DJI Drone Collided with US Army Blackhawk: Significant Damage Done
This story hit the news back in September 2017 as the first verifiable midair collission with a drone (sUAS), but back then nobody knew who the drone owner was, nor did he fess up when realizing that his drone was potentially the incident aircraft. On December 13, 2017, however, the NTSB released its findings of the investigation, including the owner’s name, Vyacheslav Tantashov.
The map below shows the area near Coney Island that the incident occurred, which is in Class G (uncontrolled) airspace, so legal on most days. However, there were 2 (two) Temporary Flight Restrictions (TFRs) in place at the time of the incident, which encompassed the location of the midair. The NTSB also noted, through pilot interview(s), that Tantashov violated several other regulations, including visual line of sight (VLOS), altitude restrictions (climbed to 547 feet AGL that same night), and was flying (if drone continued after midair) at night without proper lighting.
According to the NTSB report, the story went like this…
Tantashov launched the DJI Phantom 4 involved in the incident and flew it out past Hoffman Island, 2.5 miles away and beyond VLOS, stopping briefly for some “yawing maneuvers”. Tantashov stated in the interview that he was using his DJI Go app as his sole source for flight safety and regulatory compliance, yet never had it connected to the internet, a requirement for the app to download current data. Therefore, he claims he was unaware of the TFRs that were in place. He also mentioned that he did not worry about seeing the aircraft as he could fly simply by the camera on his drone sending video back to his device. He pressed the Return-to-Home (RTH) function on the app to have the drone fly back to him just before the battery warning began. When the drone didn’t arrive after 30 minutes, he figured it malfunctioned and crashed in the water.
Tantashov also stated he was well aware that helicopters flew low in that area all the time, so he was obviously aware of the risks with colliding with a helicopter, yet chose to fly beyond VLOS. Clearly this can be deemed reckless behavior in and of itself, despite the regulatory violations.
While the NTSB report states that the damage was “minor”, I mention it being significant as it damaged the rotor, a part that is very sturdy and essential to helicopter flight. The drone caused a 1.5 inch dent in the rotor, before parts of it scratched the body of the helicopter and having a rotor arm from the drone lodging itself in the Blackhawk. Fortunately, in this case part of the drone was recovered and intact enough to read the part serial numbers and ultimately tracking down the drone’s owner. Had this drone collided midair with a different type of aircraft, or hit a different part of the Blackhawk even, the incident could have likely caused serious injury, or even been fatal.
Tantashov does not have a Remote Pilot (Part 107) Certificate with a sUAS rating, which means he likely had no training whatsoever on how to operate a drone safely (and legally), though he did mention he was aware of various aspects, such as no flying no higher than 400 feet AGL and that he was not in controlled airspace. What will happen to him in regards to penalties and fines, etc. remains to be seen. I, for one, am hopeful the FAA handles this incident’s punushment in a way that allows every drone owner to realize the dangers of reckless drone flying, which I see nearly every day.