U.S. MQ-9 Downed After Collision With Russian Su-27

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A U.S. Air Force MQ-9 Reaper drone went down in the Black Sea on Tuesday following an encounter with two Russian Su-27 aircraft. U.S. European Command (USEUCOM) released a declassified video showing the intercept, stating that the MQ-9’s propeller was damaged after a collision with one of the Su-27s which resulted in the Air Force having to bring the drone down in international waters. The aircraft were also seen dumping fuel in front of the MQ-9 and flying in close proximity to it before the collision. Russia’s Ministry of Defense stated that their aircraft did not use weapons and did not come into contact with the drone.

“Our MQ-9 aircraft was conducting routine operations in international airspace when it was intercepted and hit by a Russian aircraft, resulting in a crash and complete loss of the MQ-9,” said U.S. Air Forces Europe and Air Forces Africa commander Gen. James Hecker. “In fact, this unsafe and unprofessional act by the Russians nearly caused both aircraft to crash.”

The incident occurred at approximately 7:03 a.m. Central European Time on March 14. USEUCOM noted that the published video was edited for length but that the events shown were depicted in sequential order. The U.S. and Russia are both attempting to recover the MQ-9, which is believed to have sunk in an area where the water is several thousand feet deep.

Kate O'Connor
Kate O’Connor works as AVweb's Editor-in-Chief. She is a private pilot, certificated aircraft dispatcher, and graduate of Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University.

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35 COMMENTS

    • Common sense answers that for you. The reaper was being overtaken by the SU-27. Therefore it is the Su-27s responsibility to avoid collisions. Particularly as they were the ones performing dangerous manoeuvres (Yes, it is spelt correctly).

  1. With all the knowledge here, perhaps someone knows some answers.

    Would the jet fuel cause the prop damage?

    How would the fuel likely affect the engine? In this case, a rear mounted turbine. What about a turbo fan or piston?

    Were they likely trying to use afterburners on the fuel as well? What would that be likely to do?

    I’m really curious about this stuff.

    • The supposition is that the fuel dump was intended to ‘blind’ the predator by coating the cameras lenses. Imagine using a spray bottle on a camera and then trying to take a picture without cleaning the lens.

      So the guess is that pilot came too close by accident – their intention wasn’t to permanently damage or down the drone, ‘just’ harrass it and prevent it from taking good pictures. But they got too close and hit the prop. (I’m wondering if they hit one of the stabilizers as well, since they extend further than the prop blades?)

    • The jet fuel would not cause that damage as it would be largely vapour / dispersed droplets. The engine MIGHT be affected by LARGE quantities of fuel going down the intake but the dispersed vapour / droplets would have only a slight effect. The Su-27 fuel dump system is not suitable for ‘Torching’ in the same way as an F-111.

    • Completely agree, even in spite of the consequences that could emerge of such an action. The russians needed that.

    • I think it is interesting that the Russians did not attempt to shoot the drone down. It’s not like it may shoot back. The Russians want to avoid an incident to give the US an excuse to fight back. What they did could be covered up as an accident….which is exactly what the Russians are trying to portray it as. It seems that their goal was fulfilled: bring the drone down in one piece so we can recover it. It looks like that plan is coming together nicely for them.

    • Yeah, I’m still trying to figure out how a bunch of American right wingers are now all about supporting a former KGB turned dictator.

  2. I have every confidence this incident occurred in international airspace, where, in theory and practice, nobody “pokes” anybody. The Russian “bear” is a bully, brutal and irresponsible, and its pilots are reckless and apparently not very skilled aviators. It might be a bit provocative -who cares?- but can’t MQ-8s be rigged for self defense?

    • Yes they could. it would not be un-feasible to equip them with small AAMs like Stingers, but the loss of mission payload would probably not be acceptable. In any case it would turn a non-threatening reconnaissance aircraft into a combatant, with the attendant risk of military action. In theory they should be able to operate in International airspace/waters without being molested. Shadowed, YES, but molested by Orcs, NO.

    • Because the USA sent shuiploads of missiles to Ukraine, obviously the drones are there to locate targets.
      Drones are then “fair game”.

      • I think actually the MQ-9 was on station to monitor activities of the Russian Black Sea fleet, which they withdrew out of Ukraine missile range after loss of their flagship Moskva. They are still able to fire on targets in the Ukraine from their new positions, and such launches are probably relayed by us to the Ukrainians.

    • Something travelling through the prop arc at speed could very easily only hit one blade with minimal damage to the other blades. In any case the damage to that blade could ONLY have been caused by an outside object (or part of the reaper that had become detached).

    • If you look closely, the blade opposite the bent one is in full feather, which would radically affect the prop efficiency and likely create some pretty serious vibration. I would suspect that the impact caused some sort of damage to the hub mechanism.

  3. A spy plane near any unfriendly country’s territory has to take the risk of being knock down. It is a common sense !

    • The drone that was “spotting” for targets in Russia. Actually it was pretty clever of the Russians to “not fire” on a plane in international airspace.

      • Arthur,

        Are you proud of what the Russian pilots did to this drone? Is it your concern as an American that a drone in international airspace was spying upon a country you seem to support?

        Just curious as your comments lend an air of support to the Mig Pilots for a job well done….against American assets…..hmmmmm….

    • While obviously utilizing any recon anywhere around an unfriendly involves some level of risk, bringing down the aircraft of another country while in international airspace is a much more serious risk. Fortunately, in this case it was pretty obviously the unintentional result of a stupid pilot move, and you can bet said pilot did not return to an atmosphere of joy & commendations.

  4. Exactly, but that is not an excuse for the Orcs bad behaviour, on this and many other similar occasions.

  5. Doesn’t look like fuel dump to me, more like a contrail as the Flanker went into burner. Unless the Su27 has a way to disable afterburner ignition so raw fuel exits the engines.

    The supposed “fuel” isn’t coming out of the dump mast, it seems to be coming out of the engines.

  6. Also don’t see how the fighter hits a single prop blade without impacting the V tail(s). Where’s the video of that damage?

  7. The peculiar, and highly variable, twisting of the prop blades suggests to me that there was no physical contact with the Su-27. It does look like the result of the blades hitting “lumpy air” of a much higher, and variable, Reynold’s number. For once, I’m inclined to believe the Russians’ assertion that they didn’t hit the drone; but the visual evidence makes it clear that something from the Su-27 did. My money’s on the likelihood that the fuel dump was not uniformly mist.

  8. I am amazed that the Su-27 didn’t have a full on midair with the MQ9 destroying both aircraft. On the final part of his approach flightpath he was descending blind onto the MQ9.

    Too bad the Su-27 pilot didn’t have to swim home….

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