Camera drone, helicopter collide during off-road race in California

AvatarByElan Head| February 11, 2020

Estimated reading time 2 minutes, 44 seconds.

The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) is investigating the collision of a drone and a helicopter at an off-road truck race in Southern California last week.

A screenshot from a video posted to Facebook, showing a drone camera feed interrupted by apparent collision with an ICON Helicopters Airbus AS350.

Video posted to Facebook on Feb. 6 shows a drone camera feed interrupted by apparent contact with a helicopter during the 300-mile (480-kilometer) Toyo Tires Desert Invitational, part of the King of the Hammers race week in Johnson Valley, California.

FAA spokesperson Ian Gregor told Vertical that the helicopter was operated by ICON Helicopters of Carlsbad, California, which reported the incident to the San Diego Flight Standards District Office.

ICON Helicopters confirmed that it was operating an Airbus AS350 helicopter at the event for aerial filming, but declined to comment further at this time out of respect for the FAA’s investigative process.

Because of the remote location of King of the Hammers, a spokesperson for organizer Ultra4 Racing was not immediately available for comment, so it is unclear what measures were in place to separate camera helicopters and drones at the event. Gregor confirmed that the FAA had not established a temporary flight restriction over the races.

The incident illustrates the potential for conflict between drones and helicopters even when their operators and pilots are working in known proximity to each other. By contrast, most of the drone strikes and near misses publicized to date have involved drones operating without awareness of or coordination with surrounding traffic.

In September 2017, a DJI Phantom 4 drone collided with a U.S. Army Sikorsky UH-60M Black Hawk at about 300 feet over Hoffman Island, New York. The National Transportation Safety Board determined in that case that the drone operator “failed to see and avoid the helicopter because he was intentionally flying the drone out of visual range and did not have adequate knowledge of regulations and safe operating practices.”

More recently, in December 2019, a Los Angeles news helicopter operated by Helinet Aviation made a precautionary landing after striking an object believed to be a drone.

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