The public is still waiting to hear from investigators whether the first non-military midair collision between a drone and helicopter occurred this past November in California.
On Nov. 23, a Robinson Helicopter R22 operated by Los Angeles Helicopters made an emergency landing during a cross-country training flight after its windscreen was partially shattered. A lack of residual bird matter, along with previous experience of bird strikes that hadn’t caused noticeable damage, led the operator to believe it had been a drone in spite of the fact that neither pilot nor flight instructor saw what hit the screen.
The FAA told R&WI that investigations would determine such things as whether there was a paint transfer indicating contact with an artificial object. Keith Newmeyer, chief test engineer with Robinson Helicopter, said a bird could conceivably have caused the damage, but added that theoretically an object “the size of a quarter, striking the windscreen in the right place” also could cause a crack.
No other midair collisions have been confirmed outside the military, though the public has made many assumptions prior to investigations. Flightglobal reported that a drone may have collided with a “light aircraft” on Aug. 30, 2015, in Norway, though the Norwegian Civil Aviation Authority apparently declined to offer further details. Another alleged collision between a Piper PA-23 and a drone over Romeoville, Illinois on Aug. 27, 2015, later was found to be a bird strike, according to AVweb. Both incidents involved fixed-wing aircraft.
UPDATE 1/21 4:15 p.m. EST: The FAA told R&WI that its investigations could not determine the source of the impact. The agency sent pieces of the R22 windscreen for DNA testing and performed visual inspections. The tests found no evidence of bird remains or DNA. However, the agency also did not find evidence of a drone impact. "Neither the pilots nor any witnesses on the ground reported seeing a drone before the windscreen cracked," said the agency. "No drone debris was found in the aircraft or reported on the ground." Investigators also were unable to determine if the windscreen crashed due to flaws in the materials or installation.