A Drone Crashed On the White House Lawn… Now What?

If you looked at your Twitter feed at all today, you will see stories from the New York Times, USA Today, and the New York Post (just to name a few) all talking about how a drone crashed near the White House this morning.

For experienced drone pilots like myself, it’s a disheartening story that we’ve seen time and time again as more people are buying consumer-level drones and flying them without proper training. People laugh when they see a video of a man saving his drone from crashing into a lake. But with the birth of this story, I’m not laughing anymore.

Quadcopter 101

DJI Phantom Vision 2
DJI Phantom Vision 2

A quadcopter, or more commonly referred to as a “drone”, is a small remote-controlled vehicle that is powered by basic lithium ion batteries. Anyone can purchase a consumer-level quadcopter costing anywhere from $50 to $1,500 for more photography and videography oriented projects.

The drone that crashed into the White House lawn probably cost around $1,000. It’s a popular model called a Phantom and it’s made by a company called DJI–one of the fore-runners in consumer-level drones.

Safety?

It’s easy to see that the person who was operating this drone was a novice pilot. Anybody who knows how much the FAA has scrutinized drone laws lately knows that flying anywhere near a crowded area, let alone the White House, is a giant no-no.

People may ask, “Well, why didn’t he just fly away from the White House?” Well, the person piloting the craft probably got nervous, causing him to eventually crash. That’s the problem with inexperienced pilots: They get nervous, and then they crash and break their copter. Crashing isn’t the issue in this case, it’s where the drone crashed.

Most people start out learning to fly in open fields so they don’t risk hitting trees, cars, or other people. Safety should always be the number one priority when piloting–that means flying in crowded areas, over streets, and around sporting arenas is out of the question. Save that stuff for the pros.

What This All Means

It’s not the best thing to happen to the drone community, but it’s also not the worst. Until the FAA nails down laws saying where people can and can’t fly, there isn’t much anyone can do besides give this pilot a slap on the wrist. The worst part about this story? It’ll be harder for experienced pilots and members of this community to be taken seriously.

The drone community has been under fire for some time for taking to the sky with their aircrafts. Some people think we’re menaces, most people think we’re spying on each other. In actuality, the large majority of us just want to see the world from a different angle.

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The use of drones in television shows and movies has skyrocketed since the parts for making these aircrafts have gotten less costly. We as a community are on the verge of a renaissance of camera operation. But setbacks like these incidents are what is causing this potentially life-changing technology to be continually swept back under the rug.

This article has sparked a few established journalists like The Drone Girl to outline the Do’s and Don’ts of First-Time Drone Piloting. Another resource? If you’re in Syracuse, you can talk to The SkyworksPro team and get piloting lessons so you can fly safely. Companies like Photojojo are also pushing for safe flying by offering tips for pilots in either print of video form.

Long story short: Be safe out there. Don’t be careless with technology that not only costs a lot of money, but can also hurt people.

What do you think of this whole controversy? Leave your comments below or tweet them at me directly: @NatalieWiesnet

Natalie Wiesnet

Born on the West Coast, raised on the East Coast, educated in the Northeast. Newhouse School of Public Communications TRF major, Otto's Army President, camera operator, sports buff, hopeless romantic, human. CA | NY | SC | GA @NatalieWiesnet

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