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Transportation Robotics Hardware Technology

Drone Comes Within 200 Feet of Airliner Over New York 339

Posted by Soulskill
from the now-the-tsa-wants-to-take-your-rc-helicopter dept.
New submitter FoolishBluntman sends this quote from CNN: "An unmanned drone came within 200 feet of a commercial jet over New York, triggering an FBI appeal to the public for any information about the unusual and potentially dangerous incident. The crew of Alitalia Flight 608 approaching John F. Kennedy airport on Monday reported the sighting. 'We saw a drone, a drone aircraft,' the pilot can be heard telling air traffic controllers on radio calls captured by the website LiveATC.net. ... The unmanned aircraft, described by the FBI as black and no more than three feet wide with four propellers, came within 200 feet of the Boeing jetliner. The FBI said it was looking to identify and locate the aircraft and its operator. A source with knowledge of the incident says investigators interviewed the pilot and others on the Alitalia plane."
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Drone Comes Within 200 Feet of Airliner Over New York

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  • That's not a drone (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday March 06, 2013 @03:14AM (#43089823)

    That's not a drone. That's an R/C model plane.

    • by Press2ToContinue (2424598) * on Wednesday March 06, 2013 @03:23AM (#43089861)

      R/C model planes are much harder to legislate against.

      So it's drone, dammit!

      • by girlintraining (1395911) on Wednesday March 06, 2013 @04:14AM (#43090051)

        R/C model planes are much harder to legislate against. So it's drone, dammit!

        As long as it didn't have more than 3.4 ounces of liquid, or nail clippers mounted to it, I don't see the problem.

        • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

          by Anonymous Coward

          In other news, the drone had muted yellow/orange and black color markings, and moving wings. When the co-pilot saw it, he said, "if THAT's just a 'drone', I don't WANT to see the Queen!"

          Planes attempting to track the drone to its origin were met by many more airplane-sized flying intruders that were similar to the "drone" except that their tails sported "stinger" missiles. This put a real buzz-kill on things.

          We now return you to our regularly scheduled double-feature: "T.H.E.M." / "MANT". And tonight at

        • R/C model planes are much harder to legislate against. So it's drone, dammit!

          As long as it didn't have more than 3.4 ounces of liquid, or nail clippers mounted to it, I don't see the problem.

          I think this misses the bigger point which is, obviously:

          • Was he subjected to a metal detector/nude body scan/nutsack stroking "patdown"/backroom snuggle-time by TSA prior to operating said R/C Aircraft?
          • Do you know if he's doing flights to Raleigh-Durham yet? I have to go and I'd sooner die than fly commercial.
        • by Culture20 (968837) on Wednesday March 06, 2013 @08:43AM (#43091347)
          It was a scary color and had a bayonet mount.
      • by mschaffer (97223)

        Why isn't it a UFO? I guess Project Bluebook isn't under DHS's umbrella?

    • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday March 06, 2013 @03:33AM (#43089903)

      It's a UFO until classified as otherwise.

    • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday March 06, 2013 @03:34AM (#43089911)
      It was less than 3 miles from the airport and at 1750 ft altitude. Your average R/C aircraft pilot wouldn't be that stupid unless he/she is intent on getting in trouble.... Most R/C hobbyists are surprisingly aware of the laws related to their hobby. This sounds more like a daredevil intentionally getting near the flightpath... Maybe even using FPV with one of the newfangled quadcopters, 'cause at 1750 ft your 3ft aircraft is going to look more like a spec in the sky than something you can easily control.
      • The cynic in me... (Score:5, Interesting)

        by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday March 06, 2013 @04:08AM (#43090031)

        ...thinks it would be easy to set up a Straw Man situation by surrupticiously arranging an agency to do it, then announce to the media that some unidentified incident occurred, which in turn becomes a case for legislating against Joe Citizen being allowed to fly FPVs.

      • It was less than 3 miles from the airport and at 1750 ft altitude. Your average R/C aircraft pilot wouldn't be that stupid unless he/she is intent on getting in trouble.... Most R/C hobbyists are surprisingly aware of the laws related to their hobby.

        The only clearly marked R/C hobbyist field in my area is about 200 feet from an international airport. I kid you not.

        Not that my drone could even climb up to 1750 ft, I'm just saying.

      • I don't think somthing that's a "toy" like an AR.Drone even has enough wireless range for that height. Standard RC equipment might let you fly that far, but bectoo small to see.... Clearly this is somebody that knows where they were flying to cause trouble.

