The NTSB has concluded that damage sustained by a Los Angeles news helicopter late last year likely resulted from a drone strike. In findings released last week, the Board concluded that the probable cause of the damage was “an in-flight collision with a hard object of polycarbonate construction, with size and features consistent with that of a small UAS (drone).”
At approximately 7:15 p.m. local time on Dec. 4, 2019, a 2004 Airbus Helicopters AS350B2 (AStar) was flying in night VFR at a speed of approximately 110 knots and an altitude of 1,100 feet msl near Los Angeles City Hall. The aircraft was operated by long-time electronic newsgathering aviation and charter firm Helinet for television station KABC. The pilot reported colliding with an unknown object and made a precautionary landing at a nearby helipad without injury to any of the three aboard.
Post-flight examination revealed minor damage to the right horizontal stabilizer and tail rotor blade. A small round dent partially punctured the leading edge of the horizontal stabilizer and further dents and scuff marks were located approximately six to eight inches outboard of the round dent on the leading edge and along the upper surface. One of the tail rotor blades had a small gouge in the composite surface approximately mid-chord. Laboratory analysis indicated the shape, dimensions, and markings of the damage to the horizontal stabilizer to be consistent with the footprint of a small drone and an infrared examination revealed material transfer of the same type of polycarbonate polymer used in small drone construction. An extensive physical and electronic search failed to locate the drone or its operator.