VLOS a perspective

This is a subject of perpetual debate with no black & white definition so I thought I would throw in a point of view (not saying right or wrong) of how I see it.
The law says we must maintain a direct visual line of sight with our own eyes to our drone at all times.
The rationale is that we must be able to see the full scope of all potential risk situations in the proximity of the drone. Of course that immediately walks us into very grey areas:

  • One person (probably a youngster :slight_smile: ) can see their Mini2 drone 500 meters away, another old git like me can’t see it beyond 200m.
  • Doing the best I can, I temporarily lose sight because I looked at my controller, woops I’ve broken he law
    So how does the law in practice determine if I was VLOS at a point I was challenged?
    Answer: I think, because I know of one UK case where someone was found guilty and applied an arbitrary 500m as the distance. Again though, this is very grey.

Now; it is a fact proven many times in law, in all kinds of circumstances, that innovation and technology run way ahead of law and legislation. Take the Motor Car when it arrived on the scene. It was capable of 20mph but it was deemed so dangerous that someone with a red flag had to walk in front of it and it was limited to 5mph. That law stood for approx 10 years!

So what do I think of the position with drones?
I can see that tiny little black speck 500m away so I’m within the law but I can’t see its orientation, what’s above or below it, I can’t judge it’s speed, anything in its proximity or anything else!

Where do I get that all important safety information from?
Well I look at my DJI Fly app of course where technology has provided me with everything I need to see

  • I can see a 4K camera view of where I am;
  • I can see all of the telemetry info for altitude, speed, orientation
  • I can use that clear view of everything important to just let go of the controls and stop on a sixpence if something doesn’t look right
  • If a risk situation arises I can rapidly descend and land

I can’t do any of that watching my tiny little black speck 500m away and I can’t possibly safely switch my eyes in the sky to my eyes on the information on my screen.

Drone law needs to catch up with the technology we have which has been designed by world leading experts to control drones safely, simple as.

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My feeling would be that in addition to the video and information available on your screen, as long as you have an uninterrupted view of the airspace your drone is in then that should suffice - whether you can see the drone itself doesn’t matter as long as you can see any potential hazards such as a manned aircraft flying towards where your drone is and take appropriate action.

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Exactly, that is a really helpful point, cheers :slight_smile:

I think I disagree :slight_smile:

Not quite… your downstream video feed isn’t 4K but more importantly: while you’re squinting at your dimly lit tiny screen you can only really make out what your camera is pointing at. You can’t see the air ambulance helicopter that’s approaching from behind your drone.

But you can see that heli if you’re looking at you’re drone in the sky.

Don’t get too hung up on the 500m number though, that’s thankfully not a legal requirement and is somewhat misleading when referenced as something like an Inspire can be seen over a mile away. The important part is the VLOS itself, so you can see potential hazards approaching the airspace which your drone is currently in.

The technology hasn’t caught up yet to solve the problem of your drone seeing other airspace users approaching from behind it, which is why VLOS is still a requirement.

BVLOS trials are already underway though, I think we’re still a number of years away from hobbyists being able to fly bvlos though.

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Well, on a point of real life, the moment my tiny grey min2 gets about 50 feet away in the UK’s grey skies it vanishes, or if there is a bit of sun etc, I have long since used the on screen and GPS display to know where the thing is, I don’t go more that 500M away, I don’t fly behind trees building etc, for fear of losing it, but I certainly cant always see it, but I make sure I can see what it sees, or it comes straight back.
I have bought a strobe for low light but have never used it in those conditions, I also tried a luminous high vis wrap, again, its still invisible after a short distance. I would like to try a drone that uses the goggles, but I guess that’s a whole new ball game and I like the stealth of the gutsy little Mavic 2, I just wish it had follow me.

