Seattle's Komo News did an excellent piece about a drone buzzing the Space Needle this week. The video is at I was impressed at how tame it came out. The police in particular made it clear that policing drones is not a priority and that the operator had no interest of harm. I'm pleased at how well Seattle police are handling this unlike the NYPD helicopter fiasco. An interesting piece of the story is that the operator is an out of town employee of 

I was surprised that Komo didn't mention anything about the possibility of the drone hitting tourism helicopters buzzing the needle. Komo's own helicopter crashed this year next to the Space Needle. I wonder if the DJI should be painted yellow with labels saying "Don't fly over 400FT"

E-mail me when people leave their comments –

You need to be a member of diydrones to add comments!

Join diydrones


  • My concern in situations like this is the apparent lack of understanding of RF signal behaviour in and around built environments. This guy is operating a transmitter from within a concrete and steel building and there would undoubtedly be significant signal reflections and RF interference sources present in that room.

    Now, one might say that this is a good marketing campaign for DJI gear, because he was apparently able to maintain control the copter throughout the flight... but what happens with the next guy who sees this, thinks "I can do that too" and ends up with sufficient interference to bring down the copter. I'm sure the story would have been very different, with a very different ending for the pilot, had he crashed into the tower structure (particularly over the observation platform).

    Regulation is one thing and *may* have an affect on casual operations such as this, but education is absolutely necessary if we are truly to reduce the risk of incidents arising from operating drones in built up areas. That onus has to fall on the manufacturers and suppliers at this stage, ensuring customers are aware of the risks and their responsibilities with regards to the products they have purchased, at least until such time as this information can be considered "common knowledge" amongst the populace.

  • Did anyone catch the video segment where the guy lands the Phantom but flying it to his hotel room, cracks his window and grabs it out of the air? That's called a seasoned pilot and lucky the wind conditions were extremely excellent.

    With the police identifying the guy as an out of town Amazon employee, sure puts a black-eye on Amazon's exemption request.

    Two steps forward, one step (or 2?) back.
  • I agree not everyone needs instruction for every task done with a drone. The skill level and maturity of drone pilots varies widely, and there is little consequence for violating FAA regulations, city ordinances, or general disregard for public safety.

    I don't think the regulations for ultralight aircraft are an adequate benchmark for drone operation. The general aviation community is very mature, and most airports or airfields are comprised of tight-knit communities. It is much easier for these communities to self regulate and identify problem pilots. Ultralight pilots most often operate from controlled airfields and are required to file a flight plan. The cost of entry for owning and operating an ultralight is much higher than purchasing a drone. Most ultralight pilots can be expected to have some flight training experience, a high degree of professionalism and maturity, and liability insurance.

    Ultralights are required to meet certain FAA airworthiness requirements. The poor quality and reliability of consumer-level drones greatly increases the likelihood of mishaps.

    Until the drone community matures, and the technology becomes more reliable, we may eventually rely on self regulation. Liability insurance and written permission to fly in public spaces should be the minimum requirement.

  • I just double-checked.  There is no certification requirement at all for Ultralight pilots.  LSA "Sport Pilots" have to take 15 hours of flight instruction and a ground course.  

    I think many people would benefit from instruction.  However, I don't think everyone needs instruction for every task done with every drone.  So, requiring the instruction or certification isn't necessary, so Ultralight rules (no certification or instruction required) should apply.  

  • Excellent arguments and points Haygood. I'm not advocating excessively prohibitive rules and restrictions. At the very least, there needs to be a minimum pilot certification (as there is for Ultralights and other personal aircraft) And pilots need to obtain written approval from the city before flying in public spaces. Consumer-level drones do not have adequate reliability or fail-safe systems to minimize danger in the event of systems failure. Are Ultralight pilots required to carry liability insurance? At the very least, drone pilots need to carry liability insurance. Also, drones are capable of flying in much closer proximity to people and obstacles, which increases the potential for property damage/bodily harm. I'm not sure if Seattle Center is considered a city park, so the Municipal Code may not apply in this situation.

  • Note:  He was also in violation of Seattle Municipal Code 18.12.265, apparently, even before he climbed above 400ft.

  • I know we are all on guard and busy policing ourselves in hopes nobody else will have to.  However, I'd like to point out some things that might affect how we go about doing all of this.  

    1) Anyone in the US is welcome to fly in this area in any type of airplane, be it a registered airplane, experimental airplane, LSA, or ultralight.  

    2) Credentials to fly an LSA in this area include - a driver's license.

    3) Credentials and training to fly an ultralight in this area - none

    Communications requirements for any of the above category aircraft include the following:  None.  

    I can use any aircraft I'm certified in, or an aircraft that requires no certification, and fly it without having a radio on board, without monitoring other traffic, etc. in this airspace around the space needle.  There is airspace above the space needle and the surrounding area into which I can not fly wihtout establishing communication with SEA (Sea-Tac airport).  Aircraft leaving the nearby Kenmore and Seattle seaports, just like every other aircraft in the skies, must assume there could be hot air balloons, aircraft with or without radios, ultralights, and so on in the area, and should maintain some kind of lookout for them.  

