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Air Force Reaper Crashes Over Lake Ontario

by Kris Osborn on November 13, 2013

Training to huntA U.S. Air National Guard MQ-9 Reaper unmanned aircraft dropped out of the sky while conducting training operations at altitudes greater than 18,000 feet above  Lake Ontario, service officials said.

“The satellite control link failed and the aircraft descended into the lake. The U.S. Coast Guard went looking for the aircraft but did not find anything,” Erik Durr, director of public affairs for New York state division of military and naval affairs, told Military​.com

The Reaper was assigned to the 174th Air Attack Wing operating out of Wheeler Sack Army Airfield, Fort Drum, Ny.

“No one was injured and the aircraft had no weapons on board,” Durr added. “The 174th Air Attack Wing is the MQ-9 school house for the entire Air Force. Pilots and sensor operators from around the country come here to learn how to operate the Reaper.”

The training exercise was taking place in approved military training airspace over Lake Ontario.

“They’ll conduct an Air Force investigation,” Durr said.

This crash comes a less than a month after an MQ-1B Predator drone crashed at Holloman Air Force Base, New Mexico.

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{ 40 comments… read them below or add one }

Preston VT November 13, 2013 at 5:10 pm

"The satellite control link failed and the aircraft descended into the lake."

Shouldn't these drones have some sort of automatic return-to-base-mode if they lose their satellite control link??

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blight_ November 13, 2013 at 6:09 pm

I'm surprised they still don't have that yet. Perhaps they want them to fail deadly?

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JCross November 13, 2013 at 11:40 pm

Some drones have it, some don't, and sometimes it just fails. Similar to the lost RQ-170, had return-to-base, but that subsystem failed.

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NathanS November 13, 2013 at 8:30 pm

From what I do know, they're meant to go into a holding pattern when a satellite link is lost, and attempt to re-establish a connection. I'm not certain, but I would imagine if they fail to re-gain a connection within a certain timespan, it would return home.

The details are sketchy – and it's pure speculation on my part, but maybe a solar flare took out both the satellite (hence the loss of connection) and the reaper for a period? Of course a satellite in orbit won't fall out of the sky, but a reaper would (if they're not EMP hardened).

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blight_ November 14, 2013 at 8:43 am

Solar flare would've affected the GPS constellation. If you subscribe to the email service you can get a daily status report on the health of the GPS constellation, and indirectly get an idea of how conditions are for satellites in orbit.
http://www.navcen.uscg.gov/?pageName=gpsSubscribe

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Force Majeure November 14, 2013 at 3:05 pm

The cme from 10 Nov didn't arrive so it shouldn't have been a solar problem.

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coastguard1997 November 13, 2013 at 9:27 pm

they do its supposed to fly its self back to the airfield and land it obviously failed to…..

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Rest Pal November 19, 2013 at 1:32 pm

quote: -"Shouldn't these drones have some sort of automatic return-to-base-mode if they lose their satellite control link??"

Of course no. Why should they?

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Little Bill November 13, 2013 at 6:27 pm

I'm still not impressed with drones capability to fly correctly when there not working properly.

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Thomas L. Nielsen November 14, 2013 at 10:37 am

I think you'll find that very few air vehicles fly correctly when they're not working properly.

Regards & all,

Thomas L. Nielsen
Luxembourg

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tmb2 November 14, 2013 at 1:22 pm

Is that like saying you're not impressed with your car's performance when there's smoke coming out of the engine?

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blight_ November 14, 2013 at 2:15 pm

I wish everything was perfect too…

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Rest Pal November 13, 2013 at 7:29 pm

The higher the number of drone crashes, the higher the probability of figuring out the real causes of the crashes. So let's hope the drones will keep crashing. 30-60 crashes a month sounds good.

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celeritas November 13, 2013 at 10:19 pm

Like in Star Wars Ep1, "The control ship has been destroyed – Look! They are broken!"

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Musson November 14, 2013 at 8:21 am

If it had gone down in Lake Superior – Gordon Lightfoot could write a song about it.

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John Slaughter November 14, 2013 at 12:44 pm

Well Played, Sir!

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B-58Hustler November 14, 2013 at 9:02 am

This is definitely an issue to address. There are plans to expand the use of drones into all sorts of police activity. They can't be falling out of the sky or even getting close to commercial aircraft routes when out of contact with the ground pilot.

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ImNoRocketSurgeon November 14, 2013 at 10:17 am

By "satellite control link" could that include GPS? Assuming that's the case, how does it get home without GPS? How does it even know the direction toward home?
I guess it could just retrace it's path in reverse – if it had enough fuel.
The suggestion about going into a holding-pattern makes sense.
My hobby is RC multi-copters and the logic on the control board is set to do the same thing – holding patter.
ANYWAY…in the scheme of my meager life, I just assume it's magic and go on about my day.

