Pilot Robert Delleo has been flying for the N.C. Forest Service for 10 years and says it’s not unheard-of to hit a bird as you’re skimming just above the treetops over a wildfire.
What he really worries about, though, is the possibility of hitting a drone, which fly at that same altitude and are just as impossible to see when you’re moving at more than 200 mph.
“Birds are flesh and bone. They have a tendency to give, though they do damage to airplanes,” says Delleo, who directs the Forest Service’s aviation division. “But if we were to run into a drone, which are not flesh and bone, it would be catastrophic.”
Twice this spring, the Forest Service has encountered drones while its aircraft have been flying over wildfires. That prompted Steve Troxler, the secretary of agriculture, to put out an bulletin this week reminding people that it’s a felony for a drone to damage or interfere with a manned flight and to urge people to keep their drones away from wildfires.