August 29, 2017 – Elgin Police and Kane County Forest Preserve Police conducted a search of the hiking trails in Fitchie Forest Preserve on Elgin’s far-west side for what a caller believed may had been a disorientated elderly woman. The perfect tool for this job was our police department’s new $12K DJI drone. EPD posted at about 10am on their Facebook page about the search and it apparently drew attention from one of the local news stations who then sent their helicopter over the area.
Once the chopper was heard, the drone-pilot for the police department had to ground the drone. I was perched at the entrance to the forest preserve hoping to catch a glimpse at our police department’s new toy but instead saw a squad pull up with the drone in the back. It was then unloaded and put back in it’s case until the next time it may be called out. Did it crash too?
This incident yesterday with Elgin Police Department having to ground their drone emphasizes the issue of “communications”. News-Media helicopter pilots in the Chicago area have a specific VHF frequency (123.025mhz AM) they communicate with each other on when over a scene. When you see 3 or 4 news choppers over something, know that they are talking to each other. That communications network needs to be expanded to include FAA Part 107 licensed UAV operations for media and public safety as well. The 2 can coexist in the same airspace safely, as long as they’re communicating with each other.
Communicating would require a special portable (aviation) radio like the one in the photo to the left as well as the procedure in how to use it. While not cheap, it truly is a necessity if you are flying for a news-organization, Police or Fire department and I can see there being some resistance by the Helicopter pilots. Let’s face it, they hate drones. While most will cite safety concerns, there needs to be just one fact brought into the conversation. There have been zero (0) deaths caused by sUAVs. You cannot say the same for EMS or News-choppers. That said, I feel there needs to be more emphasis on “Communcations” in the FAA’s 107 requirements. Also since the FAA has waived their magic-wand and made sUAVs “Aircraft” by definition so they can regulate them, there needs to be registration of aircraft and a “D-Number” issued to those aircraft if for no other reason, communications-identification.