Steve Rhode is a public safety drone pilot and manned aircraft pilot. Here he points to four realities of drone aviation that no pilot can afford to forget.
The following is part of a bi-weekly series on drone public safety issues by Steve Rhode, chief pilot of the Wake Forest Fire Department and the North Carolina Public Safety Drone Academy and founder of Public Safety Flight, a website that provides information on how to use drones unmanned Aircraft systems (UAS), UAVs, planes and drones in public safety.
Another day as a public safety pilot with unlimited challenges
Yesterday I flew the plane as a Fire Demon 1. It eventually got it out of the required annual inspection by an FAA certified mechanic.
It’s a nice feeling to be back on the plane. The joy of watching the ground below me and seeing the world from a new perspective nourishes my soul.
Then there is the constant thought process of not dying. Not a wonderful thing, but ubiquitous. What does this have to do with drones? More than you can imagine. A pilot should always think about contingencies, risk management and the monitoring of flight operations in an airplane or with a drone.
While I am flying in search of columns of smoke and fire, I am constantly looking outside and looking for a place to park the plane in an emergency.
You won’t find the missing child every public safety drone flight, but every single flight, you’re always a moment away from an unfortunate ending. You don’t know yet. While I’m on the plane, I’m always looking for an alternative landing site. When I fly the drone, I think about exactly the same thing.
I’ve been flying since 1988 and as a young pilot I flew fearlessly. I knew everything as a new pilot. I often flew at night in a single-engine airplane from New York to Washington, DC, over the pitch black landscape between urban areas. All these many years later, I’m not going to do that – despite being a higher rated pilot with thousands of flight hours.
What has changed? Painful realities. I learned what I didn’t know.
As the years went by and I got more experience, I learned that equipment was failing, emergencies occurred, and a tragic incident had nothing to do with the pilot alone. This flight of mine as Compassion 431 was one of those learning moments that I would rather have never experienced:
Drone flying in the field of public safety is still a very new field for many pilots and departments. Over time, many pilots and their lawyers will learn about some of the realities of drone flying:
(1) Gravity always wins – A drone with a software or hardware problem will hit the ground. The impact can be fatal to people and cause property damage.
(2) The absence of aircraft certified airworthy by the FAA means that the drones we fly today have not been classified as safe to fly. Manufacturers are not required to notify buyers of known problems or failure rates. Just because you don’t hear about these problems doesn’t mean they won’t occur. Mavics crash every day. [https://mavicpilots.com/forums/mavic-crash-flyaway-assistance.85/]
I’ve written about battery problems, and the facts about battery fires and recommended battery charging, storage, and use will surprise you. Most never think much about batteries. With summer approaching quickly, be sure to do it.
(4) Public safety departments create programs, often from scratch, by people so new to the field that they do not know what they do not already know. The new public safety drone pilots I meet are excited, motivated, want to fly, but are just one flight away from learning some difficult lessons.
I love the aviation field. It’s a small world and we are all constantly learning new things from experienced or seasoned mentors. Great pilots also make mistakes. A former flight instructor of mine died in a plane crash because he ignored the obvious risk and died. The day you think you know everything, you turned your back on security and reduced the risk. You are just asking for an unfortunate incident.
A good pilot always learns.
Steve Rhode is an FAA Certified Commercial and Instrument Certified Airplane Pilot, an Experienced Part 107 UAS Commercial Pilot, and Chief Pilot of the Wake Forest Fire Department and the North Carolina Public Safety Drone Academy. He advises drone pilots through the Homeland Security Information Network and as a drone expert on the FAA Safety Team. Steve is the founder of Public Safety Flight, a website that contains news, honest information, tips, and stories about unmanned aerial vehicle systems (UAS), UAVs, aircraft, and drones in fire departments and other public safety niches. Sign up for the Public Safety Flight newsletter to add to Steve’s personal email list or contact Steve here. On the plane, his FAA callsign is Fire Demon 1: and Firebird 1 with the drone.
Miriam McNabb is Editor-in-Chief of DRONELIFE and CEO of JobForDrones, a marketplace for professional drone services, and a fascinating observer of the emerging drone industry and the regulatory environment for drones. Author of over 3,000 articles focusing on the commercial drone space, Miriam is an international speaker and recognized figure in the industry. Miriam graduated from the University of Chicago and has over 20 years experience in high-tech sales and marketing for new technologies.
For advice or writing in the drone industry, email Miriam.
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