This happened earlier in the year. It illustrates the issues of complex technology within a busy airspace in Arizona and the needs of the border patrol to be effieicent in their work. Certainly UAV aircraft are essential but there are issues that need to be addressed. I missed this until now, but a U.S. Border Patrol’s Predator UAV crashed in Arizona last month. The crash didn’t make civilian pilots too happy.
“This crash highlights the safety concerns we’ve voiced all along,” said Andy Cebula, AOPA executive vice president of government affairs. “The FAA should not permit UAV operations until they are certified to the same level of safety as manned aircraft.”
“Thankfully, in this accident no one in the air or on the ground was hurt,“ Cebula added. ”But just think that if a pilot had been flying legally under the TFR and the UAV hit the aircraft from behind and above — the pilot would have had no chance to see and avoid the uncontrolled UAV.”
The Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association wasn’t too happy about the UAVs before they crashed, either, since the FAA had imposed flight restrictions on a 350 mile section of Arizona and New Mexico because of the Predators’ operations. And in general the AOPA worries about the danger UAVs pose to other aircraft.
As it turns out, the preliminary NTSB report on the accident seems to indicate that the crash was due to pilot error:
The pilot reported that during the flight the console at PPO-1 “locked up”, prompting him to switch control of the UAV to PPO-2. Checklist procedures state that prior to switching operational control between the two consoles, the pilot must match the control positions on the new console to those on the console, which had been controlling the UAV. The pilot stated in an interview that he failed to do this. The result was that the stop/feather control in PPO-2 was in the fuel cutoff position when the switch over from PPO-1 to PPO-2 occurred. As a result, the fuel was cut off to the UAV when control was transferred to PPO-2.
The pilot stated that after the switch to the other console, he noticed the UAV was not maintaining altitude but did not know why. As a result he decided to shut down the GCS so that the UAV would enter its lost link procedure, which called for the UAV to climb to 15,000 feet above mean sea level and to fly a predetermined course until contact could be established. With no engine power, the UAV continued to descend below line-of-site communications and further attempts to re-establish contact with the UAV were not successful
The U.S. Border Patrol isn’t the only group flying UAVs in the area. A vigilante group called the American Border Patrol, in conjunction with the Minutemen, has been flying their own homebuilt UAV—apparently a souped up model airplane. They even have video of their vehicle in action.
And then there is the anti-vigilante group UAV flown near the border by Chris Csikszentmihalyi. Quite the crowded airspace down there these days.