Gatwick drone disruption data delivers

Gatwick drone disruption data delivers

Five years have passed since mayhem reigned at London Gatwick Airport, yet the narrative of that alleged drone has continued to haunt the UK drone industry, thanks in part to the media referring to those few days back in December 2018 whenever a journalist feels the need to beef up a story where there is a suspicion of a drone being involved.

To compound matters, despite an admission by the CAA in 2021 that they did not possess even a description of the Gatwick drone, the CAA chose to use the Gatwick narrative again recently for CAP2610, a document to guide the drone industry in making comments for proposed changes to UK UAS regulations which is due to close in January 2024. The document cited Gatwick and 3 years of police incident logs, a dataset that is notorious for painting an inaccurate snapshot of perceived crime utilising drones, an FOIA (Freedom of Information Act) request even captured the language on e-mail exchanges between the Home Office and partner agencies where a desire was expressed for impactful data to be chosen.

Dr Alan Mckenna, Lecturer in Law, on X, formerly known as Twitter, observed that “Unless the CAA has been working directly with each police force to ascertain the nature of a particular logged entry raw numbers like these cannot be relied upon as the indicator the CAA seeks to suggest.”

While the CAA was regurgitating the Gatwick narrative and publishing impactful data it clearly had not sought to dissect, members of the drone and UAP (Unidentified Anomalous Phenomena) communities were continuing to unpick the many flaws with the narrative the public was told in 2018.

In a year that has seen the release of the only video that at the time was believed to be the alleged drone, though having been analysed was likely Sussex Police’s own drone, nuggets of truth continued to trickle out despite concerted efforts by some authorities to hinder FOIA requests at every opportunity. This led in October of this year to another twist.

While the world’s media was listening to every update from former Detective Chief Superintendent Jason Tingley back in 2018, little did they know that the Gatwick incident was not just being policed by Sussex Police and forces reporting to them via mutual aid, but the NPAS (National Police Air Service) crews under the command of West Yorkshire Police were keeping the skies closely observed above Gatwick Airport.

Following an FOIA, by a Mr Kostmayer, seeking clarification about how if there was a drone menacing Gatwick Airport there had not been even a single Airprox, West Yorkshire Police clarified that was because NPAS Crews had no sightings of a drone at or near Gatwick Airport between 19/12/2018 and 31/12/2018.

So, the helicopter crews, the most experienced police assets with airspace matters were now on record as never having witnessed the alleged drone, not even on the first evening or the days that followed when the press were given the impression a malicious drone was continually buzzing the airport in plain sight.

This means that while Sussex Police who have civil liability for events in December 2018 still maintain there was a drone, Leonardo the RAF system provider is on record that they did not detect any rogue drones, UKAB (United Kingdom Airprox Board) is on record that no Airprox incidents were logged and now West Yorkshire Police have an account which also contradicts the narrative of rogue drones.

Meanwhile, we should not forget that some of the most experienced camera operators from the world’s media never witnessed any rogue drones.

Further FOIA replies uncovered the requests the NPAS crews received to keep the airspace monitored above Gatwick.

The records reveal that an NPAS helicopter was scrambled in reaction to the original 19/12/18 21:00 sighting by a security guard, as the Redhill base is so close to Gatwick Airport the helicopter would have arrived around 8-10 minutes after lift-off.

Even in darkness, the NPAS helicopter has a significant advantage as drones emit heat from their motors and batteries, it is pure physics of how a drone operates so it is not something that could be masked. The thermal camera on an NPAS is military grade and would pick up such heat were a drone present at any location being monitored.

About a month before Gatwick the NPAS team published a snippet of video of them pursuing a drone back to its pilot, very much proving the point of how easy this task can be, even at night.

Day 2 of the Gatwick incident is particularly interesting, to keep almost uninterrupted helicopter coverage over Gatwick the moment the helicopter they had deployed from Lippitts Hill was diverted, the NPAS team even deployed from as far away as their Benson base which is in Oxfordshire.

Only once the RAF arrived on the evening of the 21st, did the NPAS deployment reduce, likely due to a duplication of capabilities as the Falcon Shield system that was deployed had several NERIO-ULR EO (Electro-Optical) heads which would have allowed any drone to be tracked and recorded to video in HD using its heat emissions. It is likely the final deployments were simply to cover blind spots for the Falcon Shield EO heads.

Admission there was no drone seen:

Details of the base/times:

Leonardo’s admission no rogue drones were detected:

Good morning Mr Hudson,

Apologies for the very late reply. We did have a few Drone Airprox reported between 19/12/18 and 31/12/18 but not around Gatwick.

Thank you.

Kind Regards,


Please note that, due to the coronavirus pandemic, I am working from home until further notice. Please use the number below if you wish to contact me by telephone.

Admin & Production Assistant, UK Airprox Board

Building 59 | RAF Northolt | West End Road | Ruislip | Middlesex | HA4 6NG

Tel: 0330 138 3380 

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Ian Hudson

I am an advocate for the use of UAV/UAS/Drone technology and have been building and using drones since 2013. I was involved in the bid for Bradford to become one of the UK's 5 drone testing cities for the Nesta Flying High Challenge and was part of the task force. I have provided commentary for the media, with interviews on the BBC and in The Register.