US Air Force says 2013 drone crash due to communications, navigation systems failure

Defence Images/via Flickr
July 2, 2014

According to a review by the U.S. Air Force, a “series of system malfunctions” led to the crash of an unmanned drone into Lake Ontario last November.

The MQ-9 Reaper drone was on a training mission when 174th Attack Wing pilots on the ground in Syracuse began having communication issues with the aircraft. The accident report says pilots tried to return the drone to Fort Drum, where it had taken off, but it experienced more problems and never made it.

Ground crews lost complete communication with the MQ-9, which forced it into autopilot. While under computer control and still trying to return to base, the drone’s internal navigation system failed, the report says.

That’s when it made a sharp right turn, flipped upside down and went into flat spin, into Lake Ontario, 12 miles off the shore.

Only pieces of the $10 million aircraft washed up and the exact impact site was never found. No one was hurt. Flight Operations at Hancock Airfield were temporarily suspended, but the 174th insists the drone program is safe.