        • I don't think somthing that's a "toy" like an AR.Drone even has enough wireless range for that height. Standard RC equipment might let you fly that far, but bectoo small to see.... Clearly this is somebody that knows where they were flying to cause trouble.

          You can program the onboard computer for a set flight path very easily. Could have been what this is. Also, replacing the control mechanism and flying using the cameras is becoming more common.

        • by firex726 (1188453)

          They don't... standard RF one would get say 500ft, and this thing was around 1750ft.

          Worst case for a hobbyist, it was flying and got out of range and just kept going and was sheer luck it got so close to this plane.

          • by drerwk (695572)
            I had a 6ft wingspan sailplane up at about 1500 ft out in the AZ desert one time - no problem with the radio signal - lots of problem keeping the plan oriented and trying to get out of the thermal. If the spectrum is fairly clear even my cheap radio was good to a few thousand ft.
      • Here in Vienna there was an incident were a man flew kites in the approach line of the Vienna Airport [heute.at] (in German)...at 2200 ft (700m). No need to mention, the flight controllers were not happy. I think it is safe to assume that there are people stupid enough to do that.
      • "Your average R/C aircraft pilot wouldn't be that stupid unless he/she is intent on getting in trouble"

        5 years ago, maybe. But with the rapid increase in availability, affordability and desirability of easy to fly aircraft (quadcopters especially), more and more, well, idiots, are playing with them. Even FPV with extreme long distance is well within the reach of amateurs now (legal or not).

        These "new" people playing, are doing just that, playing, they don't realise that they are operating aircraft, p

      • by LoRdTAW (99712)

        I would be curious as to where the drone aircraft was operating from. I lived in Ozone Park for most of my life and Howard beach as well as the northern half of broad channel are in the flight path of JFK and within 3 miles. Since there was a lot of damage done by hurricane sandy in those areas, I could imagine a private company or researcher operating such an craft for surveying purposes. But at 1700+ feet? I looked up Runway 31R and I think it serves aircraft landing from the east. That puts the airplane

    • by cyn1c77 (928549) on Wednesday March 06, 2013 @04:10AM (#43090037)

      That's not a drone. That's an R/C model plane.

      It's amusing that you think there's a difference between the two.

      • by peragrin (659227) on Wednesday March 06, 2013 @07:30AM (#43090991)

        one simple one.

        a drone is flown by camera's and a video downlink.

        an RC plane is flown from the ground by the pilot's eyes.

        RC plane's rarely get more than a 1000' feet away as they become very hard to control.

        • by durrr (1316311)

          That's called FPV, If you want it to be a drone you need autonomous flight system.

          • by mabhatter654 (561290) on Wednesday March 06, 2013 @08:24AM (#43091245)

            There's no legal power/ frequency bands that RC hobbyists can use to view cameras and steer that far away. There are plenty of items you CAN use, but not without modification. As soon as you boost the power on a 2.4ghz antenna you are outside FCC specs... Which means its automatically outside FAA specs using "illegal" controls.

            The other direction is that somebody who DOES have licensed FCC equipment to send audio/video at that distance (like a TV station) cannot mount that equipment in a non-licensed (toy) aircraft because its commercially licensed by the FCC.

            THAT is what makes it a Drone in the FAA/FCC rules. Somebody has modified equipment to break at least one set of rules just to put the craft in that spot.

            • by JWSmythe (446288)

              You could do it with high gain directional antenna on the base station.

              I've set up wifi connections with a high gain antenna on one end, and omnidirectional on the other. 2k feet was a piece of cake. You can fit an awful lot down a wifi connection like that. Video and telemetry down the link and controls on the uplink would be easy. Keeping line of sight, and having the base antenna track it are the hard parts. If it was fully autonomous flying between waypoints, that breaks FAA rules.

              Really, if the

            • by citizenr (871508)

              You can easily use a cellphone with >=2G connection (320x240, H.264, 15 frames/s for 2G) as a (somewhat laggy) video link

            • by morgauxo (974071) on Wednesday March 06, 2013 @10:00AM (#43091891)

              No, I think you can get some higher powers legally using ham bands if you are licensed. I think that is limited to specific frequencies and still lower power than hams normally use to talk to one another but I'm not up on the exact rules for that. I bet it's a whole lot more than you can do by part 15 though!

              • by X0563511 (793323)

                The allocations do restrict phone use (voice) and data in a few places, but other than that... the bandplan is voluntary. We may not like you for doing it, but nothing really stops you from doing fast-scan television and data for telemetry on 70cm or the like.

