I gave a flight demonstration at a local business meeting yesterday and had something happen that I thought might make for an interesting blog post.

I love talking about drones almost as much as I enjoy flying them and I take my role as an ambassador of the industry seriously. It’s no secret that we get a lot of negative press. From the creepy fence peeping Tom stories to the idiots who are buzzing aircraft in flight, it’s hard to find someone who hasn’t seen or read a negative drone story in some form of media in at least semi-recent times.

I started the presentation by talking about the preparation that goes into a proper flight – the weather and airspace checks conducted ahead of time that give you the situational awareness you need to make informed decisions when you arrive on site. My audience was very interested to know that prior to arriving to the meeting I’d conducted no less than three checks of various resources to ensure that the airspace and weather were suitable for my flight and that I’d done one more check on arrival just to be sure.

One of the attendees raised her hand and asked, semi-incredulously, “when you say airspace, what do you mean?” I explained that part of responsible drone flight is knowing what other aircraft may be operating in the skies with you and the things on the ground that may influence that like small airports, points of interest, VFR landmarks, and the like. My job is to be aware of all of those things and know how to react if they lead to an aircraft entering the area I’m operating in.

“So…other planes? I mean…you’re really worried about there being other planes around?” I could tell that without asking what she was really saying was that this all seems way too overly-complicated and it seemed like a case of making much ado about nothing. Knowing about the visual and small-airport landscape of my surrounding area however, I’m worried about other planes every time I take off.

I explained that that was absolutely one of the things I was paying attention to and carried on with my demonstration. I took the drone out a bit of a distance, demonstrated the video feed, and then – remembering I’d gotten a question about altitude restrictions – climbed to about 380 feet to show them what my ceiling generally looks like. Demonstration complete, I descended to something a little more visually stimulating than watching a tiny dot scurry around the sky, flew around a little more, and then landed.

The meeting ended shortly thereafter and I was taking my drones back to my vehicle when I heard it: single-prop, moving fairly slowly, definitely low, and seemingly approaching the same vicinity of where I had been flying just 15 minutes prior. It was still a little way out, but if I’d been in the air at the time it would have made the hair on the back of my neck stand up.

When the Cessna 172 came into view, I smiled. It was going to transit the exact same airspace that my drone had previously occupied. And if it wasn’t at 400 feet, it definitely wasn’t above 500 – I absolutely would have had to move to give right of way.

I turned around and called out. “Remember when you asked me about preparation and being worried about other planes in the airspace?”
“That plane…right there…”

When you say “airspace,” people think of jetliners cruising above the clouds at 38,000 feet. But depending on where you are and what’s around you, the sky is nice and big…right up until the point that it isn’t.