A quick summary of options .. Top Bird Avoidance tips \tPimp your drone\u2014to see it better from afar \tTire out the attacker\u2014create your flight plan with enough battery time remaining for several plunges and climbs \tUse a VuFine HDMI monocular\u2014to retain visual line of sight while viewing your ground station\u2019s screen \tBuy the eBee\u2019s optional radio tracker \tBring the attack closer to improve your view\u2014but not all the way home! Full Article: When it comes to operating commercial drones, there are some challenges that every operator needs to address: gaining official permission to fly, knowing where you can safely operate, staying on top of the weather\u2026 a professional dronist is rarely bored. But one issue, globally at least, is rarely discussed: the very real problem of birds of prey attacking unmanned aircraft in flight. To explore this subject further, Waypoint met up with two senseFly operators: Troy Fardell, the director of RPAS Australia and Andrew Chapman, the NSW director of Australian UAV. Based in Australia\u2014home to the aggressive wedge-tailed eagle\u2014these mapping pros know a thing or two about working near winged invaders. In this exclusive discussion they discuss how birds attack, how to go about avoiding them, plus they highlight one specific incident that speaks volumes about the eBee\u2019s durability. Troy Fardell of RPAS Australia, a man well versed in eagle avoidance.Drone strikes by birds are surprisingly common and occur in many parts of the world; not only in Australia but also parts of Africa, select US states, parts of Europe and in Latin America. The culprits are typically serious\u2014and seriously large\u2014birds of prey. Down in Oz for example, wedge-tailed eagles are one of the most common UAV attackers.\u00a0\u201cThey are magnificent birds, much larger than even the American bald eagles,\u201d says Australian UAV\u2019s Andrew Chapman. \u201cHere in Australia, we usually see an eagle on one job in four when flying in rural areas, and our drone is aggressively attacked perhaps one job in six or eight.\u201d Our drone is aggressively attacked perhaps one job in six or eight\u00a0 Troy Fardell of RPAS Australia claims this attack ratio can be even higher: \u201cI would guess that 40% of the time I have to perform at least one eagle avoidance,\u201d he says. \u201cThey are always there.\u201d Risk factors Fardell and Chapman have identified several factors that seem to increase the likelihood of an attack. \u201cAs an operator you need to be alert every flight, all year round. But the chances increase whenever there is anything that makes it easy for these birds to fly and eat, such as lots of thermal air currents \u00a0and docile food,\u201d Fardell says. \u201cEven at six and a half kilograms, and with a two-and-a-half-metre wingspan, they can hide in the sky,\u201d says Chapman of wedge-tailed eagles. (Image: Carol Carpenter, CC-BY-2.0, via Wikimedia Commons.)Fardell also avoids flying near chicken farms, as these locations increase the chances of an attack. \u201cI look for these locations when planning in the office,\u201d he explains. \u201cI\u2019ll use Google Earth and look for long sheds in the area, especially the free range type. Not far from my town there are dozens of these farms and I\u2019ve counted over a dozen wedgies circling above them.\u201d Fardell says that when he hovered his quadcopter above one of these farms, he instantly knew these were sites to avoid. \u201cI could see from the quad\u2019s video feed that a predictable, \u2018docile\u2019 eBee would be like a lamb to the slaughter\u2014just like the hundreds of chickens in the paddocks. Although certain months do host more attacks, Chapman notes, there remains no single period when an Australian operator\u2019s drones are completely safe in the sky. \u201cThe eagles have a pretty broad breeding season, from April to September, which is when they are most aggressive. But you\u2019ll note that we aren\u2019t in that period of the year now . They still attack us all the time; they\u2019re just more aggressive and tenacious in the breeding season.\u201d \u201cThe birds are basically everywhere in Australia with the exception of the cities,\u201d he adds, \u201chowever, we have even been attacked right on the fringes of Sydney. The bird experts will tell you that\u2019s unlikely, but it happens. The birds seem to come from tens of kilometres away when they spot us in the air.\u201d \u201cWe heard from someone who was attacked while flying a bright red turbine helicopter. If the brightest coloured and noisiest thing in the sky doesn\u2019t scare them off, that should tell you something!