Despite Posted Signs and Rules, Illegal Drone Operators Threaten Low Flying Area.
Local Death Valley area photographer and aviation expert Brian Emch captured photos of a person flying a small camera drone in one of the most commonly visited military low flying areas in the western U.S. earlier this week. Numerous signs and National Park rules clearly prohibit the use of drones in this area as they could pose a threat to aircraft flying at low level in the area. Mr. Emch told TheAviationist.com this is the third time he has observed people flying drones in this low flying area.
The use of the drones anywhere near military low-flying areas is extremely dangerous because of the risk of collision with aircraft transiting the area. Small camera drones could be ingested into jet engine intakes, damage propellers or create airframe damage from impact. At the low altitudes and high speeds that military aircraft transit these areas, any collision with a drone would be serious.
Emch told TheAviationist.com that it was possible the person shown in the photo may not have been able to read the English language signs that explicitly prohibit drone use in the park areas. Emch, a veteran photographer in the area, went on to point out that infographic signs with the outline of a drone surrounded by a red circle and line through it, clearly indicating “NO DRONES”, are also present all along the canyon area.
The threat from civilian drone use in western low flying areas not only presents a serious threat to air traffic, it also threatens the area’s access for legitimate aviation photographers like Brian Emch and the thousands of others who travel from around the world to photograph often unique aircraft as they use these low-level training areas.
A reliable source, also an aviation photographer, who frequents all of the western low flying areas (including the famous Star Wars Canyon or Jedi Transition) told TheAviationist.com today that one Air Force facility has now prohibited their pilots from flying through the canyon area. The source went on to reveal that the reason may have been related to photos published on social media of a specific aircraft in the canyon exceeding accepted performance standards. The source told TheAviationist.com that, “traffic [in the low flying area] has been noticeably slower recently”.
One notable exception to the lack of traffic was a spectacular fly-through of one low level flying area by Capt. Andrew “Dojo” Olson, pilot and commander of the USAF F-35A Demo Team. In an unprecedented move, the fly-through was announced in advance with a brief social media post on Instagram.
Several photographers managed to get photos on short notice of the F-35 Demo Team aircraft with Capt. “Dojo” Olson at the controls flying through the picturesque area.
View this post on Instagram
The one and only @andyo_dojo making an appearance at Star Wars Canyon this morning 🤙 just 20 minutes late but not complaining 😂 #f35 #f35a #lightning #f35lightningii #jsf #f35demoteam #starwarscanyon #jeditransition #sidewinder #lowlevel #panamint #panamintsprings #deathvalley #usaf #aviationphotography #instagramaviation #avgeek
The key takeaway from these stories for aviation enthusiasts and photographers has to be the preservation and responsible use of these areas. This includes not only following park rules, but also insuring others new to the area also follow rules for safe, responsible use. These rules include not using any flying devices of any kind, preserving the observation areas by picking up and removing trash, using the area safely by staying clear of areas where observers could fall and being familiar with and following all National Park Rules.