Earlier this week a pilot from Idaho was preparing to begin a spray run through a field. Barely visible ahead of him was a small stationary object. He decided it must be a kite since a bird would not remain motionless. As he neared the object, it rapidly shot straight up. The pilot took evasive action but it passed so close to the airplane that he was unsure if it had missed the aircraft and spray system. It was close enough for him to be able to identify the make and model of the quad-rotor unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV). He did not see the vehicle again as he finished the field but he did see the suspected operator/pilot in a car near the field. When he went to the next field, the car followed him where he observed the car’s occupant taking pictures with a hand-held camera.
The pilot notified his operator of what had transpired and was told to see if he could identify the car. Through the assistance of the farmer and the crop consultant, they were able to narrow down the search for the individual. The pilot notified the county sheriff of the incident and deputies were able to locate the suspected operator of the UAV.
During an interview with the suspect, the sheriff told him the endangered pilot could press charges and he would have been held liable if any damage had occurred to the aircraft. The suspect was asked if his operation of the UAV was covered by insurance. The person was visibly shocked when he learned of the value of a turbine ag aircraft. His demeanor became extremely remorseful.
At the same time, strictly by chance, inspectors from the local FSDO happened to stop by the operator’s business on a courtesy call. They were immediately informed of the event and the follow-up. Although they did not know exactly how to handle the reporting of the incident, they knew the FAA needs to have reports of UAV incidents to aid in developing rules for the safe integration of UAVs into the airspace system.
The pilot and operator declined to press charges against the UAV’s operator because of his remorse and attitude upon realizing the safety implications of his actions. The possible financial liability alone was sufficient to get the message across.
NAAA reminds pilots and operators to report to their local FSDO and law enforcement agency any incidents involving near collisions or interference to their flying activities from UAVs. An actual report is the only way official documentation will be able to track the extent of the problem.