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Thomas L. Nielsen November 14, 2013 at 10:43 am

"Assuming that's the case, how does it get home without GPS?"

Well, if they can teach the little bugger to drop an LGB, they should be able to teach it to use a map and a compass.

And I suddenly get this image in my head of a Reaper by the roadside, holding up a cardboard sign that reads "Fort Drum".

Seriously though, the question is not whether drones will crash. They will. The question is also not if drones will be 100% safe. They won't. The question is will they crash more or less often, and be more or less safe, than manned aircraft.

Regards & all,

Thomas L. Nielsen
Luxembourg

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ImNoRocketSurgeon November 14, 2013 at 10:04 pm

LOL!! Thanks for that mental image! :)

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blight_ November 14, 2013 at 2:17 pm

GPS only tells you where you are, not how to move or how to get there.

Darn those Remotely Piloted Vehicles.

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ImNoRocketSurgeon November 14, 2013 at 10:22 pm

True. But if you don't know where you are, how do you know that you are not already "there"? My land-nav instructor used to love saying stuff like that! :)

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EW3 November 14, 2013 at 8:40 pm

In addition to GPS most systems have an INS.
Traditionally, the INS is actually the primary source of location data and the GPS is used to verify the INS solution.

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ImNoRocketSurgeon November 14, 2013 at 10:43 pm

Good point EW3. thx!

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blight_ November 16, 2013 at 8:00 am

Hmm, if the Reapers had Chip-Scale Atomic Clocks…

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RCDRONE November 14, 2013 at 10:38 am

If we can spend $4.3 million on each drone, we should at least program it to switch to auto pilot or even ILS when connection is lost.

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UAVGeek November 14, 2013 at 1:50 pm

ILS? Might want to check how ILS works pal.

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blight_ November 14, 2013 at 2:15 pm

Perfect, it'll land at the nearest ILS airport…Iranian Revolutionary Guards not excepted.

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Mitch S. November 14, 2013 at 11:31 am

The U.S. Coast Guard went looking for the aircraft but did not find anything,”

Soon the Canadians will reveal they brought down the drone and are probing its secrets to stop us from spying on their communications. Obama will ask for it back and threaten an embargo of Canadian maple syrup unless they cooperate…

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Hunter76 November 14, 2013 at 11:32 am

"Satellite control link lost" sounds like it was under full remote control. Nothing to do with GPS. The craft had no autonomy. Just a USAF officer staring slack-jawed at a blank screen.

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Big-B November 14, 2013 at 11:38 am

At least when flying over friendly territory they might add a parachute for the whole thing. There are chutes available for small planes like a Cessna so shouldnt be too difficult nor expensive. Ok unless you ask Lockheed :-)

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SJE November 14, 2013 at 12:48 pm

The automatic return to home function is probably disabled in the crowded N.Amercan airspace, where the cost of a drone is small compared to the risk of it hitting a civilian plane, and the huge stink that would result.

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Lance November 14, 2013 at 1:30 pm

Proof that Drones should not replace manned planes. They do have the Army out in full force from Ft Drum to find the remains of it.

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Hunter76 November 14, 2013 at 2:21 pm

TG we're not paying for them. Best to get the bugs out of drones before the F-35s are swept from the sky and carriers are diving to the bottom.

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Big-Dean November 14, 2013 at 4:45 pm

Everyone knows the air force can't fly over water (that's the Navy's job), that's why they crash ;-P

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Stephen November 14, 2013 at 9:09 pm
David Smith November 15, 2013 at 1:59 am

This is so funny! One of the most high tech airplanes can't even be located. Call in the a Navy.

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EW3 November 16, 2013 at 12:28 am

Risking the aircraft on an actual mission in enemy country is one thing.
To lose an aircraft on a training mission in friendly country is another.
Hang some devices under the wings to either have parachutes, flotation devices, or something to help save the aircraft. Perhaps in friendly country we need to have a backup to the satcom system, or an enhanced UHF com system or a lower frequency system with greater range.

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RK-TN November 18, 2013 at 12:45 pm

Since it's only training and over water, why not fit them with a chute and inflatable floats. Shouldn't be too hard to put in an autodeploy chute if the engine cuts out and there is no weight-on-wheels. Sure would make it easier to troubleshoot the probelm.

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Robert Crawford April 12, 2014 at 8:31 pm

Law makers should fund our own rockets….As far as hitting Iran with "small" nukes. Let Israel handle this unspeakable deed.

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