            • by NeverVotedBush (1041088) on Wednesday March 06, 2013 @11:38AM (#43092937)
              Absolutely wrong, mabhatter.

              All you need is a technician's class amateur radio license to transmit video remotely from a model aircraft back to you. There is plenty of hardware made specifically to do just that as well - without modification.
            • by CKW (409971)

              These days - I could see someone mounting a smartphone on their craft and viewing the video that way. And your range with that would be ... unlimited assuming you also put the control signals through it as well ... although your call gets dropped you'll probably loose your bird.

              I'm not certain this would work, I'm not sure what types of latency there are in a phone to phone network connection, nor how seamless the handoff is between towers.

              But I'm certain lots of people would be willing to try this. And c

          • That's called FPV, If you want it to be a drone you need autonomous flight system.

            The ar.drone has an onboard mips processor running linux. It comes out of the box with autonomous capability, which can easily be extended for longer programmed flights.

    • Hey, Superman is not a drone! He's very much in control of himself.

    • by icebike (68054)

      That's not a drone. That's an R/C model plane.

      Probably one of these, or similar model. Probably trying to get a photo. Or a plausibly deniable dry run.

      But sounds like something that could easily be blown out of proportion. TSA getting funds sequestered? Not any more.

      http://cache.gawker.com/assets/images/4/2009/12/091217-drone-03.jpg [gawker.com]

    • by lxs (131946)

      And it's a black helicopter, so it's probably NSA. No word about it being equipped with mind control lasers though.

      • And it's a black helicopter, so it's probably NSA. No word about it being equipped with mind control lasers though.

        Small black quadcopters are available to the public for next to nothing. The multi million dollar NSA units are probably the size of a bug, and armed with missiles in case they encounter a subversive type.

    • New York City is the headquarters of the United Nations. And the United Nations denied that they have plans to invade Texas: http://www.reuters.com/article/2012/08/24/us-un-texas-duel-idUSBRE87N14A20120824 [reuters.com]

      So if they are denying it, that means that it has already started.

      Black invasion helicopters seen flying out of the UN headquarters in New York City in the direction of Texas?

      Probably.

  • described by the FBI as black and no more than three feet wide with four propellers

    Sounds like a Parrot AR Drone [wikipedia.org] with the indoor frame attached.

    • by Joce640k (829181)

      ...or any number of other manufacturers/models. There's hundreds of them these days.

      • ...or any number of other manufacturers/models. There's hundreds of them these days.

        The parrot has some software glitches that sometimes cause the thing to just take off and disappear into the sky when flying. The only reason I think it's unlikely to be a parrot is that the battery life on them is far to short to get up that high.

    • by Dahamma (304068)

      No way it's a Parrot at 1750 ft above ground. Standard RF won't work much beyond 400-500 ft (which amateur quadrotor RC pilots consider seriously high altitude), and even at that it's so small it's very hard to control...

      • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday March 06, 2013 @04:35AM (#43090137)

        who said anything about it being in control... once out of range of the transmitter it'll keep on flying (especially if a self stabilised quad copter type). Most hobby/toy ones don't have auto gps return to base capability.

        • by T-Bone-T (1048702)

          It probably has some kind of automated landing sequence. Even the tiny indoor helicopters will automatically land or at least shut down if they lose the remote's signal for more than a few seconds.

  • Iran (Score:3, Interesting)

    by detritus. (46421) on Wednesday March 06, 2013 @03:23AM (#43089865)

    Well, Iran is the proud new owner of an RQ-170, maybe they decided to take it for a joyride over US airspace?

  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday March 06, 2013 @03:30AM (#43089893)
    I wonder when there'll start to be some sort of crackdown on personal UAVs or RCVs. I've still not heard of any incidents of these being used to harm people*, but maybe this is the first incident. It's bound to happen at some point though, and I certainly expect a wave of copycats, accompanied some panic and backlash. The technology's probably not at that stage yet - would need larger payloads or much better automatic guidance for anyone to do much. I can't see it far off someone sticking a grenade on the front of one though for a cheap guided missile, or a ricin tipped spike and just fly one into someone. Might seem a bit far fetched, but there's certainly people out there with a will to do so.

    Of course, what can be actually be done about them isn't clear. It'd be like trying to stop pirate radio, but potentially even more difficult - fully automated devices wouldn't need any radio link, so the only thing you could really do it stopping purchase or having some form of traceable identifiers.

