As U.S. skies have opened up to drones in recent years, concerns about civil liberties have come to the fore, but as the fiery crash of a mammoth unmanned Navy surveillance drone in the Chesapeake Bay a year ago demonstrated, safety is cause for concern as well.
A Navy investigation, reported here for the first time, has concluded that the June 11, 2012, crash was caused by a combination of a mechanical failure and pilot error. A breakdown in the aircraft's rudder mechanism compounded by the failure of a civilian pilot to follow emergency procedures sent the Global Hawk drone, with a wingspan of 131 feet, spiraling into remote wetlands in southern Maryland.
The Global Hawk, a 22,982-pound aircraft, spiraled downward at a 55-degree angle reaching a speed in excess of 2,000 feet per minute. Carrying more than 11,000 pounds of fuel, the drone burst into flames upon impact. The crash destroyed the $176 million vehicle, but caused no property damage or injuries and caused "minimal" environmental damage, the report found.