Commercial Drones PilotsDrones fun for some, flying terror for others

July 24, 2021by helo-10
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Opinion



Despite being relatively small, drones can cause some seriously large problems.

These remote-controlled flying devices — also known as “unmanned aerial vehicles” — can be a lot of fun for their operators, but they can also pose a serious hazard for larger aircraft with humans on board.

For example, a drone made the wrong kind of headlines last weekend when it was flown into the path of a water bomber trying to put out a forest fire in eastern Manitoba, forcing the plane to turn back.

The water bomber was flying over the south shore of West Hawk Lake Saturday — en route to douse the flames of a fire in Whiteshell Provincial Park near the Ontario border — when the drone forced it to turn around, leaving firefighters on the ground in jeopardy.

Don Hallett, assistant director for the Manitoba Wildfire Service, told reporters people who fly drones near active fires could face charges. In this case, there were many people on the beach, but officials were unable to spot the person operating the drone.

“That could have turned into something way worse than it was, just because someone flew a drone,” Hallett said. “Thankfully the ground crews were able to do what we needed them to do. Just take your communities into consideration and your fellow Manitobans into consideration.”

It’s far from the first time something as hazardous as this has happened, as we see from today’s high-flying list of Five Infamous Drone Disasters:

5) The drone disaster: Photographer’s nose nipped

The ill-fated flight: These unmanned aircraft are intended to carry out an impressive array of tasks, ranging from taking aerial photos to military operations to package delivery. But they aren’t supposed to slice off the noses of innocent bystanders.

Unfortunately, that’s basically what happened inside a Brooklyn TGI Fridays restaurant in December 2014 when a goofy holiday promotion went terribly wrong. Brooklyn Daily photographer Georgine Benvenuto was there on assignment to cover the eatery’s “Mobile Mistletoe” promotion, in which a small drone carried mistletoe above diners, prompting them to kiss. “If guests show a little love under the mistletoe, Fridays might just show them a little love with some nice holiday gifts,” the eatery said in a press release. Benvenuto said there were two drones — a larger one, and a smaller one marketed as a children’s toy.

It all went awry when the drone operator tried to show a reporter from Brooklyn Daily that the drone could land on her hand. According to Benvenuto: “It kind of landed, but it did something to her hand — I don’t know whether it was buzzing or what — but she flinched. And when she flinched, I was standing maybe a foot away from her, and this smaller toy drone for children flies into my face at that point. It was like I couldn’t get it off because I guess the mistletoe part had fishing wire on it — that’s how it was attached — and it got caught in my hair and it kept twirling and twirling and twirling while this thing is on my nose…. It literally chipped off a tip of my nose. It took off part of my nose and cut me here, right under my chin.”

The drone’s operator later said the mistake wouldn’t have happened if the reporter hadn’t flinched. “If people get hurt, they’re going to come regardless. People get hurt in airplanes, they still fly,” he said. Chirped another patron: “It was like a scratch on her nose. I’ve seen far more worse blood than that.”

 

4) The drone disaster: Triathlete bonked on head

The ill-fated flight: It’s hard enough competing in a triathlon without having to worry about a robotic aircraft falling from the sky and crashing into your unprotected head. But that’s what happened to triathlete Raija Ogden in 2014 when a remote-controlled drone helicopter taking photos of competitors bashed her in the head as she was heading into her second lap of the run in the Endure Batavia Triathlon in Western Australia.

Ogden was treated at the scene of the accident before being taken to hospital, where stitches were required to close a head wound. Conflicting reports about the incident soon emerged in local media. The drone’s owner insisted the runner was simply startled by the machine and fell to the ground. But Ogden rejected that suggestion as “horrifying” and noted spectators saw her get hit by the device. “I have lacerations on my head from the drone and the ambulance crew took a piece of propeller from my head,” Ogden told the West Australian.

“My hair was completely red with blood. I didn’t hit the ground. I sat down because I just thought I was going to pass out.” A witness to part of the incident, who did not wish to be named, told reporters they heard a “loud crack” and turned around to see Ogden in a state of shock. “She was stumbling and I will never forget the look on her face,” the witness said. “She just could not believe it. She was shocked and in disbelief.”

The witness said her sunglasses fell to the ground and then “this big river of blood” poured straight down her face. The drone owner later suggested in several interviews the drone might have been “hacked” and that someone other than the pilot had “channel-hopped” and taken control of the tiny craft.

The Commonwealth Director of Public Prosecutions decided against prosecuting drone company owner Warren Abrams. “The evidence indicated that the cause of the incident was not the actions of the operator but rather radio interference to the UAV caused by the event’s timing device,” the CDPP said.

 

3) The drone disaster: Race driver beaned in office

The ill-fated flight: David Perel’s workday was winding down in Cape Town, South Africa, in April 2016 when he suddenly heard a strange buzzing sound in his fifth-floor office.

