A Robinson R44 helicopter on an agricultural spraying flight and a DJI Phantom 4 drone being used to map a construction area collided this week near Petah-Tiqwa, Israel, prompting a call from the chief accident investigator for a procedural review.
No one was injured in the Aug. 14 collision, according to the report by the Ministry of Transport and Road Safety’s Office of the Chief Investigator — Investigation of Aviation Accidents and Incidents.
The helicopter pilot said the R44 flew normally after the collision and he felt no loss of power and no control problems, so he located a suitable landing site and conducted a normal landing. “After exiting the helicopter, the pilot assessed visually the helicopter and found the UAS [unmanned aircraft system, as drones are sometimes called] jammed and broken into the lattice spray system,” the report said.
Maintenance personnel arrived to inspect the helicopter and its spraying system and found them airworthy, allowing the helicopter to be returned to service, the report said. The report did not discuss the condition of the Phantom 4 but included a photo of the damaged drone.
Both the R44 pilot and the Phantom 4 operator were properly licensed and “working in accordance to the aviation law and by the published regulations,” the chief investigator’s report said, adding that the integration of drone operations and conventional aviation has been a challenge. A review is needed, the report said.
The document said the collision occurred as the R44 pilot began his third spraying mission of the day at an orange field. At the same time, the licensed drone operator began mapping a construction area adjacent to the orange field.
“Around 11 a.m. local time, while the drone approached one of its site end corners, the drone operator noticed a helicopter maneuvering low and close to the ground (about 30 meters [98 ft]),” the report said. “Immediately, he switched to manual control mode and lowered the drone towards the ground.”
Meanwhile, the R44 pilot saw “a white body at approximately 10 meters [33 ft] on his left side, followed by a ‘bang’ feeling that the pilot heard from his lower left side of the helicopter.”
The Phantom 4 operator lost communication with the drone “and thought that it crashed either due to the helicopter slipstream or due to heavy landing after the initiation of the rapid/quick descent order.”