On Aug 16, 2018, a small Unmanned Aircraft System was involved in a near miss with a Bell 407 helicopter flying in Hollywood, FL. In a video shot by the drone camera and posted to YouTube, the helicopter is seen passing just feet beneath the drone. The operator, Masih Persian posted, “Enjoying an afternoon flight with my drone around Hollywood Beach, FL. A private helicopter flew right into my drone. I guess I got lucky that day nothing has happened. Phewww.” The FAA is currently investigating the incident.
The consequences of a mid-air collision need no explanation. Ways to mitigate future incidents such as this, however, require further discussion. The first question is: what level of training, if any, does the UAS pilot have? Drones are often thought of as toys, but it is easy to see in the picture that a ‘toy’ could easily cause an aviation disaster. Masih Persian is not listed in the FAA’s Airmen Inquiry page as holding any aviation certificates. Due to the abundance of highly trafficked airspace in south Florida, it is safe to say that, without any formal training, a novice operator would be lost in the complexity.
Over the span of 55 miles of coastline between Miami and Pompano Beach, there are 7 high traffic airports consisting of Class B, C, and D intertwined airspaces beginning at the surface. Using a Low Altitude Authorization and Notification Capability (LAANC) system facility map, it appears the flight was conducted in a 400 ft authorization box. If this was indeed the location of the flight, the pilot would have been required to file a request which requires a Part 107 certificate. Further, following the Special Rule for Model Aircraft (PL 112-95 Sect 336), you are required to follow a community-based set of safety guidelines. I assume the Academy of Model Aeronautics (AMA) would definitely advise against flying in this congested area.
Many UAS pilots operate under the misconception that staying below 400 feet is the safe zone, which Mr. Persian said he was. This case exemplifies the shortcomings of that thought process. Giving him the benefit of the doubt, it is clear to see that the helicopter would have been flying at less than that. If the flight was conducted 500 yards to the south, it could have been legal, and Mr. Persian would still have been faced with the same near miss scenario. A thorough study of the area before takeoff is essential to the safe conduct of a flight.