Wednesday, March 14, 2018
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Drone Hits Athlete… Let’s Talk About It…

Drone Attacks Athelete
Photo courtesy of the internet.

This is not new news, as it happened 9am Sunday in the land down under, but according to all the reports I read as well as the photos that I saw, it looks like a hexcopter crashed into an athlete at an Australian triathlon.  The photos I saw, the “drone” looks to be a DJI Flamewheel 550 (or some clone thereof), not that what brand it was really matters, but from some of the reports I read, you would think it was a military drone or something perhaps attacking from outer space.

One comment I read made me laugh; “Drones don’t just exist for pretty videos and convenient delivery. They also exist to be a hazard to athletes…”  I am not sure about you, but I did not buy my multirotors to attack athletes, but apparently there is an added applications I was not aware of?  <joke>

Let’s look at the reports… Some say that she was struck by the drone as it fell, while others say that it crashed near her and she fell because she was startled. Which was it? Again semantics, perhaps, but in either case I think it is probably safe to say that there is some level of operator error or bad judgement made either by mis-controlling this model or choosing to fly too close to people.

My Opinion (and it is just my opinion)

I personally think that getting coverage from the air from a multirotor is pretty incredible as it really gives a new perspective on the race.  However, there are a lot of precautions that must be taken into consideration.  First and foremost, if someone is going to operate an aerial photography vehicle, they must do it with permission not only from the event organizer but from the athletes that are participating as well. Everyone should be aware that it is flying above them and in the event the pilot loses control, he/she should yell  and the racers would know to get out of the way.   Even with permission and everyone being prepped for safety, something can always go wrong which puts the onus on the pilot to fly at a safe distance from people and perhaps off to the side and not over the athletes’ heads.  That way in the event there is a problem, there is a greater chance that the copter will come down out of harms way from people.

Some might argue that you can’t be too far away due to camera limitations whereas you won’t get a good shot.  Well, again in my opinion, that should never be an excuse. Machines that can carry a DSLR camera have the ability to use longer lenses to still capture the action up close while flying a distance away.  If you “need” to fly close because of limitations of your equipment then that is a sure sign that you should NOT be flying at that event or in those types of environments.

Additionally, the pilot should always have a spotter, someone to make the pilot aware of surroundings and be there to help alert people if there is an issue.

Multirotors were used at the Olymics to capture video footage. Everyone saw the pictures that went viral of “drones” shadows lurking in the snow.  A lot of precautions were taken to have those machines there and the main one was that they must fly off to the sides and out of the athletes’ way. It was a successful use of these machines, and yet the media still tried to hype it into something negative.

Who Was At Fault?

The pilot is always to blame.  Whether you are flying full scale or radio control, you as the pilot are always responsible for your aircraft and the safety of those around you.  I always loved being at a flying event where someone crashes their model in a spectacular fashion and then looking at their transmitter with a dumbfounded look on their face as if the controller developed a mind of its own and took control away from the pilot.  No one likes to accept blame. It’s embarrassing, and if there was damage to property or worse case, injury to a person, human nature has us try and make an excuse or protect ourselves.  Like the common “the dog ate my homework” scenario.  We learn this trait at a young age.

I bring this up because when the pilot/owner was interviewed, New Era Photography and Film’s Warren Abrams, says that someone intentionally “channel hopped” the drone which interrupted the signal causing loss of control.  Other reports claim that the drone was “hacked”.

While I am not an electrical engineer, and do not pretend to be an expert in frequency manipulation, I do know that one of the reasons the 2.4GHz band is so popular in the radio control hobby is because the modern radio systems that we use are designed specifically to prevent this sort of thing.  I did not see a photo of the pilot’s transmitter, but I hope that he was using 2.4Ghz and not an old FM or AM transmitter.  If you are going to fly a multirotor on anything but 2.4GHz (5.8Ghz for the Phantom FC40 and Vision 2), then you have NO business being in the air.  Technology has given us the gift of radio systems where we no longer have to worry about channel conflicts.   I don’t know how large or publicized this event was, but was it really a digital “terrorist” attack?  Did someone know that this pilot was going to be there and go through the trouble of designing a device that could jam it up, all to make a point that drones are dangerous?  Or did this pilot or his company have that many enemies that someone would go to such lengths?

Again, I was not there, but I have 25 years experience in the hobby/industry and I know from my experiences that it is usually pilot error or sometimes mechanical error which is often caused by improper maintenance or preflight of the model by the  pilot.  But then again, human nature is to avoid blame and to instinctively try and post it on someone or something else.

So Why This Post?

I am writing this because I have a passion for this hobby and these machines and as the Editor of MultiRotor Pilot magazine, I want to continue to see this hobby grow and I want to see commercial applications for these machines grow as well.  The media is itching to cover stories like this; bad and scary news sells. Drones are on the radar and rest assured that anything bad that happens with one of these machines will go viral by the media… quickly.   If we, as owners/pilots of our multirotor machines are not careful and make poor decisions, soon we will find it more and more difficult to fly legally throughout the world.  In the U.S., the FAA, FCC and law enforcement agencies all have our “drones” on the radar.  They are looking for a reason to ban them.  Don’t give  them the ammunition!   In fact, come up with something heartwarming to do with your multirotor…like saving a cat from a tree and then call the media and tell them to publish that… We need some good PR.

Your thoughts?

My main reason for writing this is to get your feedback so please feel free to comment below and let me know what your thoughts are on this incidnet or any other “drone” incidents that seem to be in the news every other day.

Thanks for reading…

Erick Royer
Executive Editor
MultiRotor Pilot Magazine