Drone ‘Entered Gatwick Airspace’ After Losing Control

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Australian-built unmanned ‘flying car’ rose into Gatwick airspace in 2019 incident after operator lost control and kill switch failed to work, probe finds

The Air Accidents Investigation Branch (AAIB) has made more than a dozen safety recommendations following a 2019 drone crash near Gatwick Airport.

The 95kg drone was being used in a demonstration flight at Goodwood Aerodrome in July 2019.

After its pilot lost control and a “kill switch” failed to function, it climbed to about 8,000 ft and entered restricted airspace used as a holding point for flights arriving into Gatwick.

The drone continued to drift until its battery depleted, then crashed in a nearby field of wheat about 40m from a group of houses, the AAIB said in a new report.

drone
Image credit: AAIB

Demonstration flight

The agency made 15 recommendations as a result of its probe, including 13 for the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA).

The drone, an Australian-built Alaudia Airspeeder Mk II, at 3m long and 1.4m wide, was an unusually large model intended as a 3/4-size version of an eventual manned, flying race car.

It continued to fly for about 4 1/2 minutes after escaping the remote pilot’s control, the AAIB said, drifting in a south-westerly direction before plummeting to the ground with a “high rate of descent”.

Nearby residents in the north-eastern edge of Chichester who saw the crash from their gardens came out to investigate, and after seeing the size of the unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV), called the police.

The event was attended by about 200 invited guests at Goodwood Aerodrome, who were obliged to “take cover” in a building.

Accident risk

No one was injured, the report found.

The CAA had assessed the operator’s application and, after clarifying some details, allowed the demonstration flight, but did not inspect the drone, the AAIB said.

The AAIB’s own post-crash inspection revealed “concerns regarding build quality and workmanship”, with circuit boards populated with “hobbyist” components, exposed wiring, large amounts of solder and lumps of adhesive, which may have contributed to the kill-switch failing to operate.

“There were no injuries caused by this accident but the potential for a more serious outcome was clear,” said Crispin Orr, chief inspector of air accidents, following the report’s publication.

The CAA said it had already made significant changes to its requirements and oversight after the incident and was looking to address the AAIB’s recommendations quickly.

No-fly zone

Air traffic controller NATS said its controllers took “immediate action” to ensure flights in the vicinity were alerted.

The incident occurred months after drone sightings caused chaos at Gatwick Airport in December 2018, although the two events were not related.

In another unrelated July 2019 incident, a passenger plane pilot reported passing within 20m of a DJI Inspire drone whilst approaching Gatwick.

In 2019 the government said it would extend the no-fly zone for drones around airports and that all major UK airports would have military-grade anti-drone equipment.

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