Helping other pilots make better decisions.

I'd like to share a story about an interaction I had this past week with a quadcopter/drone operator.

  Where I work most everyone who knows me knows that I pilot UAV's and have done so for several years now. So when something in our area comes up involving UAV's they call me. Case in point happened one day this past past week.

I received a call from a co-worker asking if I could stop over at a location and speak with a guest who was flying, what I later found out was, a Phantom. I said of course and made my way to them.

Upon arrival I extended my hand and introduced myself. He, we will call him Joe, extended his hand as well and we shook hands.

 I asked Joe how his day was and what he was doing today. He said that he was flying his drone to get some video footage of our area for his own use. I said great, I operate them myself and have for many years. I asked if I could see his drone since at the time it was in a case. He opened up and it was a second gen Phantom.

I then asked Joe again what his purpose was and again he said it was just for personal use. He then started to tell me of his piloting experience, how many years he has been around R/C vehicles and piloting drones. That he has done x amount of commercial shoots as well as filming extreme athletes in action. And that he is a great pilot and he has never crashed or crashed in to anyone or anything, ever. And that he always operates with safety in mind.
I told him that I was very glad to hear that he is being safety aware when he is piloting. I then asked if he had any formal training or guidance with any of his RC equipment and he said no, just his own personal experience.

Now here comes the good parts.........I asked Joe to point to where he was flying and he did. The area he pointed to is place people gather when visiting our mountain resort. The area where he was flying is about the quarter the size of a football field and at the time he was flying there was aprox 150 to 250 people standing around. Guests talking to one another casually, most of them had no clue that Joe had been flying above them.

  *We initially received 3 calls from various guests who were in the surrounding area, not in the area in question, who were worried about it.  

I asked him if he thought that flying over unsuspecting people was a good idea, to which he said " Yes, I'm a good operator nothing would have happened "

I said "ok", "What if something went wrong with your Phantom?"

Joe said " Those things happen to other people who don't know what they are doing, it has never happen to me because I know what I am doing."

I then asked him, "but what if something did happen how would you react?"  To which he replied again that nothing would happen. Because, he said, he is a good operator and flies with GPS all the time. 

He said he always gets a good GPS lock and the Phantom has never had an issue. He stated that so long as he has GPS nothing can go wrong.

  *For everyone's info who is reading this, we have tall mountains surrounding us and I know for a fact that GPS lock (6+ SAT) is not 100% all the time everywhere here.

I then mentioned the possibility of a mechanical failure, to which he stated that it never has and never will happen to him because his equipment is always in great shape.

After a bit more about GPS and the likelihood of a mechanical mishap I asked if he was familiar with the any of the current guidelines surrounding UAV's. He said with a strong tone that yes, he is well aware of all the guidelines and so is his Phantom.

Those last few words made me pause for a moment. "he is well aware of all the guidelines and so is his Phantom."

I asked " what do mean when you say your Phantom is aware of the guidelines?" and he replied back "It knows where it can and cannot fly." "It wont allow me to fly it into certain areas."

I asked him if it came that way when he purchased it and he said yes.

Just to be clear I asked the question again, "Does your Phantom know where it can and cannot go without any input from you?"

He said yes.

Leaving that alone for a moment I moved on and asked if he was familiar with any of the other general guidelines for safe UAV operation. He stumbled around with his thoughts for a min or two but quickly came back to the fact that he was a good pilot and nothing would have happened and where he was flying was ok.

 *The area in question where he was flying over is USFS land.

Seeing that he was standing his ground I didn't want to just ask him to leave and be done. I wanted to make sure he would get some direction on safe flying. I make it a point to help educate anyone I come in contact with about the safe operation of their UAV's. I want this industry to grow and become better for all of us and if I can help one person then maybe they will learn and in turn help someone else down the road. 

I took out a pad and pen and gave Joe a few websites to look up when he got the chance. I asked him to spend some time reading through these sites to learn a bit more about UAV's and the safe operation of them. He said ok and took the piece of paper.

I then politely said that flying where he was is not appropriate, we have guests that may be uncomfortable with the Phantom above them. I let him know that some people are not comfortable with a UAV's flying near them, especially when they are not informed of it prior to it being over their heads. And that since you were standing well off to the side, a good 200+ feet, from where the Phantom was above them, that they have no clue who is operating it or your level of piloting skills.  

He understood and apologized for his actions. Saying that he didn't think about that part. He did, however, mention again that he is a good pilot and that nothing would have happened.

I reached out and shook his hand and asked him to please not fly here again and to, more importantly, please take a moment to read up on the current guidelines for safe UAV flight. I said, it's our responsibility as operators to know how to fly safe and then help educate others do the same. In the long run it will help not only the industry but we as operators. 

