When drones go wrong…

The Gatwick effect

In December 2018, at the height of the Christmas travel rush, Gatwick was brought to a standstill by a drone…or was it two? No one fully knew what was happening as the airport closed for 30 hours. No one knows still as, despite some initial lines of enquiry, the operator/s behind the Gatwick ‘attack’ remain a mystery.

The incident made world headlines and motivated many governments to form legislation and controls over what had been seen, up to that point, as a hobby for geeks and nerds. It changed the world of drones forever. Drones and their use were brought to the public forefront and the debate began as to whether drones were the future of aerial filming or an intrusive nuisance.

But Gatwick was not the first, or the last, time that drones have gone rogue. Here are 5 of my favourites from recent years. These really do show you why drone operators should be licensed and insured…and competent!

1. Angry bird

It’s fair to say that drones and animals don’t always have a great relationship. My dog really doesn’t like my Mavic 2 pro and it sends her into a barking frenzy. Birds, too, find the invasion into their airspace somewhat disconcerting.

Eagles have the advantage over birds of lesser strength as, when they spy a drone, they are pretty serious in their intent to bring it down! Even the most skilled drone operator would be hard pushed to out fly a bird of prey as this 2018 video clip shows.


All a drone pilot can pray for at this point is a soft landing.

2. Monkey business

Keeping with the theme of animals, zoo animals really don’t like to share their already limited space with a drone. Common sense really, you’d think. But not for this drone operator who, in 2015, was attempting to make a promotional film at a zoo in the Netherlands. The drone clearly agitated the monkeys in the enclosure. Then, a female monkey grabbed a branch and, with the dexterity of Babe Ruth, whacked that drone right out of the sky! Luckily, the camera stayed intact, preserving the footage of the slugger monkey and her grand slam.


3. Mistletoe madness

Drones are often high on the list for techies at Christmas. However, a popular chain restaurant in Brooklyn, NY, went one step further. They decided to use drones to bring a little Christmas cheer to couples dining there. A drone would hover over the couples with a piece of mistletoe suspended from its body. They’d then kiss under the down draft of the large drone. How romantic!

Unfortunately, this was nearly the kiss of death for the quirky promotion. A local reporter inadvertently was caught by the drone’s propellers, slicing off the tip of her nose. The things we do for love, eh! Perhaps some Christmas traditions shouldn’t be tampered with.

4. Flight planning

Filing a flight plan is something a registered drone pilot will do. This tells the aviation authorities where you’ll be flying and more importantly will alert them and you to any irregularities on your drone flight path. However, some unscrupulous operators just take to the skies with some disastrous results. In 2016, it was drone versus Seattle Space Needle. Unsurprisingly, the Space Needle won and the DJI inspire 1 was badly damaged. Whilst the drone operator tried to blame the equipment it looks more likely that he’d gone BVLOS (beyond the visual line of sight to the non geeks) which is always a risk if you’re not trained.


The Space Needle is not the only place to have a drone intrusion: the Empire State Building and even the White House have had an unofficial drone landing.

5. Bad press

Drones have always been hitting the headlines but, in 2015, a drone literally hit the press making a worldwide headline. Even more ironic, the drone was being used to demonstrate drone safety when it crashed into a cameraman and was captured live on TV!


The operator, Dave Mosher, was no amateur and was there to counteract claims that drones weren’t safe. Instead, he did quite the opposite when he foolishly decided to launch his drone in a crowded indoor studio. He later apologised saying: “For the record: Flying indoors = bad idea. My plan was to just hover, then land. I apologize to hobbyists everywhere.”

Sadly, the news item gave drones even more bad press and didn’t distinguish between hobbyists and licensed, fully trained drone pilots. That is why, if you’re going to hire a drone pilot, you should do your research and make sure what they claim is actually what they can do.

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