This is my story on drone safety problems a lot of people do not realize. Before you read on, I must warn you that some parts of this article are quite graphic as I got seriously injured during one of my “safe” flights.
I used to love my drone, a high performance, competition grade Goblin 770 helicopter that I frequently used without any issues. It weighs 15 pounds with battery, has a wingspan of over five feet, and a maximum flight speed of over 100 miles per hour.
As an airplane pilot, a certified aviation instructor, and an aviation maintenance technician, I took my drone flying seriously and treated it in every aspect as a normal aircraft. I did regular preventive maintenance, and replaced low quality components with higher quality parts. I performed a pre-flight check every time I used the drone, and I logged each flight in a log book, just as with a regular airplane not to raise any concerns.
After 80 flights with no bad events, I had a shocking surprise. After flying with precision for several minutes (total flight time is about 4 minutes, depending on battery used), it was time for safe landing. But before the landing there was a loss of radio contact, which got me concerned. It was not a low battery, but a “brown out” of power resulting from product failure in the radio that could not have been anticipated.
When these drones lose radio contact they continue with the last received command and so become super unsafe. I had been pulling back on the drone to stop forward movement, with a slight increase in rotor speed. Losing radio contact caused the drone to continue with those commands to the point that the speed continued to accelerate as the drone pitched towards me. I could not stop its speed or change its direction since it no longer responded to remote commands. Approaching me at increasing speed, the drone was like a flying buzz saw. It cut through the branches of a tree that lay between me and the drone, and I needed to dive to the side to avoid its blades. Sadly, I could not get away quickly enough. One blade hit me, cutting a three inch gash near my shoulder that could have struck my neck or head and killed me. The other blade hit my left hand and shattered my middle finger, destroying my knuckle and cutting a four inch gash to the bone. And a blade fragment struck me on the leg, not breaking through my pants but leaving a nasty bruise.
I was alone when this happened and called 911 as I bled heavily from my hand and shoulder. I required extensive hand surgery which will hopefully recover the use of my middle finger someday. As of this writing, the future use of my finger and hand is unknown. My life has been changed forever.
I am thankful that I was alone without the usual group of onlookers when this happened. There are numerous serious injuries and deaths caused by R/C flying vehicles, since this is an unregulated recreational activity with unlicensed operators and components of unknown quality.
This could have been prevented if there were higher standards to the parts used in my helicopter. I had used the highest quality components available, and still had a product malfunction. Drone operators and anyone nearby or even distant can be seriously injured or killed by drones which lose operator control due to radio failure.
In my case, my experience did not save me from a lifetime injury. There could have been other injuries to bystanders, as well as property damage from these flying machines. Like all outdoor flying vehicles, there needs to be safety and performance standards for components, as the FAA issues for manned aircraft.
Whether manned or not, flying can be dangerous without proper precautions, regulations and pilot training. As the FAA considers new regulations for drones, the fastest growing aircraft industry today, it should regard all flying machines, manned and unmanned, commercial and recreational, as hazards that need regulation and certification.