\u201d Not only that, but eagles are not exactly nervous observers. \u201cThese birds are at the top of the food chain, they\u2019ve never had a natural predator. People ask why we don\u2019t paint the drones a certain colour, or have them make a noise, but we\u2019ve consulted the bird experts and there\u2019s nothing you can do like that\u2014they simply aren\u2019t afraid of anything. They even attack manned aircraft. We heard from someone who was attacked while flying a bright red turbine helicopter. If the brightest coloured and noisiest thing in the sky doesn\u2019t scare them off, that should tell you something!\u201d Aerial MO So what does a bird of prey attacking a drone actually look like? How does the attack work? Chapman and Fardell say, firstly, they come out of nowhere. \u201cLike a Frenchman in a wingsuit they are on top of your eBee\u201d \u201cA bird can be on your radar kilometres away, or what appears to be 1,000 feet high, but you look down at your eMotion screen for five seconds and\u2014bang!\u2014 like a Frenchman in a wingsuit they are on top of your eBee,\u201d Fardell says. \u201cThey have an incredible glide path speed. They can easily cover one or two kilometres in the time it takes the eBee to turn a waypoint and take its first photo.\u201d A wedge-tailed eagle, captured by an Australian UAV eBee flying over a plantation forest in Victoria, AustraliaEagles often work together in groups too, Fardell adds. \u201cWhen they are active I generally see three or more working together, six at the most.\u201d That gels with Chapman\u2019s experience. \u201cIt is not uncommon that there are large groups of eagles. I\u2019ve personally had nine in the air at one time,\u201d he says. \u201cI\u2019ve personally had nine in the air at one time\u201d Fardell has identified two distinct methods of attack. \u201cThe first is to attack from behind at an oblique angle. I think they want to go in for the kill but they are curious, so they follow the drone for a while before speeding up. These attacks are reasonably easy to get away from if a bird is hunting alone, although that\u2019s rare. Once you climb they cruise away and use thermals to get back to normal attack height. That\u2019s the second type of attack: top down.\u201d Fardell says these aerial dives are by far the most serious threat. The eagles dive head first, but then in the last three metres or so of their dives they rotate in the air to lead instead with their talons. \u201cEffectively, they are out of control,\u201d he claims. \u201cI have never seen the head involved in the attack. Their MO is to puncture, strangle, rip open the \u2018packaging\u2019 of their target and then try to eat it.\u201d \u201cWe\u2019re talking wings folded and diving down at 150 kilometres an hour,\u201d says Chapman. \u201cI had a heart rate monitor on during one of these attacks and my HR topped out at 135 bpm\u2014who needs exercise?\u201d \u201cI had a heart rate monitor on during one of these attacks and my HR topped out at 135 bpm\u2014who needs exercise?\u201d What thickens the plot further is that wedge-tail eagles are, surprisingly considering their size, quite the covert operators.\u00a0\u201cEven at six and a half kilograms, and with a two and a half metre wingspan, they can hide in the sky. Hunting and surprising is what they do best,\u201d Chapman explains. \u201cThey also learn really fast. Once, I had our eBee RTK three hundred metres out, heading straight at me, on the last run of the day. And I was being hyper-vigilant, knowing that eagles would be around, so I had my stylus hovering over eMotion\u2019s Fast Climb button while staring at the aircraft. But even then, there\u2019s no relaxing. Even though I was staring straight at the drone, I didn\u2019t see the eagle until it opened its wings in the last final grab for the plane. Thankfully, button pressed, the drone went vertical and my day ended well.\u201d Both Fardell and Chapman are strong proponents of the eBee\u2019s bird-avoidance manoeuvres, which are built into its eMotion ground station software.Quarry face-off One of RPAS Australia\u2019s most recent attacks took place at Hanson Heidelberg Cement, in Kulnura, New South Wales. \u201cOur eBee was cruising at around 100 metres above ground level at the time of the attack, capturing images on its standard flight path,\u201d Fardell recalls. \u201cWhat appeared to have happened, from my vantage point a few hundred metres away, was that the bird was in its committed dive and no longer able to manoeuvre, throwing its talons out as I engaged the rapid climb function\u2014so the eBee went up as the bird went down. Its talons seem to have simply collided with the end of the wing, rather than the eagle clutching it. This would explain why both the winglet and three inches of the aileron appear to have snapped off, not been torn off. I think it was a collision.