Clint Burleson, UT Health East Texas Air 1 pilot, said he’s never seen a drone flying at 1,500 feet until he nearly hit one in his airspace when he was flying back to Tyler from a Dallas hospital.
Burleson said he took off Sunday evening from the UT Southwestern helipad and flew over the Trinity River and turned toward Mesquite.
With downtown Dallas on his right he heard the Love Field Air Traffic Control Tower warning him about commercial air traffic in the airspace. Seconds later, Burleson said he was forced to bank hard to the right to avoid hitting a drone that was within 30 feet of his helicopter.
“It looked like a bird,” he said. “But, the rate of closure wasn’t the same. It was about 3 feet wide and long. It was red or maroon in color.”
After the near miss with the drone, Burleson radioed the Love Field tower to report the incident.
A Dallas Police Department spokesman said a Dallas Police Department Helicopter Unit was contacted shortly before 7 p.m. Sunday by Dallas Love Field regarding a drone that flew in close proximity to a helicopter over the Fair Park area at an altitude of about 1,900 feet.
Dallas Police Helicopter Air 1 responded to the area but did not observe or locate any drone activity in the area.
Michael Lawyer, chief flight nurse at UT Health Tyler, said this is the first time the hospital’s helicopters have had to bank the aircraft to miss a drone.
“Drones are not supposed to be flying more than 400 feet high,” he said.
The operator was breaking at least five Federal Aviation Administration regulations by doing this in the 5-mile wide area the helicopter was operating in, Lawyer said.
The pilot and medic were looking and paying attention to their airspace when they encountered the drone while they were flying over 100 mph, according to Lawyer.
“If the helicopter would have hit the drone, there could have been huge safety issues that could have caused the loss of life and affected people on the ground,” Lawyer said. “The pilots go through annual training and they attend morning briefs that inform them of incidents like this.”
Burleson, an Army veteran who spent 10 years flying Army helicopters, has been flying the Air 1 helicopter for the past three years.
The FAA could not be reached for comment.