Has A Drone Interfered With Blue Angels Display At Seafair Airshow Over Lake Washington?

Aug 08 2017 - 22 Comments

Several people have spotted a drone apparently too close to the U.S. Navy display team’s F/A-18 Hornets.

On Aug. 4, 2017, the Blue Angels took part in Seafair Airshow over Lake Washington.

Along with the usual stunning aerobatics, people who were watching the Blue Angels on the Mercer Island side of the I-90 bridge over Lake Washington noticed a drone seemingly flying dangerously close to the aircraft. Among them, there was John Redifer, a reader of The Aviationist, who also filmed the clip that you can see here below.

“I was watching the Blue Angels air show yesterday on Friday 8/4/17 on the Mercer Island side of the I-90 bridge over Lake Washington, when a drone appeared in the flight path before the Blue Angels flew by. The drone appeared to be within 50′ of the Blue Angels,” said Redifer in an email to The Aviationist.

“There were about 1,000 people on the bridge with me, including about 12 WSP officers who were there for crowd control. Some people commented on the drone, and WSP officers were pointing at it and appeared to comment on their radios about it.”

The drone remained in the area for about 5 – 10 minutes, maybe even more. For sure it was still there when Redifer left the bridge at the end of the Blue Angels show.

A drone like the one (barely visible) in the short clip below has been spotted in the neighborhood in the past; for this reason Redifer believes it might be a local.

“Also a friend of mine at another nearby location during the show heard about the drone on a public Blue Angels radio conversation of the pilots who mentioned seeing the drone. Not sure of the words used, but she said the pilots were aware of the drone.”

Therefore, based on the footage and the account provided by John Redifer, it looks like a drone was airborne in the vicinity of the Blue Angels display area over/near Mercer Island.

Although we can’t completely rule out the possibility that the drone was cleared to operate there, it seems quite unlikely (if not impossible, considered the risk of interfering with the manned aircraft) that someone got the permission to fly so close to the display area. Actually, the video does not help in determining the actual position of the remotely piloted aircraft, however, based on the witnesses accounts, it is safe to say it appears to be closer than one might expect in case of an airshow: in fact, drones or helicopters that film airshows operate from a significant distance, leveraging powerful onboard sensors to feed a live stream of the aircraft performing their aerobatic maneuvers while remaining well outside the display area.

If you were there and have seen the drone let us know in the comments section below or by sending us an email.

For instance, recent airshows in Italy were filmed from high altitude by an Italian Air Force Predator drone, under positive radio and radar contact with the relevant ATC agencies, maintaining a racetrack located kilometers away from the airshow area.

Incidentally, the video emerged in the same days the Pentagon has cleared U.S. military bases across the country to shoot down drones if those drones become a hazard to flight operations or a security risk and the U.S. Navy claimed an Iranian UAV had unsafe and unprofessional interaction with an F/A-18E about to land on USS Nimitz.

H/T to John Redifer for sending us the clip and details about the alleged near miss.

Salva

  • JamieClay

    “we can’t completely rule out the possibility that the drone was cleared to operate there, ” but if you did you wouldn’t have a story, am I right?

    “the video does not help in determining the actual position of the remotely piloted aircraft” – exactly, heck the video doesn’t even determine if it’s even a drone – it could be a UFO!!

    • cencio4

      Looks like it’s a drone and it’s being investigated by WSP and MI police:
      https://theaviationist.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/08/Drone-detail.jpg

    • Phil

      Jamie Clay..The FAA specifically prohibits ANY drone flight near aircraft operations, and even has several laws on the books prohibiting just that. No permission was given, and would NEVER be allowed by ANY government agency…FAA, CAB, etc..

  • JamieClay

    If all it takes to take down a fighter jet is a $1000 hobby drone, we should probably abandon that program.

    • Formerly blocked by 6abc.com.

      I agree. It would never take down a jet, but it’s still stupid and reckless.

      • Phil

        Formerly blocked by 6abc.com…”Would never bring down a jet…”

        At 400 kts airspeed, even a flock of Stralings WILL bring down a jet airliner..remember the pilot that had to land his jet in the Hudson River after a bird strike, and was made a hero//even wrote a book?

        If you’ve never seen the testing they do, firing a turkey carcass into a jet engine, or seen the results of even a small plane that hit a goose in flight (at only 105 mph), you can’t recognize the REAL danger of objects in flight near aircraft.

