Over the past several days and seemly there is no coincidence that almost immediately after the news of the FAA recent announcement we have what I thought was a perfect example of someone who was very new to the new machine that he was using or was blatantly reckless. I probably like many thought 'This is all we need is people doing stupid things that will make it harder on all of us' . Then I cam across a story about the same subject however it had more than just a reporters commentary, but the recording of the NYPD Helicopter Pilot and the Air Traffic Controller. It is hard to change what was said on recording.

The Story that I found the recording : http://motherboard.vice.com/read/police-recording-confirms-nypd-flew-at-a-drone-never-feared-crash

Here's a full transcript of the recording:

NYPD—What kind of contact do you have … at this time.

Tower—What do you mean, what kind of contact?

NYPD—I don’t know. We just had an aircraft do vertical climbs pretty fast.

Tower—I don’t see anything on the radar. About how high would you say it went?

NYPD—I'd say 0 to about 2,000 [feet] in less than two seconds. And he's got green and red now. He's going up Spuyten Duyval [bridge], northbound at this time.

Tower—Really? I don’t see anything on the radar. Im not seeing anything like that.

NYPD—He has to be military. He's moving. He's right over top of us right now, LaGuardia. He did a 180 really quick. Going down the east river at this time. I just want to make sure its not a drone.

Tower—I’ll look out the window.

NYPD—LaGuardia we are 800 feet and he is level with us at this time.

Tower—He's level.

NYPD—Going Spuyten Duyval to the [George Washington Bridge]. He's got to be a drone.

Tower—Roger that.

NYPD—He's got red and green lights. Hes trucking, hes moving fast. LaGuardia, definitely a drone. Hes going up the streets now between buildings.

Tower—Ok, all right. Man, theres really gotta be a better way to maybe disable these guys.

NYPD—We are going to stay here and figure out where he puts it.

Tower—Take your time, you’re the only ones in the air.

NYPD—Will do. Yeah, we got drone activity at the GW Bridge. We are trying to walk an RMP [remote mobile patrol] into it. We got the guys operating it on the ground. Hopefully we can get these guys collared up.

Tower—In the vicinity of the GW? They were at the GW. Now I got three, four, coming up to Fairview and 193, vicinity of.

Tower—All right, you want me to do anything from here.

NYPD—Nope, just letting you know.

NYPD—Ok we got these guys are saying these are just toys but these drones were flying in vicinity of [George Washington Bridge]. They buzz around us as well.

Tower—All right what altitude were you guys at.

NYPD—These things were well over 2,000 feet. They were above us at 1,000.

Tower—You still have a visual.

NYPD—No, we've got custody, we've locked the [radio mobile patrol police cars] into them. You know, we have the guys who were operating them. We really don’t know exactly what we have, maybe a reckless. Not sure what exactly we got.

Tower—All right 10-4.

NYPD—Just so you know there was a class given to lt perez, I don’t know if you want to disturb him or not, but he had all the info on that.

Tower—All right 10-4 thank you.

NYPD—Tiny little, we got them on the ground now. Tiny little drones with four blades on it. But, yeah, It was all the way over the GW. Now we are all the way over at Spuyten Duyval flying two miles away to 2,000 feet.

NYPD—They are with them right now, but we don’t even know what we have.

NYPD—Definitely, we just don’t know what kind of crime we have right now.

NYPD—Seems to me, if they were at 1,000 feet, they'd have to be operating that thing recklessly, regardless of whether or not it was a toy.


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  • Hi Tearig - sorry yes I missed the sarcasm - yay Internet. I'm a pilot in Australia (we have a team in this year's OBC, thus the drone connection) so I only know NYC airspace from articles in Flight Safety and other aviation magazines. Birdstrikes are always a problem, I was just making the point that small objects can and do cause safety issues for aircraft. In fact I'd rather hit a bird than a drone, I can imagine that being served a pile of chopped up LiPos in your lap would be rather distracting.

    However I don't see any evidence of the pilot behaving recklessly in the transcript - they're in contact with the tower, and were told they're the only aircraft in the air. The pilot says the drone is going up the streets between buildings, that doesn't mean the helicopter was following it - with all the lights on it it would be easy to track from a safe position - or am I mistaken?

  • I don't want to sound like the bad guy, but should we really be operating around such a busy bridge? Right or wrong this just hurts us while we are trying to get the FAA to be reasonably. 

