Drone Crashes into SWAT Team Tank During Police Test

A drone crashed during a test flight near Houston, adding to growing safety concerns as more police departments across the country begin using the unmanned aircraft.

County authorities and the maker of the drone confirmed that a recent police-only photo mission did not go exactly as planned.

The sheriff’s SWAT team loaded up with equipment and their armored vehicle known as the “Bearcat,” were waiting to be photographed by the prototype drone from Vanguard Defense Industries . It was basically a photo op, according to those in attendance.

Vanguard CEO Michael Buscher said his company’s drone was flying about 18-feet off the ground when it started having trouble. It’s designed to go into an auto shutdown mode, but when it was coming down the drone crashed into the SWAT team’s armored vehicle.

The damage was limited, according to Buscher, who described it as only some ‘blade strikes’ on the prototype.

This is the exact scenario that the Government Accountability Office presented as a major concern over the growing use of police drones in 2008.

In the 2008 GAO study, Gerald Dillingham, Director of Civil Aviation for GAO said,

“The concern is that you could lose control of that aircraft and it could crash into something on the ground or, in fact, it could crash into another air vehicle.”

The GAO study found that 65% of drone crashes were caused by mechanical failures. The study analyzed Pentagon and NASA data on 199 crashes of drones on battlefields.

Before this Montgomery County crash, the only crash of a law enforcement drone was recorded in 2006 in Nogales, Arizona. The Customs & Border Protection flight crashed in the desert due to the same “lost link” scenario that sent the Montgomery County unit crashing into its SWAT team tank.

When the link between the drone and the control console on the ground is lost, drones are designed to glide to a landing. In some cases, the drones already have a location programmed in for landing in the event of a problem.

Dillingham said that’s another dangerous problem with drones in urban areas.

“If you’re onboard the aircraft, you can tell that you’re in turbulence and you can maneuver to get the plane or the aircraft out of the turbulence.   But if you’re using a UAV and there are no sensors aboard, you don’t really know that and, again, if you lose that communication link as a result of that turbulence or for any other reason, then you have an aircraft that is not in control and can, in fact, crash into something on the ground or another aircraft.”

The 73-page GAO study found 17-percent of the crashes studied were blamed on operator error and 12-percent were listed as unknown causes.

 

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