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And if you’re going to go 500m away why stop there ;o)

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I put a position out there, not because it’s right but to see what sort of debate it attracted. You make some good points and yes you’re right on the 4k thing. I believe every responsible drone operator looks to the sky in the vicinity of where there drone is and tries to strike the right safety balance from controller to sky view and maximum spatial awareness to pick out any hazards. I also invariably have someone with me and therefore a spotter which is really helpful. I totally respect air safety and I don’t fly silly distances away.
Fundamentally, I believe 100% of sub 250g hobbyist will lose VLOS of their drone even within 200m just by looking down at the controller and then trying to see their grey little drone against a grey sky. I feel there is a balance still to be struck between the technology and the law and right now it is (IMHO) imbalanced.

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VLOS for me comes down to being able “IF ASKED”, at a moments notice, to point out your drone, in the sky, without artificial aids, other than prescription glasses, to someone else and whether that person can see it or not, is not important.

It’s a matter of being aware of your surroundings and those of your drone, at al times, not just seeing it’s camera view, which is limited (as is yours) and any other telemetry show on the apps screen…For me it doesn’t mean you must be able to physically see said drone for the entirety of the flight, only aware of it’s location and surroundings, so that you can be as sure as anyone else, that your flight will be safe and within the code and laws of the country you are flying in.

There’s BVLOS, and then there’s BVLOS.

The majority of my flights are BVLOS as every time I pull my goggles down I no longer have direct visual sight of what I’m flying, and no I don’t have a spotter.

That statement above will have some flexing their keyboard skills in condemnation. But let me clarify.

I do most, if not all, of my FPV flying on private land so there’s no expectation of Joe Public wandering into the line of fire. I very rarely exceed a 50ft ceiling so I have a greater chance of being struck by lightening than I do encountering an aircraft. On average the cameras I use have around a 160 degree field of view, compressed into a 43degree, which is significantly larger than that of the view a GA pilot has. I have two ears which will hear a potential hazard long before it becomes visual, something else a GA pilot does not have the luxury of.

What I’m saying is there is an I’ll perceived notion by some that as soon as you enter the realm of BVLOS the airspace will suddenly fill with general aviation, and death and destruction will ensue.

BVLOS flights have taken place for more years than some might appreciate, and in that time there have been no confirmed incidents of air to air interactions. Compare that to the number of fatal air incidents in 2020, a period of historically low air traffic, which was 15 incidents resulting in 184 fatalities.

I’m not saying that BVLOS is risk free, but it can be reduced to where it’s negligible.

In the above I’ve referenced BVLOS as to flying close proximity FPV and not in relation to Long Range. However long range FPV has been practised for many years, again with no confirmed interactions with General Aviation or reported fatalities.

Many naysayers will make claims that our skies are overcrowded and will use a snapshot of Flightradar24 to add value to their claims. But the airspace below 500ft is, for the time being, pretty much vacant except for model and drone flyers. Again to fly long range BVLOS in this region of airspace can easily be made virtually risk free if common sense precautions are followed. In actuality the risks are significantly reduced just by applying the same guidance that is in place for regular VLOS flying.

I’ll end by saying that I believe the vast majority on this forum have in one way or another flown BVLOS, and to date nobody died.

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banging-head-on-keyboard-gif-7

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Summed up far more eloquently than I could’ve ever put it, and agree 100% with what you’ve said :clap:

On a side note, regarding risk and BVLOS, another consideration is the weight of the drone. For example, if I was BVLOS and my M2P disconnected, I’d be more worried about safety (people, buildings, etc.) than if it was my Mini 2 (aka a “toy”).

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:laughing:

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Going back to the start of the thread, that’s not exactly what the law says.

The law actually says:

‘visual line of sight operation’ (VLOS) means a type of UAS operation in which, the remote pilot is able to maintain continuous unaided visual contact with the unmanned aircraft, allowing the remote pilot to control the flight path of the unmanned aircraft in relation to other aircraft, people and obstacles for the purpose of avoiding collisions

I would emphasise “is able to” maintain continuous unaided visual contact. It doesn’t say you actually have to stare at the drone without blinking, just be able to do so. It’s (legally) okay to look down at your controller and look back up at the drone.

