Drone Pilots: Beware of Bird Strikes!

Just a quick warning, with photos.

Last week, I did a few photo missions with my Mavic Pro flying camera. For two of the msisions, I launched from an open area at the far east side of the Tyson Wells complex in Quartzsite, just south of Keuhn Road.

I’m in the habit of using the Return-to-Home feature of my Mavic to get it back to its launch point quickly and efficiently. In all honesty, I’m awed by its ability to land exactly on its takeoff spot nearly every single time. I like to watch, with my finger poised over the pause button on the control (just in case), as it comes to the right coordinates far overhead, turns to the direction in which it took off, and descends to the spot.

On one of the three missions I flew from that spot, a small flock of pigeons flew right past the Mavic. I watched in shock and a bit of horror as the five or six birds swooped around my fragile aircraft. I felt relief as the Mavic continued its descent unharmed, but the whole thing repeated itself when another flock — or the same flock? — swooped past. Again, the Mavic was unharmed.

I happened to have the video camera going when this was happening. Here are two screen grabs, one from each flight, that show the closest encounter. The first one was definitely closer.

Near Miss
This reminds me of a scene from The Birds.

Near Miss
The bird is a bit farther off in this one. Can you see it?

Of course, the camera can’t capture action in a direction it isn’t pointing. For all I know they could have come closer behind the camera.

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While this is all kind of cool in a weird sort of way, it wouldn’t have been so cool if one of those birds clipped a rotor. The Mavic has four independently powered rotors. If any one of them was destroyed, I’d have to think the whole thing would immediately go out of balance and crash. This is one good reason why we don’t fly drones over crowds of people. Even though the Mavic weighs in at less than 2 pounds, having one crash onto your head from 150 feet would definitely cause some injuries.

Honestly, I’m surprised this hasn’t happened yet. A matter of time?

8 thoughts on “Drone Pilots: Beware of Bird Strikes!

  1. Maria, I believe that it is just a matter of time until a mid-air collision occurs. With an aircraft. How serious the consequences of that collision are will determine what happens next. When I fly, I always wear a helmet with visor down. Day or night. For those pilots that don’t wear a helmet, I would recommend safety glasses. They have really come a long way in attractive designs. You can even get them made with your prescription.

    • I need to start wearing my helmet again when I dry cherries. The damn thing is so uncomfortable and doesn’t work with bluetooth. I need to get it fixed up.

      And I believe you’re right: it’s just a matter of time before someone gets seriously injured by a drone. Last week, I was camped near a friend of a friend who had a Phantom 3. He was flying it at 1000 AGL. WTF? There are PLANES up there! But no one seems to care about the rules — if they even acknowledge that rules exist.

  2. That opens up the drone operator to a major liability lawsuit if anything happens at that altitude. I wouldn’t try that unless I was on the radio or phone with ATC.

  3. A few minutes search on Youtube will yield enough bird vs. drone collisions that people are already putting up “best of drone versus bird” compilation videos. Click on a few of the resulting “suggested” videos and you’ll probably start to wonder how long it’ll be until drones are regulated out of existence, there’s so much idiotic stuff going on. I suspect that the current FAA rules are only going to be the start, and that we’re already at the point where flying manned aircraft is measurably less safe as a result of drones.

    • I definitely agree: there’s a ton of really stupid drone stuff going on. So far, I’ve been practicing in pretty remote places — that Quartzsite show was the most populated area I’ve been near — but when I’m ready to market my aerial photography, it’ll likely be in places near more people. I’ve already seen drones operating over large crowds. Scary stuff.

  4. Yow. That’s too close for comfort. And being able to retrieve a downed drone is another matter, avian conflict aside.

    • That’s what worries me: having it go down in a place where I can’t retrieve it. I fly in a lot of remote areas, as well as over water. It would be extremely upsetting to lose my investment.

What do you think?