    * With the huge exception of military drones of course. Crime using RCVs is certainly not new, see http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-1112673/Remote-control-toy-helicopter-used-fly-drugs-prison.html [dailymail.co.uk]
  • FBI (Score:5, Insightful)

    by FrostedWheat (172733) on Wednesday March 06, 2013 @03:54AM (#43089985)
    It's a bit sad that I'm surprised the FBI response wasn't to shut down LiveATC.net.
    • by SpzToid (869795)

      I'm too busy to look myself, but those tower recordings are all very nicely archived. Has the archive been disturbed in any way?

  • by thephydes (727739) on Wednesday March 06, 2013 @03:59AM (#43089997)
    Just as stupid and with the same potential casualties as the fucking morons who think it's a good idea to shine a laser into the cockpit of an aircraft. As previously noted by another poster, most real RC'rs are well aware of their responsibilities, so I can only imagine that this is the work of a complete wanker.
    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by rtb61 (674572)

      So it is just the gross exaggeration of a tiny spot of light. Do you have any idea how difficult it would be to actually try to get one of those slow remote control quadrocopters to intersect with a jet airliner going a few hundred miles per hour. So somebody was playing with one of these too close to an airport and paying attention to the camera view of the 'ground' rather than any airspace around them. Even an automated flight gone out of control as it lost radio contact with the controller. This kind of

      • by T-Bone-T (1048702)

        It probably wouldn't be that hard, actually. Let's say the airliner is a 767. At 1,000 feet, it will likely be traveling at less than 150 knots. It has a wing span of 156 feet and a tail height of 52 feet so it is a pretty big target. All you have to do is sit in the approach path and adjust as needed.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday March 06, 2013 @04:01AM (#43090003)

    1) Nobody was supposed to see that drone. Since civilians obviously did, everyone is scrambling to act surprised about it.

    2) They don't actually know whose drone it was.

    You will know which it is by what happens to this story. If they figure out it belonged to any one of the various police-state departments the US government created and employs, the story will simply disappear- business as usual, nothing to see here. If it actually was a rogue drone, then whoever was flying it will probably get a story of their own in the near future.

  • I smell a rat (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Ozoner (1406169) on Wednesday March 06, 2013 @04:10AM (#43090035)

    How long before all RC helicopters (and all hobby RC planes for that matter) will be banned ?

    • Re:I smell a rat (Score:5, Insightful)

      by asmkm22 (1902712) on Wednesday March 06, 2013 @05:07AM (#43090289)

      They've been limited to 400 feet and within site of the operator for a long time now. If this truly is an RC aircraft, then it's clearly well beyond that established rule, considering it was spotted at nearly 2,000 feet. The operator is an idiot, "plane" and simple.

    • Re:I smell a rat (Score:5, Informative)

      by rocket rancher (447670) <themovingfinger@gmail.com> on Wednesday March 06, 2013 @07:07AM (#43090889)

      How long before all RC helicopters (and all hobby RC planes for that matter) will be banned ?

      They are already trying in Texas [legiscan.com] and in New Hampshire [state.nh.us]. Notice the inclusion of drones by name in the legislation, and the lack of differentiation between government use and private use.

      This article [slate.com] from a few weeks ago shows that two other state legislatures, specifically Florida and Virginia, are attempting a legislative fix to drone use, though those attempts are targeted specifically at government use of drones. The mayor of Seattle cancelled the Seattle PD's drone program [usatoday.com] and ordered the chief of police to return the ones they'd already bought to the manufacturer for a refund.

      With that said, attempts to block government use of drones are probably doomed to failure, since the FAA has already been directed by the 112th Congress to integrate drones into the national airspace via HR 658 (relevant section here [loc.gov],) and police departments across the nation are buying them in droves, despite what happened in Seattle. The DHS's "loan a drone" [washingtontimes.com] program, coupled with DHS's $4M grant program to local law authorities to acquire drones, would strongly suggest that government use of drones is here to stay.

      Given the push/pull legislative wars being driven by the privacy vs. public safety debate, I doubt that banning RC aircraft is a viable legislative option. What is (probably) going to happen with RC aircraft is what has already happened with other "hobbies" that are deemed to be a threat to public safety (think: greenhouses that could be used for growing pot, legal chemicals that could be used to manufacture illegal drugs, model rockets that could be weaponized.) Purchases of RC aircraft and related equipment will be tracked at the point of sale and those records will be forwarded to the feds, where the purchasers will end up on an FBI watch list, just like the purchasers of the above-mentioned items.

