The National Transportation Safety Board has issued its final report on a midair collision between a DJI Phantom drone and a Black Hawk helicopter in September of 2017 that damaged one of the rotor blades of the helicopter, becoming one of the first confirmed and fully investigated incidents between a drone and a manned aircraft.
On September 21 of last year, a DJI Phantom 4 collided with a US Army Black Hawk helicopter operating under VFR in Class G airspace at about 300 ft. msl. The drone was unsurprisingly destroyed in the collision, while the helicopter suffered damage on a rotor blade, as can be seen below.
The worst damage was a 1.5-inch dent in the leading edge of one of the rotor blade, as well as cracks in the fairing and some window frames. The impact caused several pieces of the drone to lodge in the helicopter, thereby allowing the NTSB to track down the owner via the serial number on the parts.
The pilot was unaware of the incident until contacted by the NTSB, having assumed the aircraft had simply failed to return to him automatically and crashed in the water. The pilot, a hobbyist without a Part 107 certification, stated that he understood the regulations regarding the 400-foot ceiling for drones and line of sight requirement, but downloaded flight logs showed he had flown as high as 547 ft. earlier that day and up to 2.5 miles away (the collision took place at about 300 ft. and 2 miles from the takeoff point). In an interview with the NTSB, he stated that he understood the frequency of helicopters in the area but was not concerned with flying beyond line of sight, relying on telemetry and video relayed from the drone, leading the NTSB report to characterize him as having only a "cursory awareness of regulations and good operating practices."
At the time, a TFR (Temporary Flight Restriction) was in place for the relevant area, for which the helicopter was authorized to fly in, while the drone was not. The drone pilot indicated that he relied on the DJI Go app for dissemination of such information, but this feature was not active at the time since his tablet was not connected to the Internet. The NTSB also further noted that the feature is "intended for advisory use only," with final responsibility for compliance resting with the drone pilot. The collision occurred just before the end of civil twilight, with the pilot indicating that he was likely unaware of regulations and practices for operating at such a time.
In summary, this led the NTSB to conclude that the cause of the accident was:
the failure of the sUAS pilot to see and avoid the helicopter due to his intentional flight beyond visual line of sight. Contributing to the incident was the sUAS pilot's incomplete knowledge of the regulations and safe operating practices.
You can see a map of the flight and collision below:
Of course, while I'm tremendously thankful that no one was hurt in the incident above anything else, it's upsetting a serious incident between a drone and manned aircraft has now been confirmed and was caused by negligent flying. Hopefully, we won't see another accident like this. It's not clear if the FAA intends to proceed with penalties against the pilot. You can read the full report here.
All images courtesy of NTSB and in public domain.