Man Photographed with Drone in Western U.S. Military Low Flying Canyon Threatens Area for All

Photographer Brian Emch managed to get photos of illegal drone use in a National Park protected military low flying area in the western U.S. earlier this week. Multiple signs in the area specifically prohibit drone use. (Photo: Courtesy of Mr. Brian Emch)

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 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 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.

Photographer Brian Emch managed to get photos of illegal drone use in a National Park protected military low flying area in the western U.S. earlier this week. Multiple signs in the area specifically prohibit drone use. (Photo: Courtesy of Mr. Brian Emch)

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 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 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.

USAF F-35 Demo Team Capt. Andrew “Dojo” Olson posted on Instagram earlier this week about a fly-through of one western low-flying area. (Photo: via 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.

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.

Photographer Jim Mumaw caught photos of what was likely the F-35 Demo Team Capt. Andrew “Dojo” Olson in the Star Wars canyon earlier this week after the flight was announced on social media. (Photo: Courtesy of Jim Mumaw)
About Tom Demerly
Tom Demerly is a feature writer, journalist, photographer and editorialist who has written articles that are published around the world on,, Outside magazine, Business Insider, We Are The Mighty, The Dearborn Press & Guide, National Interest, Russia’s government media outlet Sputnik, and many other publications. Demerly studied journalism at Henry Ford College in Dearborn, Michigan. Tom Demerly served in an intelligence gathering unit as a member of the U.S. Army and Michigan National Guard. His military experience includes being Honor Graduate from the U.S. Army Infantry School at Ft. Benning, Georgia (Cycle C-6-1) and as a Scout Observer in a reconnaissance unit, Company “F”, 425th INF (RANGER/AIRBORNE), Long Range Surveillance Unit (LRSU). Demerly is an experienced parachutist, holds advanced SCUBA certifications, has climbed the highest mountains on three continents and visited all seven continents and has flown several types of light aircraft.