        • Formerly blocked by 6abc.com.

          actually that’s not true. Planes hit birds all the time with no result, so a flock of starlings would never take a jet down. The miracle on the Hudson was caused by a flock of 15 pound geese going into BOTH engines. Keep it in scale. A drone is nothing. My neighbor was a pilot for Delta for 35 years and he’s also an engineer. He said my drone would have no affect on a commercial jet regardless of speed.

          • Phil

            Formerly blocked..YES, it IS true, and I would suggest you go online and check out the NTSB (National Transportation, and Safety Board) Accident Reports, and details on “BIRD STRIKES” and see just how many aircraft, and airliners have been involved, and to what extent the damage was..I think you’ll be surprised judging from your disbelief. I flew as Captain for American in South East Asia on B737’s and B727’s, then with United out of PHNL to KLAX on the Douglas DC-8F. You even hit a 1Lb item at 60mph in your car, and see who the winner is..but a drone hitting a cockpit windscreen at even the 250kts a Blue Angel F/A 18 does during a performance, and you’re gonna lose EVERY time.

          • El Kabong

            LOL!

            “actually that’s not true. Planes hit birds all the time with no result, so a flock of starlings would never take a jet down.”?

            My, how little you know…

            A single pelican through the canopy, took out an F-16C during a Maple Flag Ex.

      • El Kabong

        Clearly, you’ve never seen what a Canada goose can do to a single engine fighter’s engine…

        • Formerly blocked by 6abc.com.

          clearly you’re comparing a 15 pound flesh and blood animal to a 3 pound piece of plastic. It would spit it right out. No result whatsoever.

    • cpdumph

      All it takes to down a fighter is a few birds at the right time. All jet engines are susceptible to FOD ingestion. Maybe quit trying to be cool, quit trying to whine at the author, and just STFU.

    • Bert

      You’re a fool. Any aircraft that hits something midair can be lost. Especially an aircraft moving at high speed. Do you really think there’s no risk flying a drone in the middle of a busy air show?

      https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bird_strike

    • Phil

      Jamie Clay..your picture gives away your intelligence level…I guess if a drone were to hit your windshield at 400 kts, taking your head off, you’d have to reconsider the quality of the car you were driving? Get a grip.

    • Larry J

      Turbofan engines are very intolerant of foreign object ingestion.

  • Cascadia89

    I was standing near the East span of the I-90 bridge and it was observed by all who were there. Wash State Patrol were on their radios the minute it popped up. The team makes some very low passes near that location and the idiot had it WAY too high. I hope he was arrested and/or fined. It was being flown from this area: https://www.google.com/maps/@47.5882622,-122.2521723,18.5z

    BTW, the F-22 demo before the Angels was outstanding. I don’t know who the pilot was, but he put on a display I will not soon forget.

  • Don1024

    That’s only relative to the actual shot shown. Now, back those aircraft up 0.5 sec, and check how close again…
    I’ll go with the 50 ft. from the trained observer.

  • jamesanthoni

    It’s a horrible story to the aviation ………………

  • Matt Swinden

    Simple way to find out of this was a “Navy” drone filming the Blues…..just contact the Blues PR department. Too bad the author didn’t make the call to rule out an authorized UAS filming for the Navy or other.

  • East Side Story

    Hard to tell given the resolution, but from the dark color and the profile, looks like a DJI Mavic. About the size of a water bottle folded, but dense as hell and would probably play havoc with an engine if it was ingested.

    It’s morons like this that are going to end this hobby. At this point I’m all in favor of licensing drones that can go more than wi-fi range from a controller. Too many idiots doing stuff like this.

    As a responsible drone flier and AMA member in Washington State, I’m appalled and disgusted.

  • TractorEngineer

    I agree. I’m considering getting a drone but IF I do, I’m going in with the mindset:

    1. Don’t be a hazard to navigation or safety of aircraft or any other vehicle.
    2. Don’t break laws, but I’d take it a step farther to do what’s ethically right and hold back if doing something is sketchy but not technically illegal.
    3. Don’t be a public nuisance.

  • Larry J

    I have a lot of respect for the flying ability, craftsmanship, and responsible operations of the RC folks. You do it right. Too many of the drone fliers are irresponsible and are going to cause even more restrictions for responsible people like you. That’s a damned shame.