Drones spotted flying 5 times higher than allowed across Oklahoma

Rouge drones endanger pilots, aircraft and people on the ground below. (KTUL)

It’s an airport for some of the most experienced pilots and some of the newest ones -- R.L. Jones near Riverside.

“This is where the training starts. The first lesson of our course is in the simulator,” said Ryan Goertzen, with Spartan Aviation.

Goertzen said the simulator helps prepare new pilots for all kinds of situations before they go airborne. One of those situations includes drones that are flying in their path illegally at altitudes strictly forbidden by the FAA.

Those rouge drones endanger pilots, aircraft and people on the ground below. It happens a lot.

Since September 2015, there have been at least five drones spotted near the airport, some flying hundreds of feet higher than they’re supposed to.

“It does not take much to cause an airplane to crash and a drone is plenty big enough,” said Goertzen.

Just how high are drones supposed to fly? The max is 400 feet from where the pilot is standing. Now, there are new reports of drones in Tulsa flying five times higher than that. Where those drones have been spotted is right at the altitude where all the flight training has been going on.

“It’s thousands and thousands of airplanes that are using this same airspace,” said Goertzen. “The last thing that pilot things to see if a drone.”

It’s not just happening in Tulsa but all over Oklahoma. Drones have been spotted flying anywhere from 3,000 to 5,000 feet high. That’s high enough to start being a major threat to commercial aircraft as well as private planes.

Todd Ruffin, with Midwest Drone Productions, said the rogue drones don’t just threaten his business, they’re reckless and a stupid menace that could get people killed.

“We don’t know what’s going to happen if one of these contacts an aircraft, may nothing, maybe a lot,” said Ruffin.

Ruffin said he rarely takes his drone up to 400 feet for jobs.

“The problem with the industry now is nobody’s regulating it. The FAA is issuing all these rules for drone pilots to follow, but they’re not enforcing them,” said Ruffin.

Back at Jones, for even the most experienced pilot if a drone pops up out of nowhere it’s already too late.

“If it hit the propeller, or goes through the windshield, if it hit both my pilots they’re not living or at least not managing to get the airplane on the ground,” said Goertzen.

The FAA is currently evaluating new technology that would help detect drones near airports. Right now, the FAA is working at the Dallas Fort Worth airport with Texas A&M to test the technology that could help airplane pilots detect drones.

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