Drone Versus Black Hawk Helicopter: Hit or Miss?

Drone Versus Black Hawk Helicopter: Hit or Miss?

After many closes calls and inconclusive reports, a new incident involving a small hobby drone and two military Black Hawk helicopters might mark one the first drone to aircraft collision. Unlike many previous cases, this incident seemed to have left direct evidence. Army Lieutenant Colonel Joe Buccino, the spokesman for the 82nd Airborne, said that a civilian drone “struck on the left side of fuselage. There were no adverse impacts to the flight.” He added that “one blade was damaged [and] dented in two spots and requires replacement and there is a dented window.” Here is what we know.

Manned Aircraft Involved

The piloted aircraft involved in the incident are two UH-60 Black Hawk helicopters. This 10 tons class twin-engine cargo copter is one of the workhorse of the U.S. armed forces since the 80s. This Jeep of the air is mainly used for airlift missions such as tactical transport, search and rescue, and medical evacuation. A modified stealth version of the Black Hawk was used in the 2011 raid by the Navy Seals to approach the Osama bin Laden compound and killed the most wanted man on earth. Even though the Black Hawk can carry light armament for auto-protection such as machine guns and rockets, the UH-60 is not an attack rotorcraft like the AH-64 Apache or AH-1 Cobra. Unlike these combat helicopters, the Black Hawk is not heavily protected by bulletproof windows or armored plates.

The two Black Hawks were part of 82nd Airborne Division. The facts that the two helicopters have been affected by the drone collision may suggest of a formation flight. The U.S. Army aircraft were in New York City for the United Nations General Assembly this week.

Drone Involved

ABC7 published a picture of a drone part that remained inside the helicopter after the collision. This image shows a broken arm and motor of a DJI Phantom 4 stored in a zipper plastic bag.

Reporter Tom Kaminski from WCBS 880 was able to take a look at the damage. He said that “as that drone came apart, a piece of it was actually found upon landing up on the transmission deck, right at the bottom of the main rotor system.”

A DJI Phantom 4 drone similar to this one may have been involved in a collision incident with a U.S Army Black Hawk helicopter.

Location

The incident allegedly took place along the east shore of Midland Beach in Staten Island, New York. The area just falls outside the five miles radius of Newark Airport. It is also located under the Class B airspace which begins at 1,500 feet above ground level.

Time

According the New York Post, the collision occurred at 8:15 p.m. on Thursday, September 21. This timing suggest that the drone pilot was flying at night which is against the FAA regulation for commercial operation under Part 107 (unless the operator obtains a waiver). However night flights are not expressly forbidden for recreational drone users equipped with adequate lighting system. The area is currently filled with Temporary Flight Restrictions (TFR) due to VIP traffic but I was not able to consult the history of active TFR at that time in this location.

Altitude

First reports mentioned that the Black Hawks helicopters were flying at 500 feet. The maximum altitude above ground level for drone flight is set to 400 feet by the FAA regulation.

Conclusion

I was not able to collect firsthand information from the U.S. Army but the collision seems to be well documented with an official confirmation and drone parts collected from the helicopters. However, history showed us that many drone incidents were inaccurately reported and didn’t prove real after a serious investigation was conducted. Despite plethora of forums and Facebook experts, I would wait for further official elements from the U.S. Army and the NTSB before making a final conclusion. As the astronaut Neil Armstrong said during the 1986 Challenger accident investigation: "The first impression is usually wrong."

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23 Comments

cameramanDop Shanghai Hong Kong's picture

According to the pictures provided, there is no way the impacts on the fuselage were done by a tiny phantom.
The paint scratches on the fuselage are more likely to be there prior to the hit.

The "evidence" bag is not even closed, it shows a direct cut, quite unlikely it could been in such good and clean cut after hitting blade at such speed. The propeller mount is also not present at all

I guess another alternative facts as the MDW where spotted in Iraq to justify the war... Wait and see...

MDW?

cameramanDop Shanghai Hong Kong's picture

mass destruction weapons

Oh, ok, though the typical acronym would be WMD.

cameramanDop Shanghai Hong Kong's picture

Yes, you are right.
Dyslexia is around the corner.

Charles Yeager's picture

Yeah, I have a hard time believing those scratches in a metal blade came from a plastic drone. But for the sake of the argument, I'll go along with it. The evidence bag though.. yeah..that looks suspect AF. ..not sealed and a laser clean cut. Look at how thick that helicopter blade is. And that chopper kinda looks like it has quite a few paint chips already..

