Camera drone, helicopter collide during off-road race in California

The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) is investigating the collision of a drone and a helicopter at an off-road truck race in Southern California last week.

A screenshot from a video posted to Facebook, showing a drone camera feed interrupted by apparent collision with an ICON Helicopters Airbus AS350.
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Video posted to Facebook on Feb. 6 shows a drone camera feed interrupted by apparent contact with a helicopter during the 300-mile (480-kilometer) Toyo Tires Desert Invitational, part of the King of the Hammers race week in Johnson Valley, California.

FAA spokesperson Ian Gregor told Vertical that the helicopter was operated by ICON Helicopters of Carlsbad, California, which reported the incident to the San Diego Flight Standards District Office.

ICON Helicopters confirmed that it was operating an Airbus AS350 helicopter at the event for aerial filming, but declined to comment further at this time out of respect for the FAA’s investigative process.

Because of the remote location of King of the Hammers, a spokesperson for organizer Ultra4 Racing was not immediately available for comment, so it is unclear what measures were in place to separate camera helicopters and drones at the event. Gregor confirmed that the FAA had not established a temporary flight restriction over the races.

The incident illustrates the potential for conflict between drones and helicopters even when their operators and pilots are working in known proximity to each other. By contrast, most of the drone strikes and near misses publicized to date have involved drones operating without awareness of or coordination with surrounding traffic.

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In September 2017, a DJI Phantom 4 drone collided with a U.S. Army Sikorsky UH-60M Black Hawk at about 300 feet over Hoffman Island, New York. The National Transportation Safety Board determined in that case that the drone operator “failed to see and avoid the helicopter because he was intentionally flying the drone out of visual range and did not have adequate knowledge of regulations and safe operating practices.”

More recently, in December 2019, a Los Angeles news helicopter operated by Helinet Aviation made a precautionary landing after striking an object believed to be a drone.

11 thoughts on “Camera drone, helicopter collide during off-road race in California

  1. Can you dig a little deeper on this story as far as the drone operator? Were they FAA Part 107 certified? That is a very important part of the story as far as sUAS (AKA “DRONE”) issues. Us legacy rc flyers are being labelled as part of these outlaws and we would appreciate knowing more about the incident. I also fly multirotor and love aviation. Unfortunately the FAA is on a mission to make us extinct, no more Neal Armstrong stories of aviators starting their dreams with models is the result. When the computer crashes 20 sec before lunar touchdown the pilot may not have the skill and seat of the pants experience to pull it off. Maybe a stretch but us guys flying rc aircraft could use some help from our friends in other areas of aviation.

    1. Mark Dobson, did you actually watch the video. These “outlaws” were clearly part of the official race coverage. Rather than trying to be divisive, why don’t you try to do something productive instead of tearing other people down without having a clue what has actually happened.

  2. I watched some of the King of the Hammers race on YouTube and noted they were using both full-size helicopters and drones extensively for the official race coverage. More likely than not this was a collision between two of the official race photographers, as I highly doubt they would have allowed personal drones to be flown at the race.

  3. Mistakes happen, im sure most if not all hobbyist fully agree that we need rules and a structure that helps everyone.
    But the the new proposal is just such a sickening overreach
    Honestly, why cant the FAA develop a realtime app for us hobby pilots to check a spot in real time to see airspace activity??

  4. They do, it’s called airmap, B4UFly ForeFlight, aeronautical charts, gaia maps ect…… Plenty of moble apps allow you to verify the airspace you plan on flying your drone, it’s up to the operator to use them. If they were both in class G airspace, no TFR, or announcements to spectators then it’s like driving a boat on the lake, you just HAVE to pay attention! This drone operator was obviously not doing so, and will leave a negative mark on the drone industry. While the FAA’s newly proposed rules are extreme, can you blame them? How upset would you be if you were the heli pilot? If we the people can’t act with common sense then the gov has no choice but to step in and put their foot down. It’s like drinking and driving, it wouldn’t be illegal if people would just have the intelligence to not do it….

  5. Didn’t similar happen with a 500 a year or two back? Only a matter of time before one of these bring down a full size aircraft sadly.

  6. Watched the video, was that helicopter pilot blind? He flew right into that drone. The drone has a FOV of about 150* and any change to the pilots view to fly compromises the footage. The chopper pilot has a much wider FOV and can look around super quick without compromising the footage. Also it looked like the drone was on a fairly straight path turning slightly to the left. The chopper pilot just came out of nowhere and hit him. The chopper pilot has 1 job, fly the helicopter and not crash in to stuff. There is a separate person operating the camera. The UAV operator has to do everything all from a screen.

    Look I get it, I hate cyclists on the road as I drive my car and they legitimately cause accidents that loose peoples lives, yet its always the motor vehicle drivers fault no matter what the idiot cyclist did. End of the day though, they don’t have to register or pay to use the public roads. Why are drone operators and their UAV’s who pay to use airspace and register whilst jumping through all the loop holes always the ones that caused the collision?

    1. Drones are a lot harder to see while flying.
      Too many irresponsible owners tarnish the reputation for drones, Ive had 2 near misses with large drones in class D airspaces. 1 idiot flying a large drone in the departure leg of KAPF at 1500 requiring ATC to dive us away from our heading & altitude. Another idiot flying at 900 feet in the midfield pattern requiring planes to divert additional space to avoid it.

  7. Here’s a thought – Stop using feetsies to gauge your altitude. There’s a little known unit of measure in the US called “the international metre” that’s the same all over the universe and you can use the powers of ten to calculate IN YOUR HEAD the potential altitude of another flying craft. My nation is sad. We claim to be so smart and so savvy and we’re perpetuating units of measure that should’ve been relegated to the history books 150 years ago.

  8. By regulation and by common fu**ing sense it’s the drone pilot’s responsibility to avoid manned aircraft. I wasn’t there and there’s often more to the story but I can’t possibly imagine how this isn’t 1000% the drone pilot’s fault. They should be stripped of their license.

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