Chopper grounds Police Drone

FOX32/CBS2 News-Chopper grounded Police Drone during search.

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?

EPD Searching for possible disorientated woman

Just FYI for those of you with drones who live in the Elgin, Illinois  area, we have 2 hospitals in town and both of them have helipads.  Legally, you are required to notify airport management (or in this case, Hospital within 2nm)  before you fly your drone (FAA Reg107.43).  Even though hospital helipads are considered “private” heliports by the FAA, you are still required to make notification…….Even police & fire Departments.  (A call to both hospitals yesterday after this incident discovered that no such calls were received by anyone.).  I sought further clarification from the FAA directly today and all they would do is cite 107.43 but did confirm that in the case of “hospital” helipads especially, contact needs to be made.  It’s not hard, it only takes 2 minutes.  It needs to be done.
My friend Tammy Chapman at Flight For Life, an EMS Helicopter provider, has made this cause for informing drone-pilots of this information paramount.  It’s something I feel though, that needs to be handled more at the local-level as it varies greatly with the area you live.  It may cause a few more phone-calls to the hospital’s security office (as it should) but it’s better to be safe, than sorry.  Not doing so could cause a delay in response time in a life or death transport of a patient and I think it’s safe to say that if they’re being transported by air, it’s an urgent transport.  
Listed below are the phone numbers for Sherman Hospital and St. Joseph’s (respectively).  Ask the operator for the “Security office”.  (You might want to ask who you speak with and note the time of your call as well.)  I will compile a list of all hospital heliports in Illinois and Wisconsin later in the week.  Hospital heliports are NOT listed on an aviation sectional chart. To find them, you can look at SkyVector.com.  For our area you would enter ORD and then at the top-right corner of the screen choose “Chicago Heli”.  This is what you will find for our area.  

Helicopter Aviation Chart w/Legend

Sherman Hospital: 847-742-9800
St. Joes: 847-695-3200

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.

Icom IC-A24 Aviation Hand-Held

Icom IC-A24 Aviation Hand-Held

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.