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.


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  • Hi Todd, any chance you can post the weblinks on here so I can take advantage of them too. Thanks
  • I'd have just told him "you can't fly here, sorry". In Switzerland, 9 times out of 10, I'd be correct too.

    At least here we have compulsory liability insurance, and anyone without it is not allowed to fly. I could simply ask him to provide it. Most "buy and fly" operators aren't even aware of the requirement. We also have to have written permission from the land owner too. Without either of these documents *anyone* can ask you to land & leave.

    Horses for courses, I guess. Every country is different.

  • one thing you can say next time...

    if its 100% safe and you are absolutely confident nothing will ever go wrong, why is your name and phone number on it ;)

  • *feed*

  • Interesting thread. I've been shouted down several times for advocating not flying over people. I guess everyone here has forgotten about the maker faire where 3DR did just that and never took responsibility for their actions. Interesting that another post here is about flying the DJI inspire over actors walking down a red carpet event. Yet no one has said it's not safe. It's not going to stop until a serious accident happens and the lawyers circle around to fee.

  • It still amazes me that in a country like America that is supposed to be 'Free', where you can buy guns and shoot each other as easily as you can buy a car, your bureaucracy is tying itself up in knots about what is essentially high tech model aircraft.

    it seems if you want to shoot someone with a gun, no problem but if you want to risk flying a drone over someone's head. whoooah no you can't do that, its dangerous.

    I'm very grateful to live in New Zealand, our new draft drone legislation has just been published and its so sensible that its almost ridiculous. The government wants to encourage the industry here, not shut it down. There is no differentiation between commercial and hobby use, there are 4 basic rules, and anyone (commercial or hobbyist) will be able to fly so long as they follow those 4 basic rules. If you want to go outside the rules, you simply apply to be certified and you can get an exemption.

    The rules are pretty simple...

    don't fly over 120m high.
    don't fly within 4km of a airfield or airport.
    don't fly at night.
    don't fly out of visual range

    These rules apply to anyone whether commercial or hobbyist.
    If a hobbyist or a commercial operator wants to fly to 1000ft or out of visual range, no problem,  get certified under the new ruleset and you can activate a NOTAM to be able to do it.

    I don't know why the FAA wants to make it so difficult for themselves.
    I think the lobbyists with deep pockets have far too much influence on your government.

  • Hey man I thought your response was the right way to go. I don't know a single UAS pilot who hasnt had an in flight failure of equipment  or a crash. This stuff is amazing but it's still got teething issues and I think it's tough to build a fault tolerant control system for an aircraft when a single motor failure is catastrophic. As a general rule I don't fly over crowds, heck even a couple people underneath my plane make me nervous as hell. Except for maybe a few guys doing meaningful research I don't think anyone has a good enough reason to fly over a group of bystanders. Many safe flights to your sir and share any sweet footage you get in the mountains.

  • Hi Rocketman, the discussion at DIYDrones to which I refer was before the FAA started spouting off that what had been published as voluntary guidelines was suddenly and without discussion, legislation or even written regulations to back it suddenly mandatory.

    And the secondary we is us, the American People, if you make stupid, unenforceable laws that have no chance of being followed, they won't be which leads to all kinds of problems.

    If the FAA outlaws quadcopter toys they are going to have an unimaginable night mare to enforce it.

    The quadcopters are available in every corner stor, (many now with FPV) and many under a hundred dollars.

    Not flying within 5 miles of an airport, poor little Johnny ripped out of his kindergarten class room and tossed in to federal prison or more realistically for the FAA Johnnys parents fined $20,000.00.

    Nonsense, the FAA is still trying to pretend they can control this by simply outlawing it, they can't - it won't work.

    And we see the stupidity in another Blog here where Colorado is virtually outlawing RC airplanes altogether, not because they want to, but because they are too stupid to get the wording on their bill right.

    Eventually, I am sure reasonable minds will prevail, but I would really, really like to see the most important aviation agency in the world stop doing such an absolutely abysmal job of it.

    BTW I am a active and supporting member of the AMA and strongly support their efforts at trying to work with the FAA.

    It is a further blight on the FAA how little attention they have paid to the AMA.

    The FAA has actually done what I consider to be a quite reasonable job of handling commercial and private flying in the US, but UAS hobby and commercial is proving to be an entirely different matter.

    And I am a private pilot although because of my hearing I am no longer active.

  • @Gary

      Who is this "we" you speak of? I don't see an entity that has enough pull to be a "we" other than the AMA and I don't see them making much progress.

      There is no "we" to do battle. If you think the individuals flying drones as hobbyist are a "we" you are mistaken! There simply are not enough hobbyist flying drones to make any difference as a "we" 

     Without an entity to represent the "WE" your settling for the concerns GIVEN to you out of the kindness of "other" people much less informed and in a much smaller number than you might be aware of. 

  • Hi Todd,

    Some time ago here at DIYDrones we had a discussion about actually publishing reasonable safety and operational documents both to use ourselves and to provide to the public.

    On my Web Sites I have some that can be used, although they are a bit out of date and need to be corrected to be in line with current thinking.

    Here is the printable one I made for people to hand out to the public to explain what they are doing and why in a positive manner.

    and here is the one I made to give a basic understanding of safe operation to the "pilot".

    These do not take into account current FAA "limitations", but are a good overview for safe operation.

    I have not yet fully decided how I feel about the FAAs current commands, interpretations, overreach, but realistically 400 feet AGL and maintaining LOS are likely to be non-negotiable and will likely eventually become actual law rather than just FAA wishful thinking.

    I am hoping the 5 miles from airports thing gets into a more reasonable distance and I have absolutely no intention of paying any attention to the FAA telling me I can't use a video headset for FPV.

    We will need to eventually hash these things out and come to a reasonable response, but for now, these 2 pages do at least provide some value for anyone concerned enough to bother to read them.

    BTW I thought your response was very measured and considerate and given where he was located on state land he is lucky a ranger didn't arrest him, confiscate his Phantom and throw him in jail.

    They have been known to do so and current legislation suggests they are within their rights.

    Best Regards,


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