A California man is facing jail time for hitting a police helicopter with his drone. Andrew Hernandez pleaded guilty yesterday to unsafe operation of an unmanned aircraft, a charge that carries up to one year in federal prison and a potential fine of up to $250,000.
According to a plea agreement, Hernandez launched a small drone to see a crime scene near his Hollywood home in September. The drone flew into the path of a police helicopter that was responding to a burglary, hitting its fuselage and forcing an emergency landing. While the officers weren’t harmed, an affidavit said that this was a lucky outcome — Hernandez’s drone could have accidentally struck the aircraft’s rotor and brought it down.
Hernandez was charged in November after police identified him via the drone’s memory card. He will be sentenced on April 12th.
Flying a personal drone requires observing a patchwork of shifting rules about autonomous aircraft as well as following the bounds of good sense. And if Hernandez is imprisoned for reckless flying — which isn’t necessarily going to happen — he won’t be the first. A Washington man was sentenced to 30 days in jail in 2017 after his drone knocked a woman unconscious.