Touch & Go: Perspective matters

I’m excited to see what comes of the future of Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs) or drones. There is a great deal yet to learn, and ways UAV technology will scale up to the benefit of all aerospace. Of that, I have no doubt.

However, there is also much to figure out and, frankly, worry about.

For example, a video posted to YouTube by username “Quadrotor Dragonfly” last October shows some stunning aerial video of Vancouver, British Columbia. About 30 seconds into the four-minute video, Air Canada flight 777, on approach to Vancouver International Airport, comes into view. The Air Canada flight is difficult to see given the wide angle of the camera lens, but it’s there, and upon completion of the panning, the airport also comes into view.

The UAV appears to be between the Hwy 99 and Grant McConachie Way bridges about 7,000 feet from the approach end of the runway, and 10°-15° north of the extended center line.

An April 23, 2014, story in the Global News raises concerns over such activity.

From the story: “Air Canada 777 observed a small helicopter. He [the pilot] thought it was a real helicopter,” said Bill Yearwood from the Transportation Safety Board. “But when he got closer he realized it was a remote control helicopter.”

On Nov. 4, 2014, “Quadrotor Dragonfly” posted a second version of the Air Canada footage. The photographer states the “hobby aircraft” was “over a kilometer away from the edge of the airport,” and “about 120m” AGL.

The second video is edited. The Air Canada aircraft is much larger in the field of view…and the ominous soundtrack differs from the original, as if to mock detractors.

“Quadrotor Dragonfly” gets very defensive in the description of the video: “After I became aware of the media reports, I was dismayed that some Canadian media decided to tell a sensationalized account of what happened. Stories about near misses and pictures of the zoomed-in video were shown while neglecting to account for the evident use of software zoom that many others who viewed the video have pointed out. There was no near miss and the hobby aircraft was never anywhere close to the landing aircraft.”

Perspective matters. What is “never anywhere close” to a person safely on the ground may look far different to the pilots of a plane passing by — especially on approach to a busy international airport.

Common sense is a trait certain subsets of society seem to possess too little of these days. In specific subsets of society, be it the general aviation community or the UAV community, there will always be members who appear to lack common sense.

And for this reason alone, I remain excited about the future of UAVs. I don’t give up on full-scale aviation just because a fellow aviator displays a supreme lack of common sense, and won’t in this case either.

I do hope future UAV operators will see this video and learn from it. Our aerospace future will be better if we all work together.


  1. Michael Dean says

    Someday, I don’t know when, there WILL be an incident between a “manned” airplane and a drone. It’s going to happen. And which side takes the flack for it will depend on a number of things. Such as;

    What type of aircraft was it. And what purpose was it serving at the time of the accident?

    If it’s a commercial airliner, and hundreds of lives are lost, the call will go out to restrict the drones. But, if the airplane is a light, GA aircraft, with a couple of “sport” fliers out joy riding, while the drone is perceived as providing a needed service (national security, crime prevention, etc.), the media – followed by the general public – will likely side with the drone. And demand something be done about those “rich boys and their expensive toys”. Which means recreational, and perhaps even GA business, aviation will come under severe attack. And the politicians will then start counting votes. Who’s side do you think many – if not most – will be on? The side of a few thousand pilots? Or the millions that make-up the general public?

  2. says

    Hi Ben,

    Reminds me of an old joke about the difference between real pilots and drone pilots:

    If a real pilot lacks common sense, he risks dying.
    If a drone pilot lacks common sense, he risks killing a planeload of other people.

    Damn it. That wasn’t a very funny joke…

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