Military drone flew out of control over Upstate New York


Mark Weiner

WASHINGTON, D.C. – A small military drone flew out of control last month along the Susquehanna River west of Binghamton, prompting a series of alerts and warnings to pilots in Upstate New York.

Operators of the unmanned Desert Hawk IIIreported losing contact with the fixed-wing aircraft at 3:21 p.m. July 24, according to a newly disclosed incident report from the Federal Aviation Administration.

The FAA control tower at Binghamton reported that an operator of the remotely piloted aircraft called to say “they have lost control of a drone and to watch out.” Meanwhile, a pilot in the area reported spotting the rogue drone as it meandered through the region.

The FAA did not disclose the operator of the drone.

But a spokesman for Lockheed Martin Corp. confirmed Monday that the military drone was on a test flight from Lockheed’s facility in Owego, N.Y.

“I can confirm we have not lost any Desert Hawk aircraft,” Lockheed spokesman Keith Little told “For a short period of time they did lose communication, but the aircraft was recovered.”

Little said he did not know the length of time operators had no control of the drone, or its altitude and location when communication was lost.

The Desert Hawk III was developed by Lockheed Martin for reconnaissance and surveillance missions. The 8-pound, hand-launched aircraft is capable of providing digital and infrared real-time video.

The British military deployed the drones in Iraq and Afghanistan. The Guardian newspaper reported that 412 of the Desert Hawk III drones crashed or were lost during a five-year period, the most of any remotely-piloted aircraft in its fleet.

The FAA had not previously disclosed the problem with the drone in Owego. But the agency included the report in a new database of more than 700 drone sightings by commercial and civilian pilots recorded since mid-November. In some of the cases, the drones flew within 100 feet of the aircraft.

In the highest-profile drone accident to date in Upstate New York, an MQ-9 Reaper drone slammed into Lake Ontario northwest of Syracuse in November 2013. The crash was blamed on a software error in navigation equipment.

The unarmed Reaper belonged to the Air National Guard’s 174th Attack Wing in Syracuse. The aircraft had taken off on a training mission from Wheeler-Sack Military Army Air Field at Fort Drum.