Perel, an interface designer and race driver for Kessel Ferrari, was editing footage of his latest test drive when there was a loud bang, the shattering of glass and a sharp impact on the right side of his head, behind his ear.

“I got the fright of my life, initially. For the first 10 seconds I thought a bomb had gone off. The noise! It was so intense,” Perel told Global News in 2016. But it wasn’t a bomb. It was a drone. It turned out a group of men two buildings away from Perel’s were using their drone to film from their rooftop, when high winds caught the device. They lost control of it and it smashed through Perel’s office window.

“What are the odds?” the driver/designer asked. In an article for medium.com, he described the aftermath: “After gathering myself I took a look around and noticed most of the people in my office had surrounded me and were asking if I was OK. The truth is that even though I only got a bump to the head things could have been much worse. The tinted film on our windows ‘caught’ a lot of the big shards and if one of those hit me in the face and/or eyes I could have been waving goodbye to a racing career I’ve fought incredibly hard to attain.”

The drone was equipped with a GoPro camera and when Perel posted video to his YouTube profile he was assailed by online skeptics and trolls. “I got a lot of comments saying that it’s fake, which I can assure you it is not fake,” he told Global. “Experts abound but they all missed a single key fact: I was actually hit in the head by a drone.” It was even scarier than crashing on a race course, he said.

“It’s a very different kind of adrenaline. When I race, I’m not scared. In this situation… it wasn’t fun. I wouldn’t want to go through it again.” He had kind words for the pilots. He “is super-apologetic and a very nice guy. These guys had no intention of injuring anyone. They just lost control of their drone.”

 

2) The drone disaster: Crash-landing at White House

The ill-fated flight: Not surprisingly, it made headlines around the world on Jan. 26, 2015, when a recreational drone crash landed on the lawn of the White House. The incident symbolized the newfound pervasiveness of drone technology. The proliferation of drones, which can be as small as the palm of your hand, is posing new challenges not just at sensitive government facilities, but around the world, because cheap systems equipped with cameras pose privacy concerns and reports of close encounters with private and commercial aircraft are on the rise.

In this case, the incident triggered a lockdown of the White House and nearby buildings, as officials scrambled to study the device and ensure it did not pose a threat after it crashed on the southeast side of the 18-acre secure zone around the executive mansion shortly after 3 a.m. President Barack Obama and first lady Michelle Obama were in India when the incident occurred.

The FAA bans flights by unauthorized drones within a 50-kilometre circle around Washington, a security measure implemented after the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks. In March, federal prosecutors decided not to charge drone operator Shawn Usman, 31, a scientist at the National Geospatial Intelligence Agency.

Usman lost control of a 60-centimetre-wide Phantom FC40 drone owned by a friend early that morning, and telephoned his employers and the Secret Service to report the incident when he learned the small model aircraft had been found on the White House grounds. Usman told investigators he flew it around his apartment and outside his window a few blocks from the White House the night of Jan. 25.

About 3 a.m. Jan. 26, Usman said, he lost control of the drone and saw it climb to about 30 metres over 10th Street NW. He went to sleep not knowing where it had landed. Investigators determined he was not in control when it crashed.

 

1) The drone disaster: First commercial aircraft struck

The ill-fated flight: It was bound to happen, and at 6:02 p.m. on Oct. 12, 2017 it finally did. That’s when a small drone — approximately 40 centimetres by 10 centimetres — crashed into a commercial airplane in Canada, the first confirmed incident in which a passenger aircraft is known to have struck a drone.

The plane, operated by charter airline Skyjet, was approaching Quebec City’s Jean Lesage International Airport when a drone struck one of its wings. There were reportedly six passengers and two crew members on board.

Transport Canada said the Beech King Air 100 and drone collided at an altitude between 1,500 and 1,700 feet and that “damage is considered minor. A very small scratch was found on the left wing.” The drone was not identified or recovered. “I am extremely relieved that the aircraft only sustained minor damage and was able to land safely,” then-Canadian transport minister Marc Garneau said in a statement at the time.

That same year, Canada had announced safety measures making it illegal to fly recreational drones within 5.5 kilometres of an airport, and restricting the height of a drone’s flight to 90 metres. Punishment for breaking the regulations can include a fine of as much as $25,000 and a prison sentence. The drone in this case was following the 5.5-kilometre restriction, but was flying much higher than legally allowed, hovering some 450 metres above the ground. “If a drone were to hit the window of a cockpit and incapacitate the pilot, or were to damage in any way an engine, this could have catastrophic results,” Garneau said.

“This should not have happened. That drone should not have been there.” Researchers at the University of Dayton Research Institute have shown even a small drone can cause huge damage if it strikes the wing of an aircraft. They produced a video showing a drone ripping through a plane’s wing in conditions that simulate a crash taking place at 383 km/h.

doug.spei[email protected]

Doug Speirs
Columnist

Doug has held almost every job at the newspaper — reporter, city editor, night editor, tour guide, hand model — and his colleagues are confident he’ll eventually find something he is good at.

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