Then lastly I asked him to become more familiar with the capabilities of his Phantom, mainly the "it knows where it can and can not go" function. To make sure he fully understood what the term "No Fly Zone" means and if, in fact, his Phantom automatically knows these areas. And he ok.

I watched has he put his Phantom back in the case and walked away. Hoping that what we talked about sunk in and that the next time I see him, if I do, that he will be flying safely.


Views: 1600

Comment by Gary McCray on January 11, 2015 at 12:28pm

I'd certainly say you gave it your best shot.

Unfortunately this combination of pseudo expert and mis-information is probably the norm and of course it's most pervasive embodiment is in Phantom pilots.

Anybody who is relying on their Phantom to know where it is OK to fly truly does not have the big picture.

Unfortunately, there are almost certainly a lot more of them than us.

I greatly suspect that this year things will come to a head on this front.

My greatest hope is that the FAA doesn't seize on it to try and bury drones / multicopters, hobby and commercial.

My biggest fear is that they will.

Best Regards,


Comment by Cala on January 11, 2015 at 12:32pm

We have the same Phantom operators problem here in Argentine this year.

Comment by Gustav Kuhn on January 11, 2015 at 2:00pm

Flying over people is just wrong.

If you loose just one motor or controller on a quad or hexa, or even a Y6, it will crash.

Normally straight down.

I've been flying  "self guided" aircraft since the days of 1280 "Oilpan" APM, and is somewhat alarmed by the readiness  and availability of quad copters, of various makes, being sold as "no experience necessary" by hobby shops.

I don't think a Phantom CAN bring down a 737 type aircraft, but it probably will make the crew sh!t their pants/panties.

Been enough videos on youtube, to show a bunch of richards flying Phantoms near major airfields.....

Comment by Victor McAuley on January 11, 2015 at 2:22pm

Well said - a soft answer turneth away wrath,      we all started somewhere,  the phantom has been a plague to the hobby and industry - just buy and fly - when you have to build your own you get to understand how it works and all their unreliabilities and quirks.  For one I will never fly remotely near or over people, seen to many unexplained glitches happen - just when you least expect them.  The phantom has all the cute appearance of a toy...........      but it is not.

Comment by Stuart Brookes on January 11, 2015 at 2:30pm

hope it does sink in

Comment by Toby Mills on January 11, 2015 at 2:35pm

This seems like it was pretty confrontational.
I know if I was flying and some random person came up to me and started trying to lecture me I might be a little defensive.
However, in saying that, flying over people is a definite no no.

I have been flying drones for 5 years now and about a year ago started flying an X8 which has been totally incident free for a year.
Then last week I had two batteries die on me mid flight without warning, just a very sudden drop from 14V to 8V in a matter of seconds and the X8 just fell out of the sky. Lucky damage was only superficial, a couple of legs and props.

They were the stock 3DR batteries so I'm now going through all 8 of the batteries I have to do some thorough testing. Each one has between 60 and 100 flights on it so I wasn't expecting them to die just yet.

The point is, it doesn't really matter how experienced you are, at some point, a quad is going to fall out of the sky when you don't expect it and you better pray that nobody is underneath it.

In terms of the approach to this person, going up to them and starting to lecture them never really works.
Maybe try the 'freak out' approach, tell them about a near miss or a scary moment you have had (even if you make it up) or heard about and just drop the line "I'm really glad there was nobody underneath it when that happened".

Usually people connect the dots in their head and move along.

The DJI's have no redundancy in them, so if a motor fails its all over.

All quads, no matter how many props they have, have two major single points of failure, the battery and the flight controller and batteries are hardly the most reliable things in the world. They can be unpredictable and unreliable, so therefore quad copters are also unpredictable and unreliable. We should never forget that.

Comment by Paul on January 11, 2015 at 2:38pm

Sadly we all know deep down this is going to be a losing battle one way or another and nothing safe to confront people to lecture them.

Comment by Morli on January 11, 2015 at 2:40pm

2  days  back one of these crashed in our capital city ( chennai, South India) and made big news in TV channels. Now Police are worried & wants every who want to fly these to get NOC from them :(

Comment by Monroe King on January 11, 2015 at 2:57pm

As far as I know the Phantom does have a "no fly" feature. But! As far as I know it's only one area in one country and none at all in the US.

GPS? Sometimes the satellites are not in a good formation no matter where you are holes can develop at anytime. If it's really important we check the constellation arrangement on a given time on a given day to make sure.

Because we do rockets and spaceplanes we wont get a second chance.

GPS can be out in your area at and time on any given day. If you don't check you wont know.

Another incident we had was because Edwards was running a GPS jamming test. If your near a Base (within 500 miles) they do run jamming test. If you check the NOTAMS also you can avoid this possibility as well.


Comment by Paul on January 11, 2015 at 3:05pm

Why fly drone to deliver beer there are way more fun ways to do it. :-) 

Just trying to bring some little humor in all this. lol


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