The Silver Falcons, the aerial demonstration team of South Africa, were forced to cut their performance short at the Rand Show in Johannesburg, South Africa two weeks ago when an unauthorized drone was spotted in the airspace. The entire airshow was put on hold while the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) searched for the drone pilot, and the situation was put into the hands of the proper authorities. The drone itself was described as flying higher than 200 feet above the grounds of the show as the operator sought to take photos of the performance.
One of the pilots talked about the danger that a drone could cause in such a situation: “The Silver Falcons fly at approximately 500 kilometers per hour. Besides causing damage to the plane, the debris could hit people. The plane could even crash”. It is illegal to fly such a device in South Africa without authorization.
This may be the first instance where a rogue UAV has interrupted an airshow, but with small quadcopters and other UAVs becoming increasingly popular among consumers this may not be the last time it happens. Here in the United States, the FAA is already struggling to develop effective rules to keep such drones away from manned aircraft that are already tightly regulated. Other countries have been quicker to respond and many do have established rules for UAV use, but unfortunately operator stupidity cannot be prevented in all cases.