\u201d \u201cThere was no discernible\u00a0impact on the drone\u2019s ability to fly. Sure, it was wobbling after it was hit, but it carried on climbing\u201d What surprised Fardell, even with his extensive experience, was that the eBee itself didn\u2019t go down. \u201cThere was no discernible impact on the drone\u2019s ability to fly. Sure, it was wobbled for a moment after it was hit, but it carried on climbing\u2014at no point did it go down with the wedgie. There are some talon \u2018picks\u2019 in the body but these were purely glancing shots and not deep. In fact, they could have been from one of the other two birds having a go too!\u201d RPAS Australia\u2019s damaged eBee mapping drone (see right wing tip), which wobbled in the air after the wedge-tailed eagle\u2019s attack, but then continued on with its mission.View the results of the attack on RPAS Australia\u2019s eBee: \u00a0View the results of the attack on RPAS Australia How to avoid an attack With aerial threats so prevalent, Fardell and Chapman\u2019s teams have developed a range of avoidance tactics, mostly centred around the bird-avoidance functions built into senseFly\u2019s eMotion ground station software. \u201cI will literally point to the eagle\u2019s position while watching the eBee\u201d \u201cI will literally point to the eagle\u2019s position while watching the eBee; having my arm out like this keeps me\u00a0vigilant,\u201d begins Fardell. \u201cMy right hand, meanwhile, hovers over eMotion\u2019s Fast Climb button.\u201d This climbing function is key to avoiding attacks, Chapman confirms. \u201cIn eMotion\u2019s early days, before this feature was added, we experienced bird damage much more frequently. After we took delivery of two of the first eBees in Australia we were the first to really push for the \u2018fast climb\u2019 function, so our thanks go to senseFly for listening to our concerns and adding this.\u201d Fardell has also decorated his drone, adding mirror finish decals to make it easier to identify at a distance. \u201cWith my blinged-up eBee, I can see it up to 1.2 kilometres out, under suitable conditions,\u201d he explains.\u00a0As for the eagles, they\u2019re less troublesome to identify. \u201cI can see the wedgies more easily since they are more than three times bigger than the drone! There have even been moments when I couldn\u2019t see the eBee, but due to the \u2018flight mode\u2019 of the wedgie, I knew it was time to climb.\u201d \u201c\u2026 knowing when to climb is all about the timing\u201d In the case of several birds being in play, Fardell says a good tactic is to bring the drone a little closer to home. \u201cI bring the fight closer so I can judge separation better, because knowing when to climb is all about the timing!\u201d Just not too close. \u201cI made this mistake once. I brought the game home, right above the drone\u2019s landing point\u2014bad move! Now you have some well-rested eagles circling inside your home point but, since you\u2019re having this dog fight near the end of a mission, your battery level might be low, and you can\u2019t keep just aborting your landing each time an eagle upsets your final approach. So keep the fights outside of your home.\u201d One of Chapman\u2019s eMotion screenshots from an attack which ended badly several years ago, before this ground station software included bird avoidance manoeuvres.Once the battle has been brought closer, it\u2019s all about tiring out the predator. \u201cThe goal is to make the big birdy buggered!\u201d Fardell states. \u201cTiring them out is actually easy if it\u2019s just one bird, but if you have three, then they each take turns and get a rest before their next attack. I generally find they each have three attempts in them before they need a hot cup of thermal rest.\u201d You just need to learn how to get out of the blocks fast, pace yourself and know your enemy Chapman sums up his advice thus: \u201cIt comes down to one factor: you need to keep a very, very close eye on the aircraft and be ready to initiate evasive manoeuvres at just the right moment. Too early and the eagle will adjust its course to climb up and meet you. Too late is, well\u2026 too late. There\u2019s not much you can do to avoid being attacked, it\u2019s about what you do when it happens.\u201d In Australia, Fardell concludes, \u201cEverything wants to kill you and your eBee. This drone is unmatched at what it does and that\u2019s making our clients really happy, but it\u2019s a lover, not a fighter (although it\u2019s also a pretty good runner). You just need to learn how to get out of the blocks fast, pace yourself and know your enemy.\u201d \u2014\u2014\u2014\u2014- Top Bird Avoidance tips \tPimp your drone\u2014to see it better from afar \tTire out the attacker\u2014create your flight plan with enough battery time remaining for several plunges and climbs \tUse a VuFine HDMI monocular\u2014to retain visual line of sight while viewing your ground station\u2019s screen \tBuy the eBee\u2019s optional radio tracker \tBring the attack closer to improve your view\u2014but not all the way home!