A Blenheim drone expert taking to the skies over Marlborough had a first-hand encounter of the feathered kind.
GCH UAV operations manager Colin Aitchison was filming near Oyster Bay when he was joined in the air by an inquisitive falcon who headed straight for the drone.
Colin, who has more than 700 hours of flight time under his belt, says the chance encounter was his “best experience to date.”
“I’d been filming for around 15 minutes and was tracking back to the landing area before I noticed the falcon approaching.
“I’ve flown in the same areas as hawks and falcons many times and before this, they have all given us a wide berth – likewise us to them.
“I’ve never had one make a beeline like this to the drone, my first thought was how much flight time do I have left to deal with whatever is about to happen,” he says.
Colin had been filming at around 1000ft above ground level, with clearance from Airways NZ, and was steering the drone back down.
He had descended to 200ft when the falcon arrived.
The falcon kept pace with the drone, heading straight for the camera’s lens.
It even chased the drone after Colin put it in a high-speed dive to land it.
“I could clearly see its eyes on my screen flicking about trying to identify the UFO in its airspace.
“Once it had flown off to one side, I put the craft into a high-speed dive to land, the falcon turned, tucked its wings and chased the drone to the ground – easily keeping pace beside us as if he was racing,” he says.
Colin learnt the art of aerial photography while in Queenstown, capturing “screaming tandem skydive” customers mid-air.
The award-winning photographer discovered Unmanned Arial Vehicles (UAV) in 2012 and was one of the first in the country to use the technology.
In 2014 he turned what had been a hobby into a full-time business, founding Droneworks New Zealand before joining GCH Aviation as a UAV operator and operational analyist in 2017.
The company holds a Part 102 certificate from the Civil Aviation Authority.
Worried about an accidental collision with the bird, Colin says he held the drone in position and waited until the falcon had started to lose interest.
“It was a pretty awesome experience”.