  • Jg well stated, and how you said is demonstrative of the issues at hand. A ban rarely is effective in curtailing activity rather it exaterbates the issue as the responsible operator, and I believe all of us commenting on this post are of the responsible type, can not help the situation via helping police operators that are being reckless.

    It seems that the direction of congress to ask for a shared airspace solution is the proper way to address the issue, and if that was done, strange lights hovering around would be dismissed as what it is, and as a result would be dealt with appropriatly without risking anything to the piloted craft.

  • The mind and eyes play funny tricks at night with lights.  Distance is impossible to judge properly because the brain relies on relative brightness which is more times than not wrong.  There isn't enough visual information for the brain and eyes in the dark to perform well.  Also because the led lights are relatively a pinpoint at that distance, autokenisis can occur and the object "appears" to move because of the persons own eye movement.  This happens all the time in aviation when the viewer does not understand what they are looking at.  Another issue is the distance and spacing of the led lights.  They are not normal for aviation.  Because of this, the brain will have an extremely hard time figuring out movement, direction, and speed of the object.  Then suddenly the brain thinks it solves whats going on the the "object" appears to move at great speed, the changes direction abruptly and goes somewhere else when the brain reworks the problem and the solution didn't make sense.  In any case yes the DJI operator was stupid, yes the media sensationalized a story in a less than truthful manner.  Did the NYPD pilot lie directly?  Tough to say, but the transcripts suggest he was confused and couldn't figure out what was going on.  So he wanted to investigate it.  He honestly could have easily thought the object almost hit him.  Bright position lights (red/green) with no white means the aircraft is headed directly for you.  With little time to decipher the situation he very well could have maneuvered out of the way.  There is more to learn from this than a drone vs. the FAA problem.  Its truly a case in personal perception and how the brain and eyes process information.

  • Moderator

    I agree with Robin's observation. The NYPD pilot clearly thought he had another fullsize aircraft in his airspace when the conversation began. The 4th thing he says "He has to be military. He's moving....." suggests, to me, that he thought initially it was a fast jet 1000ft/s as a rate of climb is fast jet territory.

    So if you assume, as i think we must, that the pilot could only really see the red/green LEDs of the quad and used their relative size to estimate distance all other things, such as height must be estimates relative to this range estimation. So a 60ft ish aircraft say a mile away vs a 1ft ish aircraft 500 feet away at night with only the LEDs visible is not unreasonable.
    I'm reasonably certain that the pilot/observer can reasonably accurately pinpoint when an object is level, above or below his position. He knew he was at 800ft so I think when he says it's level with us that's pretty accurate. If, as he then says, it climbs to 2000ft then it must have appeared to have been higher than them.

    So all of the above taken into consideration I believe the more accurate figure could be derived by making the following assumptions

    The pilot initially believed the other craft was a fast jet a couple of miles (at least) away.
    The pilot's estimate of 800feet same flight level and later 1000 feet again same flight level is accurate

    If we assume the quad did vary it's altitude from below to above the helicopter as suggested by the transcript and add some more realistic figures of say 100 feet below to 100 feet above and 500 feet distance some basic trig would tell us that the angle of change is roughly from 11 degrees below to 11 degrees above. If we apply that angle of change to an object that we thought was larger and further away say 1 mile (5280feet) you get +/- 1056 feet

    I found an advert that claims max rate of climb is 1180feet/minute (http://www.redrockethobbies.com/DJI-Phantom-Quadcopter-p/dji-phanto...) which is 20ft/s so maybe the quad was closer to the helicopter than the 500ft I assumed and/or the pilot thought the "jet" was further out. At 2 miles the angle would be twice 5.41 degrees applying that value to 500 feet distance gives a climb of 94 feet which is closer to feasible. Again put the quad a little closer to the heli and the numbers come even closer to what the piot claims to have observed

    Also it should be noted that the pilot didn't "follow" the quad except visually. The pilot even states "We are going to stay here and figure out where he puts it."

