An English air ambulance aircraft near Leicester was forced to abruptly drop altitude to avoid hitting a drone head-on, a near-miss situation UK inspectors placed in their highest category of collision risk. The case is one of several recent incidents in the country involving UAVs dangerously crossing paths with large craft.
The nerve-rattling encounter took place late on the morning of October 7 as an AgustaWestland AW109 emergency medical services helicopter was on a mission over central England. According to the UK Airprox Board – the department of the UK’s Civil Aviation Authority that investigates near-miss reports – the air ambulance aircraft was racing to the destination hospital when a drone suddenly appeared in its flight path at 800 feet – exactly twice the altitude permitted under UAV regulations.
With impact apparently imminent, the pilot was forced to sharply descend the chopper to avoid what could have feasibly been a disastrous collision.
“(A)t 750-800ft radalt, a stationary object was spotted at 12 o’clock same height,” the UK Airprox Board ruling read, using the abbreviation of the radio altimeter data. “Avoiding action taken by descending, the object was seen to be a ‘quadcopter’ style drone white in colour. The drone passed directly overhead estimated 20-30ft above the aircraft.”
The report noted there were no “notice to airmen” alerts on the UAV’s operation, despite being well above the allowed altitude limits. It registered the risk involved as Category A – the highest in its rankings – and said, “the incident portrayed a situation where providence had played a major part in the incident and/or a definite risk of collision had existed.”
The near-miss between the drone and larger aircraft near Leicester is one of a flurry of incidents in UK skies of late. Just last week, a DHC-8 passenger plane reported a UAV crossing in front of its descending flight path into the Aberdeen airport at an altitude of 2,300 feet. The sighting reportedly caused all departures and arrivals to be interrupted until the drone was confirmed as no longer present in the area.
Earlier this month, the UK Airprox Board noted the “definite risk of collision” in a September 13 brush between a drone and a Boeing 737 passenger aircraft descending to London’s Stansted Airport in what was reportedly the closest near-miss of its kind on UK books.
That followed the panel’s November Category A classification of a proximity report of a drone and different Boeing 737 passenger aircraft at over 300 feet near the Leeds-Bradford Airport. That UAV came so close, the report said, that the pilots reflexively “ducked and moved their head away from the flight deck window as they thought it was coming through the window.”
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