MARK PRIGG - It is the flagship of the US Air Force’s drone operation, conducting surveillance and airstrikes against the Islamic State, al-Qaeda and other militant groups.
However, a Washington Post investigation has revealed the Reaper drone has been hit with an unprecedented number of technical problems, causing the 2.5 tonne craft to fall from the sky.
Electrical faults have beset the craft, causing 20 large Air Force drones to be destroyed or sustain at least $2 million in damage in accidents last year, the worst annual toll ever, it claims. The Pentagon has shrouded the extent of the problem and kept details of most of the crashes a secret, the paper claims.
Overall, the report claims says more than 400 large U.S. military drones, or several different type, have crashed since 2001. ‘Military drones have slammed into homes, farms, runways, highways, waterways and, in one case, an Air Force C-130 Hercules transport plane in midair,’ it says.
‘No one has died in a drone accident, but the documents show that many catastrophes have been narrowly averted, often by a few feet, or a few seconds, or pure luck. ‘The documents reveal a $3.8 million Predator carrying a Hellfire missile crashed near Kandahar in January 2010 because the pilot did not realize she had been flying the aircraft upside-down.
Another armed Predator crashed nearby after the pilot did not notice he had squeezed the wrong red button on his joystick, putting the plane into a spin, the Post says. While most of the malfunctioning aircraft have perished in combat zones, dozens have been destroyed in the United States during test and training flights that have gone awry.
In April, a 375-pound Army drone crashed next to an elementary-school playground in Pennsylvania, just a few minutes after students went home for the day. Ten Reapers, each costing an estimated $14m, were badly damaged or destroyed in 2015, at least twice as many as in any previous year, according to Air Force safety data.
According to accident-investigation documents obtained under the Freedom of Information Act. Investigators have traced the Reaper problem to a faulty starter-generator, but have been unable to pinpoint why it goes haywire or devise a permanent fix.
One accident report, released last year, pinpoints the armed drone’s depleted backup batteries and generator failure, according to an Air Force investigation report.
The investigation does not say where the aircraft was flying or what operation it was supporting. The MQ-9 was carrying an undisclosed weapons load, and was destroyed at a loss of $14.1 million. The aircraft was flown by a crew from the 432nd Attack Squadron at Ellsworth Air Force Base, South Dakota.
The MQ-9 took off Dec. 12, 2014, from an undisclosed deployed operating base on a classified mission in the Middle East, according to the Accident Investigation Board report. Shortly after takeoff, the Reaper’s pilot briefly lost satellite link with the aircraft. When the connection was re-established, the pilot’s control screen displayed a battery warning and a starter-generator failure.
The pilot attempted to reroute the aircraft to a predetermined location where a launch and recovery element could retrieve the aircraft. On the way, however, the Reaper lost battery to the point where it couldn’t lower its landing gear.
The launch and recovery element on the mission directed the Reaper to intentionally crash in nearby mountains. The report states the primary cause was the failure of the generator, along with the depletion of the backup batteries.
Additionally, a delay in uploading software for the launch and recovery element added additional loiter time, and a decision to not lower the landing gear earlier contributed to the decision to crash the aircraft. In November, an MQ-9 Reaper crashed on Wednesday near Bagram Airfield, Afghanistan, according to the 455th Air Expeditionary Wing.
‘There is no indication of injuries or damage to civilian property as a result of the crash,’ according to a wing news release. ‘The cause of the crash is currently under investigation, but enemy fire was not a factor.’ The Reaper was assigned to the 451st Air Expeditionary Group, based at Kandahar Airfield.–Daily Mail