Unmanned Navy Copter Goes Rogue in D.C. Airspace

MQ-8B Fire Scout U.S. Navy

The remote "pilot" of an unmanned Navy MQ-8B Fire Scout helicopter lost his datalink to the aircraft on August 2, setting the aircraft free to roam. It wandered toward Washington, D.C., from its Patuxent River base before contact was re-established and it was commanded to land at Webster Field, an element of the Naval Air Station. The UAV's software is programmed to command the copter to land if control is lost, but that did not happen. It flew about 23 miles at 2,000 feet, busting the outer ring of the D.C. Flight Restricted Zone before command was restored. There were no reported conflicts with manned aircraft traffic. The Navy reports the software glitch has been identified and rectified, but Fire Scouts remain grounded pending completion of the investigation.

Mark Phelps is a senior editor at AVweb. He is an instrument rated private pilot and former owner of a Grumman American AA1B and a V-tail Bonanza.

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