    As a fullscale pilot, I've had to avoid big clusters of helium balloons, and more birds that I can count. It is a routine part of the flying.  While I regularly use flight following to keep me apprised of nearby transponder equipped aircraft, I'm perfectly aware that anyone flying without their transponder on, or in an aircraft not equipped with one, or in an area of marginal radar reception, could be anywhere.  I look for them, and hopefully they look for me.  

    The best comparison I can give for the dangers of an idiot flying a drone would be to a modestly sized bird.  While a bird certainly has no intention of flying into a plane, it may just not be able to get out of the way fast enough.  At the speeds aircraft are flying within a few thousand feet of the ground (speed limit is 250mph below 10,000ft, and many can't reach anywhere near that), you might spot a bird and can likely react to it in the lower range of speeds.  There are certainly birds out there that outweigh my 6 lb. drone and would do far more damage to an aircraft.  

    Populated areas:  Aircraft of every sort fly over populated areas day-in-and-day-out.  There are some restrictions for altitude above populated areas, except on take-off and landing, which routinely take aircraft within a few hundred feet of homes around local airports.

    I'd like to make it clear that I'm not advocating total anarchy in the drone world, and I'm not suggesting no harm can be done with drones.  However, I think the regulations governing drones should be closer to those governing ultralights and birds (i.e. little to none), each of whom are expected to behave reasonably as best they can.  I don't have a problem with someone cruising around the Space Needle, provided there is a good chunk of unoccupied grass he can operate from, and that he doesn't get himself into a loss of control or out of fuel/battery situation through general stupidity.  

    I also recognize the difference between a winged aircraft in trouble and a drone plummetting to Earth out of control. However, the FAA doesn't.  Some drones are fixed wing aircraft that can tolerate nearly as many problems as aircraft face (incapacitated pilots, loss of control, system failures, powertrain failures, out of fuel/battery, etc.), though, as always, there are idiots who will create these situations where they were avoidable.

    I fully expect drone strikes by aircraft will happen, just as birdstrikes do.  Frankly, I'm a lot more afraid of hitting a flock of geese than the biggest drones I've seen, and nobody is outlawing them.  I actually know ultralight pilots who have had only a single flying lesson from another ultralight hobbyist.  I'm on the lookout for those guys, too.  Yes, drone pilots need to be on high alert these days.  Yes, we need to consider other aircraft.  My concern is that the community, out of fear of what the FAA and others might want to do to limit us, acquiesce to restrictions that are less than what FAA is currently raving for, but which are still unreasonably strict.  Regulations should cover only the clear dangers while allowing the most freedom reasonable.  They should prevent only actions that could not possibly be done without endangering others, not actions that might sometimes endanger others if done with poor controls and poor judgment.  

    The 400ft rule is what it is.  I just wanted to point out that it is legal to fly many, many types of much larger aircraft in this same area; suggesting the actual danger involved is within normal limits for drones as it is for other aircraft.

    I also think the 400 ft rule made a lot more sense when it was really difficult to see to control average RC aircraft at altitudes above that.  Now that anyone can easily make an aircraft that could reliably hit 10,000ft up in full control, visibility (via FPV) and with excellent situational awareness, there needs to be a path somewhere to accomodate the use of such craft.  I would be OK with legal restrictions being put in place to govern that, if not for the fact that anyone can also build an ultralight to do the same (except they risk their own life doing it) with virtually no restrictions.  The ultralight community polices itself, much as we do here, as best it can, and accident rates for them have been the same as the FAA certified aircraft, I'm told.  I should expect the drone community to do far better given we aren't risking our necks by flying ourselves around in whatever we have put together.  

  • I agree with John Maffetone. Until regulations for drone operation and pilot certification are adopted, novice pilots with consumer-level drones will continue to disregard public safety, and potentially hinder public acceptance of drones for professional use. I agree that no harm was done in this instance. The pilot's disregard FAA and AMA regulations indicates he was a novice, or unaware/didn't care about existing regulations. Another factor is the lack of high quality control standards for the manufacture of consumer-level drone flight control systems, motors, ESCs, etc. The likelihood of component failure in these drones is relatively high. That, combined with the inexperience of novice pilots, creates a public safety risk. A two pound drone plummeting from several hundred feet can certainly cause significant property damage/bodily harm.

  • Adam, I think something has to be done. At a bare minimum I think local governments need to add laws allowing the local police to do something. I also think procedures for manned aircraft encountering drones need to be advised by the FAA. When those 911 calls from the Space Needle came in it would have been nice if 911 would have contacted ATC to give an advisory to pilots in the area. 

    If I were in charge of the FAA with "powers" I would require all drones to have software restricting themselves to under 400ft. Another thing to consider is having a system where drones self report their location and attitude. 

  • Incidents like this mean an inevitable ban on its way?

    A ban on drones inevitable?
    A ban on drones might be inevitable. The drone community awaits the FAA's rules, but stupid people seem bent on a ban on drones being the only possib…
This reply was deleted.