      • Re:I smell a rat (Score:4, Interesting)

        by EdgePenguin (2646733) on Wednesday March 06, 2013 @10:35AM (#43092231) Homepage

        What is wrong with tracking drone purchases?

        I'd go even further, and say its not that unreasonable for the government to track drone usage by demanding you install a transponder and register it with them. Airspace is serious business.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday March 06, 2013 @04:15AM (#43090055)

    Mah bad. I built it with an Arduino and some motors from Radio Shack and I had no idea it could fly so high. What a rush!

    Now that I know it works, I'll be continuing with my plan to airdrop 32 oz. beverage containers over the city... muhahahaha!

  • How can we be expected to trust robots [slashdot.org] when they're already becoming terrorists?

  • Why would something that is only 3ft wide nrrd 4 propellers ?
    Unless its a scale model of a WW2 bomber or something.

  • So what? (Score:5, Funny)

    by MMC Monster (602931) on Wednesday March 06, 2013 @07:07AM (#43090885)

    If the pilots and passengers didn't have anything to hide, why were they concerned?

  • I'm imagining some hobbyist is setting at home shitting themselves. It sounds like a GPS controlled version of a RC toy. Someone probably programmed it with something like Google Earth, but didn't have the information for what was safe air space. If the turbulence didn't turn it to confetti and it made it home, someone was in for a big surprise when they played back what it recorded.

    Let's hope everyone doesn't overreact and this is just a case of "derp" on behalf of a curious explorer.

    If it's not, and this

  • FBI said it was looking to identify and locate the aircraft and its operator

    ...with their black, three foot wide, four propeller drones.

    Andyway, 3' wide? That's tiny!

  • by Anonymous Coward

    The quadcopter did not come within 200ft of the plane. The plane came within 200ft of the quadcopter. Quadcopters can't go near fast enough to intentionally get in the path of a plane going hundreds of miles per hour. The quadcopter operator was likely FPV flying (with a live camera that generally looks at the ground) and wandered near or into a flight corridor without knowing it. 1750 ft is too high for reliable from-the-ground visual flight for a quadcopter. Flight corridors aren't usually "narrow". Even

  • At the top of the article is a slide show of 12 photos of drones - none of which operate with four propellers. Journalism at it's finest.

  • There was a near miss between a German UAV and an Airbus A300 [flightglobal.com] over Kabul, Afghanistan in 2004. And just like with midair collisions between piloted aircraft [wikipedia.org] there's going to be a collision eventually. Put enough planes (of any type) into the air and give them enough time, and eventually two will collide.
  • by Lawrence_Bird (67278) on Wednesday March 06, 2013 @10:33AM (#43092199) Homepage

    it comes within 200 feet according to the FBI who has a very vested interest in making sure nobody else has toys to play with. From yesterday: "“The pilot did not take evasive action. The flight landed safely," according to the FAA.". 200 feet=60yards.. Either it was a tiny toy (unlikely at that elevation) or it was far enough away the pilot felt no need to take action. Birds are bad enough around NYC, no pilot wants a 'drone' sucked into his engine on approach.

  • by tekrat (242117) on Wednesday March 06, 2013 @10:33AM (#43092201) Homepage Journal

    Seriously.
    The things I did as a kid would now be labeled terrorism today. I used to live right near Kennedy Airport, in Rosedale Queens. I remember 747's and Concordes so low you could almost touch them.

    Don't you think we shot off Estes model rockets? Don't you think we flew kites, *trying* to get them sucked into engines? And don't even get me started on the things done during July 4th -- all I'm going to say is "hydrogen filled balloons". You figure out the rest.

    My point is: The crap I did as as kid, that went largely ignored by the authorities, would now make national news, and I'd be hauled off to jail practically every weekend. Some kids were simply using a radio controlled flying toy, and it wandered into the approach path. Big freaking deal.

    I think the time I used a Sandhawk model rocket (D engine), glued the nosecone in place and filled it with tin-foil strips was far worse than what these kids did.

    But you know, 1977 isn't 2012.

    • by geekoid (135745)

      You need to really stop getting your view of the sate of things from the news. It's not accurate at all. It's not the those thing would be labeled as terrorism. its the 24 hour news cycle that need to scrap up every tiny thing, fluff piece, or minor event to fill the time.
      All those things you mention still go on, everyday and no one labels the as terrorists.

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