Drone Champions Want Greater Access to Domestic Airspace

By Joseph Straw

In the 1983 Chevy Chase movie Deal of the Century, a satire of the defense industry, a remote-controlled, armed unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) runs amok at an arms show and destroys the multimillion-dollar wares on display.

That cautionary if comedic tale comes to mind after an August incident in which the military lost communication with a Navy Northrop Grumman MQ-8B Fire Scout UAV undergoing tests at Naval Air Station Patuxent River, Maryland. Beyond the control of its handlers, the drone—apparently unarmed—flew on for roughly 30 minutes, covering 23 miles and entering restricted airspace around Washington, D.C., before controllers reestablished contact and guided it back home.
The Fire Scout employs software that is supposed to automatically fly the craft back to its point of departure in the event of a communications failure. That software did not work, and several weeks later the Navy acknowledged that the Department of Defense had considered scrambling manned fighter jets to shoot down the UAV.
(To finish reading "The Trouble with UAVs" from the February issue of Security Management, please click here.)


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