The Guardian has revealed that a British Desert Hawk III drone was in a near collision with two military helicopters over Salisbury Plain. The incidents, revealed by safety investigations by the UK Airprox Board, took place on February 12th. According to the Guardian, the Airprox investigation found that:
An Apache helicopter escorting a Chinook on a simulation exercise entered the landing zone and was at one stage “on a collision course” with the drone… Last-minute manoeuvres by the UAV controllers prevented a collision. Three hours later a Sea King helicopter entered the same drone’s airspace and came within 300 metres of it. The UAV operator spotted the helicopter and avoided collision with an “emergency orbit”. “This was a very close encounter and had the [UAV operator] not reacted so quickly a mid-air collision could have occurred,” the report said.
The Ministry of Defence (MoD) put the blame for the near miss on the helicopter pilots. “On both occasions Desert Hawk 3 was operating safely under remote pilot control when a manned aircraft incorrectly entered the dedicated air space allocated to it,” it said.
The Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) which controls UK airspace has specifically allocated dedicated airspace – over Salisbury Plain and Parc Aberporth in Wales – to allow military drones to be tested. Even within this test space, it seems that near misses or collisions may be inevitable.
The CAA is coming under increasing pressure from drone manufacturers like BAE Systems as well as the security services to allow much wider use of unmanned drones within UK airspace (see Surveillance drones in the UK?). Given the amount of drones that crash and go rogue (see Crash of the Drones) this must be opposed.