Vidant helicopter’s close call with a drone is catching pilots’ attention – Charles D’Alberto

GREENVILLE, N.C. (WNCT) – Pilots’ concerns over drones in their airspace is increasing after a drone flew close to helicopters preparing to take off at Vidant on two different occassions.

The incidents happened on January 22nd and again on the 25th. 27-year-old Justin Hastings Chillo was arrested and charged with interference with a manned aircraft. Since then, he’s been arrested two more times for witness intimidation.

While incidents involving drones and aircrafts in the East are extremely rare, pilots like Mike Roberson said it is a concern.

“With drones today, they’re so small it’s very difficult to detect until you’re right on top of it,” he said.

Roberson said his plane has a cruise speed of around 185 mph, which doesn’t leave much room for error in the air.

“If you compare it to driving a car at 55 mph and that dog or deer jumps out in front of you, think about the short reaction time you have there,” Roberson said. “We’re going almost four times as fast.”

Officials at the Pitt-Greenville Airport and Camp Lejeune said no incidents involving drones and aircrafts have been reported. However, Roberson said it only takes one case of a drone causing damage to a plane to make for a deadly situation.

“If we lose this shape, the aircraft loses its lift, and therefore we’re going to go down,” he said.

For helicopter pilots, the dangers drones pose is even greater. Whereas planes tend to fly at higher elevations, helicopters often stay at 500 feet or less, which is the same airspace drones tend to fly in.

“With the popularity of these devices, I just know there are people out there operating them. I just worry that sooner or later I’m going to encounter one of these things,” said Mark Johnson, a helicopter pilot with LoneTree Aviation, LLC.

Johnson said the tail rotor on a helicopter can be extremely fragile, and therefore a concern if a drone was flying in the area.

FAA laws require drones to fly at elevations of 400 feet or less and to stay at least five miles away from an airport without prior permission. However, Roberson said many who operate the devices may not pay attention to the laws.

“The last thing on their mind is a regulation,” he said. “They’re not thinking of a regulation. This is a toy.”

Operators of drones flying around military bases face even more regulations due to national security concerns.

Posted By Charles D'Alberto

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