Crashed Ice provides example of why drones should be legal

Every year that Crashed Ice is held in Saint Paul, the Pioneer Press publishes the most gorgeous photos of the event, taken from an airplane circling the Cathedral of Saint Paul. The term “jaw dropping” is not hype.

And every year safe pilots wince at the risk the photographer’s pilot takes to get this shot.

Granted it’s an oft-broken FAA rule, but it’s a rule nonetheless, and for good reason: If a plane loses either an engine or enters an unintentional spin, there’s no place to go but down.

§ 91.119 Minimum safe altitudes: General.
Except when necessary for takeoff or landing, no person may operate an aircraft below the following altitudes:
(a) Anywhere. An altitude allowing, if a power unit fails, an emergency landing without undue hazard to persons or property on the surface.
(b) Over congested areas. Over any congested area of a city, town, or settlement, or over any open air assembly of persons, an altitude of 1,000 feet above the highest obstacle within a horizontal radius of 2,000 feet of the aircraft.
(c) Over other than congested areas. An altitude of 500 feet above the surface, except over open water or sparsely populated areas. In those cases, the aircraft may not be operated closer than 500 feet to any person, vessel, vehicle, or structure.

The Cathedral of Saint Paul rises 300 feet above the ground or about 1200 feet above sea level. But the airspace over the Crashed Ice event that protects planes landing at Minneapolis Saint Paul International Airport begins at 2300 feet. That gave the pilot, assuming he/she was observing the FAA regulations, a range of just 100 feet to navigate and stay “legal.” That satisfies (b) in the rule, but there’s no way to get the shot and comply with (a). (A pilot can ask for permission to enter the higher airspace, but it’s more difficult for the photographer to take the picture)

The protected airspace drops to the surface at the Saint Paul high bridge, requiring the pilot to make steep turns around the Cathedral. The airspeed at which an airplane stalls (loses its lift) increases in such a turn and, while possible, it’s somewhat difficult to navigate within 100 feet, making a steep turn, and keeping airspeed at a safe level.

It’s a beautiful picture. But if you’re looking for an example of why the FAA should allow news organizations to use quadcopters/drones for photography, this is one.

  • davehoug

    OR do not risk the lives of a crowd for a pic.

    • Pilots tend to be pretty conscientious on these sorts of things. Aside from having no interest in hurting people on the ground, we know that the first thing that will happen after an accident, is someone — usually a local politician –will try to close the nearest airport and the airspace over it.

      It behooves us to demonstrate our ability to fly responsibly and safely.

      • jon

        I hear the same sentiment from Ham radio operators: “If we cause interference some politician is going to take our spectrum away!”

        And less so from Gun owners: “If your gun is used in a shooting politicians are going to take our guns away!”

        And even from motorcyclists: “Punk kids doing wheelies down the highway give us all a bad name, and make other motorists more likely to hit safe responsible riders!”

        It behooves (great word, first time I’ve heard it outside of a my grandfather praying before dinner) both groups to behave responsibly, But ultimately Ham radio operators (some of them) cause interference, and gun owners (some of them) either shoot people, or their guns get taken and used for criminal activities, motorcyclists (some of them) pull wheelies at 80 mph on the highway…

        Responsibility comes down to the individual, and while the community might be firmly entrenched against bad behavior there are always folks who either knowingly, or otherwise break the rules, and put every one at risk.

        Keep it safe people… and figure out how to keep falling drones from being a hazard as well… (mass makes them less of a hazard, but still getting hit on the head with one doesn’t sound appealing)

        • >>And less so from Gun owners: “If your gun is used in a shooting politicians are going to take our guns away!”<<

          "Less so?" There is a whole political party here in the US based around that "fear."

          • jon

            Perhaps, but I don’t hear it being used to advocate for responsibility often…

            There was a time when the NRA encouraged trigger locks, now the NRA makes no mention of them, and Pro-gun rights advocates speak about how important it is to keep a loaded gun on the night stand with the safety off…
            At least that is what I hear… there is likely plenty of sampling basis.

  • Gary F

    “News organizations” how will you define this? why not bloggers, the new media?

    • I would do it the same way the FAA is doing it. Recognize traditional news organizations to experiment with the rules. I don’t think we need to go to the GOP Convention in Saint Paul “everybody’s a journalist” method.