WASHINGTON – Federal investigators have opened their first probe of a midair collision between a civilian drone and a traditional aircraft.
An Army UH-60 helicopter was flying east of Staten Island on Sept. 21 when it collided with a small, consumer Phantom 4 drone, the National Transportation Safety Board said in a press release Thursday.
The NTSB released a photo of the helicopter’s rotor blade with scrape marks that occurred in the collision. The helicopter pilot was able to land safely and there were no reports of injuries.
The incident is the first confirmed midair collision between a manned aircraft and one of the millions of drones that have flooded the U.S. market in recent years. The Federal Aviation Administration, which is assisting the investigation, has logged more than 1,000 reports of drone safety incidents, including cases of the devices flying close to jetliners.
The case also comes as the FAA and other federal agencies are debating whether to require that drones be equipped with radio-tracking devices to improve security and safety.
NTSB investigators identified and interviewed the operator of the drone and obtained data on the unmanned vehicle’s flight, the agency said. The Army is conducting a separate review.
The Phantom 4, made by China-based SZ DJI Technology Co., weighs about 3 pounds (1.38 kg) and is part of the world’s most popular family of civilian drones. It has a high-definition camera and is designed for professionals and high-end amateur users. Depending on the accessories, it can cost more than $1,000.
While the NTSB release contained few details, there are multiple restrictions against drone operations in New York. Most of the region is off-limits to drone flights without special FAA authorization because of the proximity to several busy airports. The agency also prohibits drones being flown beyond an operator’s line of sight, and they must stay within 400 feet of the ground, below where helicopters typically operate.
DJI is assisting the NTSB investigation, the company said in an emailed statement. “We have always instructed drone operators to obey the laws and regulations applicable to drones in their jurisdiction, and we urge our customers to fully educate themselves about how to fly safely,” the company said.
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