The really key point though is that it’s not enough to just see the drone (or to see what the drone’s camera can see). It’s essential to be able to see “other aircraft, people and obstacles” for the purpose of avoiding collisions.

There are two key issues in practice:

  • I seriously doubt anyone is ever getting prosecuted simply because they lost VLOS for a moment; you’ll get in the shit because there has been an accident, or because there was a risk of one. If that happens, it’s handy to be able to defend yourself by showing you were pretty much in line with the law.

  • If you think that seeing the camera view and telemetry are enough, and something has gone wrong, you are pretty much guaranteed that your lack of VLOS will be used against you.

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Note the same wording “be able to” is used in CAP722, which gives a good explanation - it emphasises the need to use your eyes to be able to avoid collisions, it’s not hung up on whether you blink or not:

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The second paragraph there, though, is typical CAA bollocks. “The CAA will normally accept” - bollocks - they have no enforcement role. It’s down to the police and courts what they accept.

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Back in the day the CAA had to issue a special exemption (ORS4 No. 1297) so that commercial remote pilots didn’t have to watch the aircraft all the time, and could glance down at their phones/tablets without breaching their permission (as long as a competent observer watched the aircraft for them whilst their eyes were averted).

I think it was due to a cock up in permission wording

That takes me back about 15 years :joy:

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I always keep mine fairly close because i want different views in video I just drive or walk with it a bit further away, that way i can always see if a Gull etc is about to side swipe me and end the drones flight prematurely lol.

I never put a video on YouTube showing my drone travelling beyond 500m as personally videos like that are just too slow and boring. Its better to compile a series of different views, locations and heights to keep a video or pictures interesting. Lets face it a video or photo of a mountain getting steadily bigger would be fairly boring.

For that reason alone I personally see no need to go beyond 500m, it’s usually a lot less because my old fart eyes dont work that well either lol.

As for the law if you stay within that limit, I am sure it would help your defence if something went really bad.

Keep it close and enjoy the views surrounding you is my belief :smile:

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Isn’t that the thing though ?

The ‘law’ won’t state a limit ?

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Having sold my M2P, I’ve just taken receipt of a mini 2 (happily purchased on GADC from @its.steves.shots).

I’ve only done a couple of quick test flights and already can confirm I’m going to struggle to see it @ >200m. It did come with a few ultra bright leds (genuinely caused temporary blindness when I turned one on) that I’m yet to fully test ( & weigh) but reckon that’s going to help try and keep an eye on it. It also came with a cool orange skin!

Have I flown BVLOS… Absolutely… On private land, over the sea and across empty countryside… I tend to fly looking exclusively at the screen… I know what height I’m working at, and would absolutely hear a helicopter before is see one… This has happened several times so I just land or bring it in low until said threat has passed!

These days, I’m not sure I’d need to fly beyond 500m… If I did, I would probably not post the video but with a <250g drone, I’m not going to worry about it too much

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So I took my first flight with my DJI Mini2 this weekend and a massive thank you to this community for helping me get my head around the legalities and precautions involved. Annoyingly, I think I turned off my drone (in a spate of nervousness) before stopping the recording which caused the video to corrupt (or at least that’s my theory on why the recorded video is unplayable).

I’m still new to this so I don’t plan on anything crazy, but I did find today that even 300-400m distance made my drone difficult to view LOS despite (last I checked) being long sighted. Admittedly it wasn’t the best conditions ever, but UAZ Assist did give me a 1 hour slot of viability so how could I refuse. I’m aware that the law is to pretty strictly maintain LOS, but without wanting to get anyone in trouble, I do wonder how many pilots fly their drones prdeominantly via video footage vs LOS? Despite an apparent 4km range I found myself circling the same 300m2 or so area for fear of losing LOS but given footage I’ve seen in my town (Bournemouth) of identical drones, either everyone has much better eye sight or their basing a lot of the flight on video feed?