I don’t devote every flying day to snapping the picture that will get 1,000 likes on Instagram. I set aside training days devoted to improving specific skills like flying in windy conditions, or quickly being able to set-up a waypoint flight. When I train I try and go to a secluded area like an open field behind a school so I can concentrate on perfect practice. But I’d say almost every flight is interrupted by a heckler, spectator, or would-be drone owner.
The heckler is the person who immediately shouts “hey, you have a license for that?” Or, “I better not see that over my property or I’ll shoot it down.” And then there is the “you can’t fly that here.”
When confronted like this the first thing you should do is access your personal safety. Does the person confronting you have the visible means to hurt you or damage your gear? Take a look at the photo. Is that man a threat? At first glance he is a threat! I’d be very concerned about what he can do with the cane he is carrying. I let the drone hover while assuring my own safety. Once I feel secure I land the drone and deal with the verbal threat. Auto landing comes in handy, but I like to land the aircraft some distance away to prevent a heckler from trying to damage the drone. I haven’t had anyone attempt to attack my drone, but why take the risk.
Next you should try and understand exactly what the person is saying and the tone of voice they are using to say it. The “hey you have a license for that?” can be said in a threatening tone, or most often people say it using a sarcastic tone of voice. If they’re using a sarcastic tone I’ve found people use it as a lead-in to see if you are willing to answer questions.
If a heckler is using a threatening tone of voice I keep my speech patten very matter-of-fact and of normal volume. I tell them I am in compliance with all local laws and show them my FAA registration which I printed, laminated and attached to my lanyard. Showing my registration has worked every time to defuse this situation.
I use the same tone of voice for those who threaten a shoot-down. their property. I explain that people have gone to jail for doing that and conscientious pilots don’t fly over anyones property without permission. If they don’t believe you point them to articles on the internet like this one.
I keep the link on my phone for quick access.
For the “you can’t fly here” folks I’ve show them the FAA’s B4UFLY app and prove I’m not within five miles of an airport. I also tell these people I’m in compliance with all local laws.
You have to deal with these threats as courteously as possible otherwise you risk reinforcing all the negative news this person has probably hear about drones. No use feeding their preconceived notions that drones are peeking in peoples widows on a daily basis, or are a constant risk to commercial air traffic.
Spectators are usually harmless. If they don’t approach I look at them as a way to spread some goodwill about drones. My Phantom is usually in flight at this point so I always ask them to stay behind me for safety reasons and will then show them some basic maneuvers. If they don’t follow my safety instructions I land immediately and answer any questions they may have. All most all of them ask how high it will go, or how fast it can move forward or side-to-side. After they watch for a few minutes they usually continue walking the dog, finishing their run, or other activity. Once you land the aircraft the entertainment factor is gone, and they move on.
A few minutes spent on a flying demo or answering questions is good public relations is time well spent; then back to practice.
Finally, the students and would-be students. My last practice trip I had a gentleman tell me that he has a new Phantom 2 at home; the seal on the box still unbroken. He wanted me to teach him the basics of flying because he said it looked so easy while I was on the sticks. I chuckled and told him he should have been around for the times I crashed my Phantom 2 or put in into some trees while I learned.
I could see the buyers regret setting in on his face. I wonder how many other drones are sitting in boxes because their owners are looking for teachers. Then there are the drone owners who have done a flight or two and have specific questions. The problem here is real questions can consume a lot of your battery life and practice time. I could just refer them to any number of video’s on the internet, but the interactive experience with a more knowledgeable pilot is the best training. So, I always take the time to answer questions and hopefully enhance the drone communities image.
Hecklers, spectators and students are going to be around until the novelty of drone flight wears off. Until that time you should have a plan for how you are going to handle a member of this trio on your next flight.
Oh, the guy in the picture. A gracious gentleman just out for a walk. His most threatening question. Can you take my picture?