  • I didn't look at a chart, but since the NYPD heli is talking to tower, its pretty safe assumption that he was within their area which would be Class B airspace surface to the top.  Top is normally 9000 or 10,000 feet above sea level.  The reckless would come in for the NYPD by flying too low to the ground in a populated area, too close to obstacles while not taking off or landing, and by the very nature of the act of "chasing" an object at low altitude, in the dark, in an urban environment.  It doesn't matter that they are police.  They still have to follow the exact same FAA regulations that other aircraft do.  They DO NOT get an exemption from these rules, even though they like to think they can fly in any manner they choose to accomplish their goals.  The pilots and aircraft are regulated by the FAA, not the police department.  Think of it this way, "if" the heli had an issue or hit something, what would the pilots defense be to the FAA?  "Sir i was chasing what was a UFO or a toy, and thought it would be ok to not follow the rules."  That is not a valid legal reason to break the FARS ( FARS= rule and guideline book for aviation).

  • I should have prefaced with "Sarcasm"... The blog post removed the commentary from the report that I had found because that too was bias...

    My comment was to show and that the response was also reckless, and knowing that airspace, and all of the issues and restrictions around it, that a full size aircraft deciding to chase a phantom is indeed reckless and placing the pilots at in unnecessary risk.

    Robin, you sound like you may be a pilot, and possibly if so you know this Airspace of NYC. Would you ever feel comfortable flying in this area especially with the number of birds that perch on the GW... Just the thought gives me chills.
  • Robin - Nobody here is silly enough to argue that flying a full 2 miles out from the operator... well beyond visual line of sight... in one of the world's most urban environments... at night... for the fun of it... is anything other than reckless.

    I don't think anyone is defending the quad pilot's actions, just trying to make sense of the obvious differences between what is claimed/perceived to have happened and what actually transpired. Granted Tearig's comment is not to be taken seriously, but I wonder what views shared here you worried regulators might see exactly?

    Instructional flights are great fun and make fantastic birthday presents, but they are a very expensive way of getting your hours up and there is a much more cost effective, more accessible and more efficient way to learn and meet like minded people - join your local model aircraft club. After all, model aircraft clubs and societies are populated with people who fly small, fun, remotely piloted craft for recreational purposes in specifically designated airspace (as well as other suitably compliant locations) up to a maximum height of 400ft (with exceptions, which can go much much higher). In fact, for the cost of a TIF (quick crash course and 30-minute flight) you could afford a whole year membership with the AMA/MAAA/AMAS/NZMAA/etc (which comes with limited insurance).

    My apologies if you are an instructor by trade.

    BTW - The first thing I remember learning in my initial flight was the danger of flying below the dead man's curve. Knowledge of which makes it difficult for some of us to understand why it is considered acceptable for a >1000kg aircraft to track a <1kg toy into an urban environment at night simply to 'collar' the pilot.

    Or, in similar news, how a pilot could be so reckless as to attempt to down a small toy flying in close proximity to the ground and members of the public by positioning their air column above the craft in order to induce loss of control (requiring at least one tight low altitude manoeuvre). Honestly, 'as a pilot', how would you describe this type of behaviour?

    NOTE - I am making the assumption that neither of the helicopters involved in these two incidents are twin turbine aircraft.

  • maybe it is time people pressure, RTF multirotor suppliers to include comprehensive instructions with the copter on what to and not to do.

    I say a unboxing of the phantoms lastest and greatest, there was practically no warnings and the paperwork was buried in the box

  • It is obvious from the recording that at the time they were estimating the ascent etc that they thought it might be a full size aircraft further away from them i.e "I just want to make sure it's not a drone". As a pilot I know it takes a few seconds sometimes to tell the difference between an airliner 20km away and another light plane a few km away.

    I'm worried by some of the comments above. I'm haven't seen the news stories, but based on the transcript alone this is absolutely reckless flying, unbelievable in a busy airspace like that above NY rivers (remember the helicopter-Saratoga mid-air a few years back or the Cirrus hitting the building trying to do a 180)?

    Any regulator reading these comments would be worried to think that the wider drone-flying community shared these views. If these do become the wider drone-flying community's views, the regulators will act.

    If you don't think this is reckless behaviour and you're not a pilot, can I suggest ringing up your local flying school and booking a trial instructional flight (TIF). Talk to the instructors and pilots about your drone flying, ask for some advice about the airspace, where is traffic concentrated, what's easy/hard to see (almost all visual pilots look around the horizon for conflicting traffic at their own level, because other aircraft do not climb or descend rapidly unless they're military) places to avoid, bird strike stories (birds can bring down planes…mumble mumble Hudson mumble). You'll have a blast, and you'll meet some people who love flying but sit in seats attached to their aircraft, and whose replacement body parts are not available on Hobby King.



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