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Study: pilots have difficulty detecting drones on final appraoach
17 November 2019

Researchers from the Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University and Oklahoma State University have conducted a study on the ability of pilots to visually detect small unmanned aircraft on final approach.

In 2018, the FAA received 2,307 reports of pilots having observed unmanned aircraft (UAS), with 22.8% (n = 526) occurring during the final approach phase of flight.  Pilots are forced to rely on visual senses and scanning techniques to ensure the approach path remains clear of UAS incursions. The research evaluated the effectiveness of pilot visual detection of a multirotor UAS during five approach to landing scenarios in which an unmanned aircraft created an incursion into the approach path. During the scripted approach scenarios, the UAS either remained stationary or maneuvered laterally.  Both aircraft and UAS were separated by established vertical safety margins and protocols to avoid an actual collision.
Overall, participants detected the UAS during 30% of the approaches. The static UAS was only detected during 13.6% of the approaches, at a mean range of 647 ft (197 m). The detection rate improved to 50% when the drone was in motion, with a mean detection range of 1,593 ft (485 m).
Vector data was calculated to determine the detection angle of UAS sightings, with the majority of successful detections occurring within 5˚ laterally and 10˚ vertically of center.
The study emphasized that based on the recorded detection distance, pilots would only have a limited margin of error to successfully execute evasive maneuvers, based on the FAA’s Recommended Minimum Reaction Time Required for Evasion criteria.

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