The rotor blades on the Black Hawk are mostly carbon fiber. Softer materials, like plastic, can also damage something harder, like metal, with enough velocity. Water can cut through steel if it is moving fast enough. In fact you see that on waterjet cutting machines. Relatively soft insulation foam tore a hole into the wing of one of the Space Shuttles, later causing its demise on reentry. Comsider that those rotor blades are moving very fast. Consider that birds can severely damage and bring down aircraft.

Why does the evidence bag look suspect because it is open? It's not like it's biological evidence that can be contaminated. As for something cutting cleanly looking suspect, there are a number of variables involved, internal to the material itself and the external contributor/s, in how different materials fail, often with far less than expected results.

Dr. Dominik Muench's picture

$900 toy drone causing damage to million $$ war machine....yikes. nobody tell north korea.

North Korea could put millions of similar drones into the air and yet still be obliterated by America's air forces.

Oliver aircraft is both plural and singular, so you don't need to ad an s for multiple aircraft. I'm only mentioning it because I'm retired from that industry.

Thanks for the article; it was interesting.

Oliver Kmia's picture

You are right. Thanks for the info and sorry for the stupid mistake. I'm going to correct this ASAP. Cheers

Mike Hunt's picture

Clearly the guy flying shoots with nikon

Sorry. I posted under the Wrong thread.

Wow. Youre wrong on this one. Read up on FAA rules and regulatons. Flying a phantom is under the FAA special regulation for recreational or hobby provision (unless flying for profit). There is no regulation (only guidelines) for flying over 400 feet. Its not illegal. Also, there is no regulation or guideline on flying at night for the same recreatiinal drone. https://www.faa.gov/uas/getting_started/fly_for_fun/

You're likely applying part 107 comercial operation rules to a hobbyists.

Mike Hunt's picture

Wrong! You clearly fly an autel and shoot real estate.

What is your reasoning behind that comment? Please explain.

Mike Hunt's picture

My reasoning an autel and shooting real estate makes him a fairly new pilot.

Oliver Kmia's picture

You are right, regarding the night operation I assumed the pilot would be under Part 107 in this area. I added a note about the recreational users. Thanks.

However the 400 feet altitude rule for model aircraft is in a grey area but in a response to the AMA the (see the hyperlink in the article) the FAA said:

"Although such safety guidelines may provide for flight above 400 feet AGL, Section 336 also protects the safety of manned aircraft operations by requiring that model aircraft not interfere with and give way to manned aircraft. The state also explicitly affirms that the FAA may pursue enforcement action against model aircraft operators who endanger the safety of the NAS.
Sincerely,
Earl Lawrence
Director
Unmanned Aircraft Systems Integration Office"

So crashing a drone against an helicopter seems to fit the description of "endanger the safety of the NAS". Finally the FAA can also invoke the "Careless or reckless operation" (14 CFR 91.13) to nail the drone pilot (or helicopter pilot). If the drone operator is responsible for the collision, flying above 400 feet would be an aggravating factor in this case.

Daniel Haußmann's picture

That incident exactly proves what I am saying all the time. The issue is NOT drones hitting jets. The NFZ around airports are so big that it is more or less unlikely that incidents like that happen with a 747. Also jets typically have fixed flight paths which make incidents close to impossible.

However the real threat of drones is to light aircraft, helicopters and such. They fly "everywhere" and at relative low altitudes. Also the impact on rotors of light aircraft and helicopters is much worse. As a small imbalance can lead to severe failures.

This is what has to be resolved technically somehow.

Get the fuck outta here with this nonsense! ...As far as we all know it could have been a conspiracy against the drone community to try and abolish them completely, or tighten the restrictions even more so. Someone purposely flew the drone into the heli...both parties were aware and planned it...and BOOM, you got yourself a story and fear.....and fear drives the media.....Think for yourself..question authority, and dont believe everything you see or hear people.

Mike Hunt's picture

Id love you to take a selife with your nikon in one of your tin foil hats.

Hi Yorke Hunt........Anytime, I have a one size fits all :P

I like the "No Step" warnings on the UNDERSIDE of the rotor. Did they invent some weird kind of artificial gravity in the Blackhawk factory or something?