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Manned Helicopters and sUASs in the US NAS
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Mark The Droner
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Flight distance : 2917 ft
United States
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I was in the Seattle area last week, and I was lucky enough to have the helicopter ride of my life.  I sat in front right next to the pilot and had an amazing 180 degree horizontal view and a 120 degree vertical view.  It was a beautiful sunny day and we flew from Boeing Field to Snowqualmie Falls, back towards and around the skyscrapers of Belleview, flying close to and lower than the tops of the buildings, then over Lake Washington, over some land, and then down low over Puget Sound north of Seattle.  There was some kind of beach there with people on the beach and the altimeter read 220 AMSL as we settled over the water.  I waved to people on the beach and they waved back.  The land from the water line rose up and was higher than we were.  Then we flew towards the Space Needle.  We reached it and circled it counter clockwise - level with the platform.  It is currently being renovated and there were workers on the space needle on the outside with hard hats and orange vests.  I waved to them.  They waved back.  We were maybe a hundred feet from the platform, I would say.  Then we flew over and within the city, over the Pikes Place Market area and around the skyscrapers of Seattle, again - low and close - then went back to Boeing Field and landed.  Flight time was 55 minutes.  It was amazing.  

Naturally I peppered the pilot with questions and I thought I'd give some feedback on what I learned regarding airspace restrictions for manned helicopters.

He told me helicopters are unrestricted regarding minimum height in Class C, which is to say they are permitted to fly as low as zero feet AGL in class C airspace.  I believe what he meant was that he had no minimum height restriction in any airspace other than Class B because I believe we were in Class D (Boeing Field) at the time and we moved into Class E as we moved west to Snoqualmie Falls.  His comment surprised me and I told him I thought manned aircraft generally had to fly at least 500' AGL or higher unless there was some sort of task at hand or emergency.  He said no.  In class C, manned fixed wing AC must fly 1200 feet minimum AGL (unless they are landing) but helicopters have no such restrictions.  Also, it seems the minimum distance from the top of any tower doesn't seem to apply to helicopters either, based on how close we flew to the skyscrapers and Space Needle.  

Obviously, this means any time any of us are flying our drones at any height in the NAS, we are sharing airspace with any manned helicopter which happens to be flying nearby.  I suspect this may be news to some people, so I thought I'd share.  

CFR Sec 91.119

2018-3-22
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ALABAMA
Captain
Flight distance : 10442687 ft
United States
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Thanks for sharing, Mark.  Looks like they can fly anywhere they darn well please.
2018-3-22
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FatherXmas
Captain
Flight distance : 4058619 ft
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United States
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Sounds like you had a great time, plus, great info to know about helicopter altitude.
2018-3-22
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DJI Susan
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It sounds great! Thanks for sharing with us.
2018-3-25
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Cetacean
Captain
Flight distance : 2458156 ft
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United States
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Aloha Mark,

     Interesting.   Sounds like you had a good time and an education to.  Notice that Subpart "C." notes "Structure".  The FAA considers a mountain or tree a structure.  But here in Hawai'i there is a specific subsection (your citation was for a "general" rule) dealing with wilderness areas frequented by tourists in helicopters.  There is a 300 foot minimum limit for structures here in those remote areas.

     Oddly enough, the two drones that flew near and one flew into the tourist helicopter on Kauai a while back may have been in compliance with our rules going up to 400 feet.  The helicopters are allowed to go down to 300 feet.  There is something not right with that picture.  

     The area was a Forest Reserve so flying drones was allowed.  The drone operators were still responsible to fly VLOS and avoid manned aircraft, but why is there a 100 foot overlap of allowed flight?  Go figgah!  Not safe.

Aloha and Drone On!
2018-3-25
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Mark The Droner
Captain
Flight distance : 2917 ft
United States
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Hi Cetacean,

Yes - that was kind of my main point - the overlap.  And your Hawaiian Forest Reserve 100' overlap, as scary as it is, is a lot better than our CONUS 400' overlap.  I think one of the reasons helicopters have so much leeway is their ability to hover.  They can fly fast at 1,000 or 1,200 ft, but slow down to a very slow speed when they come down in altitude.  Hence, they would be more apt to see a UAS in their path.  My guy was flying up to 105 mph but he kept it at about 1200 ft AMSL when he did that.  When we circled the space needle, we were about 600' off the ground over the city of Seattle.  

I've never heard that FAA considered a tree a structure but it makes perfect sense - and there are 100' trees all over my area here in Maryland - as you well know  ;-)  Interestingly, one of the AMA Safety Code rules used to be that model aircraft may not fly over structures.  But that was changed to "occupied structures" as of the first of this year.  

Thanks for sharing

2018-3-26
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Nigel_
Captain
Flight distance : 388642 ft
United Kingdom
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I assume that if you are flying in class C airspace there, you will (should) be in contact with air traffic control and they will ensure you don't come into conflict...
2018-3-26
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Mark The Droner
Captain
Flight distance : 2917 ft
United States
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Well, I'm a rookie, but looking at the sectional chart, it appears we were in Class D and Class E.  In any event, the pilot routinely spoke open-mic on the radio in the blind advising any air traffic nearby of his identification, location, direction, and intention.  He'd say things like "(ID), crossing Lake Sammamish at 1200' heading WNW towards Lake Washington..."  When we approached the Space Needle, he radioed that we were going to approach it and circle it counter-clockwise.  And we did.  Nobody ever acknowledged anything he said on the radio.  Looking at the chart, it appears the Space Needle is in Class E.  

https://skyvector.com/?ll=47.6205063,-122.3492774&chart=301&zoom=1


It was a fun flight in that the very reason I first became interested in drones was due to this specific video from 2014.  I said to myself "I need to get me one of those!"


2018-3-26
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