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Drone and Helicopter Collide

Image of helicopter that collided with a drone in Daytona Beach, FL. Read for UAS best practices.

As soon as we read about an aircraft colliding with a drone, there are many different thoughts that can cross your mind. As with any incident or accident, many of us start to formulate our own view of who is at fault. In this article, I’ll leave the decisions of fault or guilt or findings to the authorities. My intent is to identify some of the key take-aways and best practices for drone pilots to utilize and help us avoid finding ourselves in a similar situation. For the sake of brevity, I’ll stick to a few key best practices drawn from this scenario.


On December 30, 2023, a helicopter struck a DJI Mavic 2 Pro while flying at an altitude of approximately 180’ while operating inside Daytona Beach International Class C airspace. The DJI specs for a Mavic 2 Pro list the weight as 2lbs and the size is just under 13”x10”x4”. The helicopter pilot reported seeing the drone as it appeared it was going to come through the windscreen, so he attempted to dodge the drone. However, the drone struck the advancing blade. The helicopter was able to land safely, and none of the three passengers sustained injuries. The rotor blade sustained an estimated $60,000 of damage from the impact of the drone.

Helicopter and drone collide in Daytona Beach, FL. Photograph of damage to main rotor. UAS best practices and drone training.

Helicopter and drone collide in Daytona Beach, FL. Photograph of damage to main rotor. UAS best practices and drone training.


It is common to use drones to capture aerial data over a construction site. The drone data is used to track the construction progress and create various mapping and measuring of the construction project. The remote pilot reported that this flight was his ninth flight within a span of nine weeks over the construction site. Since the flight took place in Class C airspace, the sUAS pilot was using an FAA Certificate of Authorization (COA) that had been previously obtained by the construction company who hired him. The drone operator reported that he was conducting an automated flight at an altitude of 180’ while utilizing the DroneDeploy application. The remote pilot stated that the helicopter suddenly appeared behind him. The drone pilot attempted to perform a rapid descent before he heard the impact and lost connection to the drone. The DJI Mavic 2 Pro drone was destroyed.


Upon review, the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) determined the probable cause(s) of this accident to be: The UAS operator’s failure to operate within the limitations of the COA that he was using to operate inside class C airspace, which resulted in a collision between the UAS and the helicopter.


The sUAS pilot admitted that he had not properly reviewed the COA to operate in this Class C airspace. “...I have learned that I must meticulously review every detail of each flight authorization received and compare the waiver instructions with flight authorizations or unlocks, as they might not align, leading to confusion.” The drone pilot did not realize the maximum altitude was limited to 150’ by the COA, and he flew the drone to 180’. The drone pilot also did not realize that the COA required the UAS operator to notify the Daytona Beach International Airport’s control tower at least 15 minutes prior to the proposed start time of any operation. The UAS operator failed to notify the air traffic control tower.


The FAA regulations provide that Remote Pilot in Command must observe the airspace for other air traffic or hazards per 14 CFR §107.31 (3). It is also the drone pilot’s responsibility to determine that the unmanned aircraft does not endanger the life or property of another per §107.31 (4). In addition to the above, the small unmanned aircraft must yield the right of way to all aircraft…Yielding the right of way means that the small unmanned aircraft must give way to the aircraft… per §107.37(a). The drone pilot failed to comply with these requirements.


It is important for sUAS pilots to always remember that we are pilots first and foremost, and our functions as a photographer or other drone work is secondary to being a pilot. We need to identify those risks and tasks that might prevent us from performing our pilot duties and how to fulfill these responsibilities. Using visual observers as part of our crew is a great solution to aid with scanning for hazards especially this close to an airport.


The location where this drone and helicopter collided was just a few thousand feet from the airport and the drone pilot stated that the “helicopter’s sudden appearance” only afforded him “barely 2 or 3 seconds before hearing an impact…”. Operating that close to an airport, naturally increases the number of manned aircraft in the area. More aircraft could equal more risk. This is why it is recommended to improve the drone pilot’s situational awareness as much as possible. The flight location was also in close proximity to I-95. I know when I have flown near heavy auto traffic like an interstate, the noise level is much higher. The large trucks are very noisy. It frequently takes me a few moments to decipher if the truck noise is a helicopter or not. Due to the traffic noise and operating within controlled airspace, I would use a visual observer (possibly multiple VOs) to aid in scanning the sky on the lookout for other aircraft and hazards such as birds. To see the NTSB Docket, click here.


When flying near airports, it is imperative that the remote pilot has knowledge of the airport’s procedures, radio communications, and traffic patterns. Using an aviation radio to monitor the air traffic is also a must for me when operating close to an airport. In this case, the radio would be used to listen to KDAB’s control tower. The helicopter communication with KDAB moments before the collision could have provided another layer of awareness of the presence of the helicopter.


Something else worth mentioning is that the helicopter was giving tours of the area including the Daytona International Speedway that is adjacent to the airport. If you are flying near a tourist location, always consider aerial tours, especially helicopter tours. A quick check of the Chart Supplement for DAB, and it references Daytona International Speedway and Prior Permission Required (PPR) for Daytona Speedway flyover or low approach. This raises the red flag of even more low flying aircraft to see the speedway that is located very close. The aircraft tours are required to radio DAB ATC for permission. More support of using a VO and monitoring the radio.


We have the advantage of reviewing this situation after the fact. There are many more suggestions that we could come up with, but for brevity, we mention these as a starting point to add situational awareness to your sUAS flights. At a minimum, start with proper planning to identify risks and the plan to mitigate them. If operating under a COA, be sure to know all the details, limitations, and your responsibilities. Every detail matters and do not operate outside of what exactly is approved. Utilize a VO(s) if the sUAS pilot will be distracted from performing as a pilot first and foremost. When flying in the vicinity of an airport always know the traffic patterns and radio communication procedures and monitor them.


I hope you found this helpful. If we can help you or your organization with your drone training or sUAS compliance, please contact Carolina Drone Academy.


About Carolina Drone Academy


Carolina Drone Academy provides in-person award winning drone pilot training. We teach drone training across many sectors including the US Military, law enforcement, media and advertising companies, colleges, engineering, construction, and other government agencies.




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