It is not unusual to read news reports of a UAV interfering with manned aircraft performing their aviation duties. These instances can become very critical when emergency response services like medical helicopters, police aircraft near accident scenes and forest firefighters are affected. Any potential collision between a manned aircraft and a UAV could be life threatening. This nearly happened to an ag pilot last week.
NAAA member Dallas Grimm, a pilot for Redline Aviation in eastern Nebraska, had just finished spraying a field across the river in western Iowa and was climbing out on his way back to the airport he was working out of. As he was passing through about 350 feet AGL, he caught a glimpse of white at the lower right side of his windshield. The object disappeared under his wing before he could take evasive action. As he passed the object he recognized it as a quadcopter UAV. Grimm turned to keep the UAV in sight and realized it was “parked” in a stationary location.
He made several circles around the UAV and looked around for the operator controlling it. A pickup truck was parked next to the field with two men inside the cab, but neither seemed to be observing the UAV. Soon the UAV proceeded to land in a grassy area near the field. The truck drove to the landing site, picked it up and drove away. Grimm and Redline Aviation operator Ryan Lihs believe it had been conducting a field survey for a crop scouting company and as such was not a hobbyist out pleasure flying.
Aviation personnel originally felt the greatest danger UAVs posed was from hobbyists who do not understand airspace rules and are unaware of their danger to manned aircraft. However, in this case, if assumptions are correct, a UAV operated for commercial purposes should be flown by a licensed operator that has passed a test on flight rules and procedures. Apparently, the operator was not keeping the UAV in visual sight, and the requirement to give way to manned aircraft was not being adhered to, as evidenced by the lack of effort to avoid the ag aircraft. The UAV operator was undoubtedly aware the ag aircraft was operating nearby since the pilot had completed the field less than a mile away.
Redline Aviation reported the incident to the FAA and local law enforcement agencies, but so far, the UAV operator has not been found. Lihs is using this opportunity to contact broadcast news and print media asking drone operators to use caution for other aircraft using the airspace and obey safety rules and recommendations. The above video is coverage of the near-miss by a Sioux City, Iowa, TV station, which Lihs hopes will capture the attention of UAV operators.