Pilot Error, Software Issues, Mechanical Failures All Cited As Causes
Internal Air Force investigation reports indicate that the service is losing drones at an unacceptably high rate at civilian airports similar to an accident which occurred in the Seychelles in April. In that accident, an inexperienced operator flying an MQ-9 Reaper (similar aircraft pictured in USAF photo) launched the aircraft without permission, mishandled the flight controls, and wound up crashing it onto the runway without its landing gear deployed. It skidded into the ocean off the end of the runway.
In an enterprise report in the Washington Post, documents obtained through a Freedom of Information Act request show that there have been numerous accidents involving military UAVs at civilian airports over the past two years. The reports consistently cite pilot error, software issues, mechanical failures, and inadequate coordination with civilian air traffic controllers in the accidents.
The paper reports that there have been numerous instances of Predator and Reaper accidents occurring near non-military airports, sometimes with civilian contractors operating the aircraft. Some have been under the auspices of the CIA, which is basing UAVs at a civilian airport in Ethiopia for missions over Somalia.
The accidents have not gone unnoticed by those expressing concerns about the FAA's plan to allow the operation of unmanned aircraft in the National Air Space (NAS). The Air Force says the accident rate is declining as the technology matures, and that the incident rate is now comparable to that of the service's fleet of F-16 fighter jets at a similar stage of development.