COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. (KRDO) — When flying a drone or unmanned aircraft system (UAS), there are primarily three general rules that should be followed at all times:
- Keep it under 400 feet
- Keep it in the visual line of sight
- Know where you are flying to avoid interfering with airport or military operations
However, FAA records show that these rules are frequently broken in Colorado.
A recent incident involved a very familiar group in Colorado Springs.
In September 2021, pilots aboard the United States Air Force Academy parachute plane informed control tower that they had spotted a drone flying about 3,000 feet above the ground while returning to the airfield , well above the maximum allowable height.
This incident was one of dozens of entries in the FAA’s databases of drone sightings from 2019 through 2021 across the state.
During this period, there were:
- 129 sightings in the Denver area
- 16 in the Colorado Springs area
- 10 in other parts of the state.
Among those sightings is a case in October 2019 involving a man who wanted to use a drone to take photos of the statue known as ‘Blucifer’, which is just half a mile from the nearest runway. from Denver International Airport (DIA).
According to FAA records, the FBI showed up and confiscated his drone. The FBI declined to release further details of the case.
In June 2021, another drone hovering over a helipad in Grand Junction forced all firefighting aircraft to avoid the area until it disappeared.
Although the drone operator was identified, the FAA had no further details on why the person was flying there or if they faced any penalty.
In November 2021 near DIA, an airliner pilot reported a drone just 200 feet below while flying about 6,000 feet above the ground.
This drone operator was never found.
However, not all illegal drone flights are documented in FAA sightings databases.
A KRDO viewer recently wanted to share a video he captured of the COVID-19 testing line at Chapel Hills Mall in northern Colorado Springs.
However, this flight was completely illegal as it was less than two miles from the Academy airfield.
Leo Lujan is a recreational drone pilot who enjoys taking aerial photos and videos.
He makes sure to always inspect his gear and check on his phone where he’s allowed to fly, but admits many pilots don’t follow the rules and often post the videos of their stunts online.
Lujan explained that some drones don’t have built-in altitude or airspace limits, which makes it easier for operators to break the rules.
“You get a Holy Stone drone, which looks like a DJI, like the Mini 2 or the Mini 1, but this thing will go right through an airport, and there’s a camera on it, but there’s no restriction, ” he says.
The most popular drones today weigh between half a pound and three pounds, and many people wonder how much damage they could actually do to an aircraft.
The University of Dayton Research Institute sought to answer this question by using an air gun to simulate a popular model hitting an airplane wing at high speed.
The video shows that instead of breaking up on impact, the drone penetrated deep into the wing before breaking apart.
Lt. Col. Jacob Stevens is the flight safety officer for the 98th Flying Training Squadron at the Air Force Academy.
After viewing the video, he confirmed that depending on certain factors, the type of damage depicted in the simulation could indeed cause a plane to crash.
To date, however, a drone has yet to bring down a manned aircraft, according to FAA drone specialist Kevin Morris.
“It’s something we work every day to try to prevent,” he said.
Morris explained that whether someone is flying for work or just for fun, they must go online to register their drone and also pass a basic online safety test called TRUST.
The only exception to the check-in rule is if the UAS’s total weight is 0.55 pounds or less and it is flying under the recreational traveler exception rule.
Morris hopes people understand that when they buy a drone, they are buying an aircraft and that there is significant responsibility on the part of the operator.
“Drones and traditional planes are going to share the same airspace. They do now,” he says. “As drones become more capable, as they evolve, they’re going to be sharing this airspace more and at higher altitudes. That’s where aviation is going, and our focus at the FAA is to make sure these drones share this airspace safely.”
Below is a lengthy interview with Morris:
Drone pilots are unlikely to exercise the same level of safety as those involved in manned aircraft operations, but Stevens hopes they will take at least a few minutes to ensure their flight does not cause harm. disasters to another flight and potentially lives lost.
Most of the pilots involved in the dozens of incidents listed in the FAA’s database have never been located, but new technology is coming that will allow the FAA to better identify who is flying a UAS.
When it goes into effect, UAS remote identification will allow the FAA, law enforcement and other agencies to determine the location and identity of a drone operating without authorization in a prohibited area .
However, the technology is still being ironed out by drone manufacturers.
The FAA has required manufacturers to include Remote ID on all models sold by September 2022, and all drones must include the technology by September 2023.
Older drones will need to add the technology retroactively.
If you are caught flying in the wrong area or without your safety test certificate, an operator can be fined anywhere from a few thousand dollars to hundreds of thousands of dollars, although Morris is quick to say that the FAA still prefers to educate drone owners. rather than imposing fines where possible.