Guidelines need to be created and tested. These guidelines then need to be a part of pilot training (on paper or with a simulator?).
I would assume the best practice would be for the helicopter to increase altitude. Maybe these drones need an automatic drop from the sky when plane/helicopter is detected within ##m. Or for drones to obey a generic "drop from the sky" signal that is sent from the aircraft.
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