A Robinson R22 helicopter was struck Monday night by an object while flying south through Sepulveda Pass in Los Angeles. Operated as a cross-country training flight by L.A. Helicopters of Long Beach, Calif., the aircraft sustained severe damage to the windscreen when it was struck at 2,000 feet above sea level (800 feet above ground level) at about 7:15 p.m. The aircraft immediately diverted to Van Nuys Airport for an emergency landing. The flight instructor, who occupied the left seat, sustained cuts on his hands and knees from the shattered Plexiglas. The pilots were otherwise unharmed.
"Neither of the pilots saw the object — it had no lights," said Guillaume Maillet, chief pilot of L.A. Helicopters. "We think it was a drone. After talking to them, from what I see from the extensive damage, and the fact that there are no feathers or blood to indicate a bird strike, it had to be a drone."
Maillet said he'd experienced a bird strike in a Robinson helicopter at 110 knots and there had been no damage to the windscreen. "Our R22 Monday was only flying about 70 knots and the extensive damage with no evidence of a bird strike tells me it's a drone," he said.
The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) is currently looking into the incident and has not officially determined the identity of the object that struck the aircraft.
If the object was a drone, this incident is the latest in an ever-increasing number of drone and potential drone encounters in Southern California, according to the FAA. The FAA is working on finalizing rules for drone operations in the U.S. A task force on drone registration provided recommendations to the agency just last weekend, which outlined a system to require all drone operators to register their aircraft in an effort to increase accountability and compliance.