FAA Drone Safety Awareness Week (November 4 through 10)
Manned pilots have for decades confessed their aviation sins in the interest of helping others, and avoiding or ameliorating FAA-imposed consequences, by filing reports of their transgressions with the Aviation Safety Reporting System. Run by NASA, the ASRS database includes a selected portion of the total reports culled for public consumption, with identifying information stripped away to preserve anonymity.
ASRS allows pilots to help others while learning from their own mistakes and avoiding, in some cases, punishment by the FAA.
Remote pilots have been using this service as well, and 22 reports pertaining to unmanned operations were found on a recent search dating from January 1 through October 28, 2019.
Sixteen of those 22 reports involved small unmanned aircraft (under 55 pounds) flown under 14 CFR Part 107, or under the rules for hobbyists. Nine of those 16 published reports (and an unknown number of others) involved airspace incursions and violations, by far the most common in the public dataset.
The remaining reports include examples of mistakes that led to flights over people, beyond visual line of sight, over a moving vehicle (which is a no-no), and one near midair collision. We’ve culled the synopses and organized them for you to read and learn from. The section headers are ours, but the rest of the content is straight from the database. Bullet points represent separate, unedited ASRS accounts written by the pilots themselves.
Blinded by the light
- I was flying a small UAS. During the flight, the aircraft passed in front of the sun and I lost visual contact for approx. 10 seconds. Afterwards, I could not reacquire visual contact. I could hear the propeller and executed what I estimated was a 180 degree turn with the throttle at mid-position to bring the plane back to my location. After waiting approximately the time the plane had been flying away from me, I scanned the likely area of sky but could not see it. I then executed a 90-degree banked turns to put the increase the visibility of the plane (the plane was flying in a stabilized mode with a roll limit of 90 degrees, so full aileron stick-deflection would cause a consistent 90-degree bank angle). When I was unable to see the plane (I could still hear the propeller at this point) I executed a series of turns while monitoring the RSSI (receiver signal level transmitted from the plane back to the transmitter) and tried to find a course that would increase the RSSI level indicating the plane was flying closer. Unfortunately, the RSSI telemetry system is not very accurate at this range and I was unable to get a stable enough signal. At this point the telemetry link was lost (the transmitted signal has a substantially longer range). To minimize any potential damage on landing, I closed the throttle and applied full back elevator to slow the forward speed and descent rate until I estimated the plane would have landed (approximately one minute). The primary initiation of this event was a brief loss in awareness of the plane’s path relative to the sun. Normally I avoid flying near the sun but in this case I misjudged.