Our latest quarterly update has added a further 27 crashes/downings of large (NATO class II and III) UAVs to our drone crash database. This is undoubtedly the largest number we have added in one update and is due to the number of drones operated by Turkey and UAE on behalf of the two belligerents in the the Libyan ‘civil war’ that have been shot down. In the first 6 months of 2020, we have identified 40 large military drone crashes/downings compared to 28 for the whole of 2019 and 19 for 2018.
On average, 2-3 large drones have tumbled to earth per month over the past decade, but 14 drones crashed/were downed in Libya in April/May 2020. While it is always difficult to sift out details of crashes and downings amidst the hyperbole and propaganda, as always we have only included reports which can be verified with photos and video or come from reliable sources. It is likely that other crashes/downings have occurred but have not been verified. At the same time, a number of claimed downings proved false. It should be noted that although every drone crash has been claimed as a downing, images of some wreckage show drones to be virtually complete indicating that they were not necessarily hit by missiles.
According to our figures, 24 large military UAVs (NATO Class II and III) crashed in Libya since the beginning of the year, mostly claimed as being shot down. 16 of these were Bayraktar TB2 UAVs operated by Turkey on behalf of the UN-backed Government of National Accord (GNA), while 8 were Wing Loongs operated by United Arab Emirates (UAE) on behalf of Khalifa Haftar’s armed forces, known as the Libyan National Army. Both sides, on at least one occasion, have shot down their own drones by mistake. While the Pantsir-S1 air defence system supplied to Haftar’s forces by UAE appeared to be responsible for a number of the Turkish drones being shot down, Turkey later turned the tables and their drones destroyed a number of these mobile air defence systems.
We have also added details of 3 additional crashes of Turkish Bayraktar TB2 drones in Syria in February and March that have come to light since our last update. Overall, the database contains details of 23 Turkish drone crashes/downings since the beginning of 2020.
Elsewhere, a US Gray Eagle crashed in Niger on April 23, the second to do so this year. In May, a US Custom and Border Patrol (CBP) Reaper crashed during landing in Texas while social media reported a US drone crash in Iraq at the end of June although details are sketchy. A CH-4 ‘Rainbow’ drone, operated by Algeria crashed after it hit power lines as it was coming into land, reportedly the third of Algeria’s fleet of Chinese drones to crash.
US drone crashes obscured
Release of official Accident Investigation Board (AIB) reports into crashes of US drones continues to be delayed. The latest report, released in Jan 2020, detailed a crash from September 2018. At least 15 large US military drones are publicly known to have crashed since then and there are others that have gone unreported in the media. For example, the the June issue of ‘FlightFax’, the US Army Aviation safety newsletter, details that the army’s version of the Predator drone, the MQ-1 Gray Eagle, had 9 ‘Class A’ accidents in FY19 (Oct ’18-Sept ’19) and, so far, a further further 5 in FY20 (see table below) as well as other less, serious crashes.
Some details of the ‘Class A’ crashes of US Army MQ-1 Gray Eagle crashes from FY19 (Oct 18-Sept 19) and FY20 (so far) gathered from the newsletters are detailed below. Its important to reiterate that these are only US army drone crashes, not US Air Force or US Navy. We are not adding them as such to the crash database until further details such as date and location become available.
US Army Class A MQ-1 Accidents FY19 (Oct 1 2018 – Sept 30 2019)
MQ-1C: Landing gear collapsed on touchdown. The gear was not in the fully extended position.
- MQ-1C: After takeoff, the aircraft was unable to sustain a climb to clear terrain. The aircraft was unable to take off and climb normally because of frost on the aircraft, which reduced lift and increased drag.
- MQ-1C: Aircraft crashed following a drop in fuel pressure then engine failure.
- MQ-1C: Operating weight incorrectly entered instead of the actual weight. The autopilot provided inputs that caused the aircraft to crash.
- MQ-1C: Operating weight incorrectly entered (2,728 pounds) into the VSM preset window instead of the actual ramp weight (3,515 pounds). When the flight mode of the aircraft changed from takeoff to climb the autopilot forced a nose-down attitude causing the aircraft to impact the terrain.
- MQ-1C: Crew experienced a loss of line of sight with UAS during the final approach and reported attempts for alternate ground and satellite terminal linkage were unsuccessful. Aircraft was recovered following crash landing with damage.
- MQ-1C: Crew experienced decreasing oil pressure followed by engine failure.
- MQ-1C: Aerial Vehicle (AV) suffered a No.1 alternator failure that led to a lost link.
- MQ-1C: Aircraft sustained damage on takeoff following reported abort by the automatic takeoff and landing system (ATLS). Aircraft departed the runway and came to rest on an adjacent runway
US Army Class A MQ-1 Accidents FY19 (Oct 1 2019 – Sept 30 2020)
- MQ-1C Unmanned aircraft system (UAS) suffered a No. 1 alternator failure that led to lost link. UAS presumed to have crashed while enroute back to airfield.
- MQ-1C-ER Aerial vehicle (AV) ran off the runway during launch operations and crashed into the fence line.
- MQ-1C-ER The aerial vehicle (AV) experienced lost link shortly after transitioning from beyond the line of sight (BLOS) via the satellite ground data terminal (SGDT) to the line of sight (LOS) via the universal ground data terminal (UGDT). All attempts to regain links were unsuccessful. The AV entered its lost link profile while heading towards its lost link contingency mission OCONUS airfield. AV was recovered 90 nautical miles (NM) away from the OCONUS airfield. The AV was reported as a total loss.
- MQ-1C During climb to mission altitude the air vehicle (AV) experienced a full authority digital engine control failure/high pressure fuel issue which resulted in a power-off uncontrolled landing to an unimproved area. The AV impacted the terrain approximately 4 nautical miles from the ground data terminal.
- MQ-1C After takeoff, the AV landing gear malfunctioned with the nose landing gear partially retracting. The aircrew attempted to lower the nose landing gear, but the nose gear would not extend. Multiple attempts were made to raise and lower the nose gear with no effect. The aircraft landed on the runway with the nose gear partially retracted which caused extensive damage to the aircraft nose and payload.
3 July 2020: UPDATE: It has helpfully been pointed out that a video released by the LNA of a supposed Bayraktar downing on 25 April was in fact footage of Bayraktar drone that crashed on 17 July later set on fire. We have amended this post and removed 25 April entry from our database.