Helicopter Drone Busts Washington Airspace

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The Navy says it's working on a software glitch that resulted in a helicopter drone flying autonomously toward Washington, D.C., last week. The Northrop Grumman MQ-8B Fire Scout UAV is no toy helicopter. It grosses out at 3,150 pounds and is nearly 24 feet from nose-mounted multi-sensing eye to tail rotor. On Aug. 2, while undergoing testing at NAS Patuxent River, the remote control pilot lost the data link with the UAV. "When they lose contact with the Fire Scout, there's a program that's supposed to have it immediately return to the airfield to land safely," Cmdr Danny Hernandez told The New York Times. "That did not happen as planned." This time, the automation failed and the UAV headed for Washington.

The helicopter went about 23 miles north/northwest at 2,000 feet in the general direction of Washington on its own and got inside the outer ring of the Flight Restricted Zone. There were no reported conflicts with other aircraft and no deviations required. The operator switched ground control stations and was able to command the wandering drone to land at Webster Field, which is part of the Pax River complex. Although the Navy says it's fixed the glitch, the drones will be grounded until early September while the investigation wraps up.