There’s no denying it: FPV flight is as close as we’re going to get to the real thing. We all dream of being up in the clouds. That’s one of the reasons why drone racing and FPV kits are becoming increasingly popular. It’s also the reason why, every so often, an FPV video comes along that threatens to break the internet.
This is ‘Flight of the Year’, from FPV pilot Nurk. Displaying some pretty incredible piloting skills, Nurk performs a series of stunts alongside a moving freight train. At one point he lines up next to the driver. At another he flies into one of the open compartments. At another he flies under the moving train. Under. The. Moving. Train. See for yourself:
So far, the video has received almost one million views on Youtube. And, as more members of the community and the wider public are exposed to it, we’d expect that number to snowball.
Unfortunately, it might snowball for all the wrong reasons.
How Should We Feel About The Flight of the Year?
Scrolling through the comments underneath the Flight of the Year video, there seems to have been a mixed reaction. There are roughly two categories of people. First, there are those who are in awe of the flight and congratulating the pilot on his ability. That’s fair enough.
Second, there are those who are critical of the flight and believe it sets a dangerous example for others to follow. They point out that the flight is in violation of a bunch of FAA rules and is exactly the type of footage lawmakers point to when justifying tighter regulations on drone pilots.
The pilot isn’t flying a drone you can buy in any store. This is a custom-built drone with a GoPro Hero 5 Session camera attached. And it looks pretty nimble.
What’s the Risk to the Train, Here?
At one point, the pilot flies his drone directly alongside the train driver, who looks a little shocked and quickly slides the window shut. Sure, it’s funny. But this is also one example of something people have pointed to, suggesting that distracting the driver while he’s on the job is probably a bad idea.
That’s true enough. A missed signal or emergency stop as a result of a drone nearby is very unlikely, but possible.
Union Pacific, the train operator, says on its website that:
- Union Pacific operates in a safety-sensitive environment. Never operate a drone in a manner that could distract or otherwise endanger yourself, Union Pacific employees, equipment or the public.
- All drone pilots must operate in compliance with applicable Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) regulations and safety guidelines. Flying a drone in a reckless manner is a violation of federal law and FAA regulations and could result in civil fines or criminal action.
- Drones may not take off from, land on or fly over Union Pacific property unless the pilot is authorized to do so in writing by a specific agreement with Union Pacific.
Second, people have complained that the drone could have caused serious damage to the moving train.
So is this flight reckless?
That’s difficult to say. This is clearly a very talented pilot. He was in control and knew exactly what he was doing. Plus, if we’re being honest, there is almost zero physical risk posed to the safety of the train or the driver by this flight. It’s a bit a fun, we shouldn’t overreact and common sense needs to prevail.
On the other hand, the pilot does fly beyond line of sight (whether or not he has spotters), as well as flying over, inside and below a moving vehicle. It’s impressive, that’s for sure. But it’s also against several FAA regulations.
And that’s arguably where the real potential for damage is here: the wider reputation of drone pilots. We already know that current regulations are excessive relative to the risks that drones pose, particularly when it comes to weight. But the more these rules are flouted openly, the more evidence lawmakers have to point to and say, “look, drone pilots ignore the rules, pose a threat and we have to do more about it”.
While FPV videos like this are undoubtedly impressive and incredible feats, they are doing the wider industry no favors at all. We get the draw and the challenge of flying around a moving object. The footage is fantastic. But that doesn’t mean it was a good idea to fly inside, above and underneath a moving train.
What do you think?