Updated – see below
We’ve added details of another 21 crashes to our drone crash database for the first half of 2022 – although 14 of them occurred in the context of the on-going war in Ukraine, so many will have likely been shot down.
It’s important to be aware that we only include larger (Class II and Class III) drones in our database, typified by medium altitude/long endurance drones like the Reaper MQ-9 and Bayraktar TB2. There have been dozens of verified reports of smaller drones being shot down or crashing in that conflict but they are outside the scope of our study. However, it is extremely likely that other large drones have also crashed/been shot down in that conflict but have not been verified.
In addition, as we regularly try to explain, there are many crashes of large drones that simply aren’t made public and so don’t make it into our database. More on this below.
As in any armed conflict, there is a significant amount of disinformation and confusion surrounding on-going events. We are only including details of large drone crashes that have been verified – primarily through use of images. @robLee, @UAVTracker and @Oryx have done sterling work detailing on-going events. Significantly, older Soviet-era reconnaissance drones have also been pressed into service by both sides, with indications that they may be being used as ‘flying missiles’. One of these flew off course, crossing several European borders before crashing in the Croatian capital, Zagreb. Both Russia and Ukraine have denied responsibility. In a similar case, a Ukrainian operated Bayraktar TB2 went off course and ended up crashing off the coast of Romania.
Large UAVs crashed/shot down relating to Russia/Ukraine war (till 30th June)
|Jun 28, 2022||Ukraine||Tu-143 Reys||Mid-flight (shot down)||Russia|
|May 10, 2022||Russian||Tu-141 Strizh||Mid-flight (shot down?)||Ukraine|
|May 7, 2022||Ukraine||Bayraktar TB2||Mid-flight||Romania|
|May 1, 2022||Ukraine||Bayraktar TB2||Mid-flight (shot down?)||Ukraine|
|Apr 27, 2022||Ukraine||Bayraktar TB2||Mid-flight (shot down?)||Russia|
|Apr 27, 2022||Ukraine||Bayraktar TB2||Mid-flight (shot down?)||Russia|
|Apr 25, 2022||Ukraine||Bayraktar TB2||Mid-flight (shot down?)||Russia|
|Apr 12, 2022||Ukraine||Tu-143 Reys||Mid-flight (shot down)||Ukraine|
|Apr 7, 2022||Russia||Inokhodets (Orion)||Mid-flight (shot down?)||Ukraine|
|Apr 2, 2022||Ukraine||Bayraktar TB2||Mid-flight (shot down)||Ukraine|
|Mar 30, 2022||Ukraine||Bayraktar TB2||Mid-flight (shot down)||Ukraine|
|Mar 17, 2022||Ukraine||Bayraktar TB2||Mid-flight (shot down)||Ukraine|
|Mar 11, 2022||Russia||Forpost||Mid-flight (shot down?)||Ukraine|
|Mar 10, 2022||?||Tu-141 Strizh||Mid-flight||Croatia|
Elsewhere, during the first six months of 2022, large drones operated by the US, India, France, Saudi Arabia and Philippines air forces have crashed or been shot down. The variety of operators and types of UAVs crashing gives an indication of how difficult it is to operate these systems. Remotely controlling aircraft is incredibly complex and a huge variety of problems can arise leading to an abrupt termination of the flight, including mechanical issue, electrical failure, lost-communication link, weather problems and human error.
In March 2022, the US Army safety newsletter gave brief details of nine Class A mishaps (the most serious) involving MQ-1 Gray Eagle during FY2021. This list gives something of an insight into the variety of causes of crashes and the real number of crashes (see below). And remember, this is just the US Army’s large drone crashes – not US Air Force or Navy.
List of US Army MQ-1 Grey Eagle crashes FY2021
- MQ-1C: After receiving clearance from tower, the aerial vehicle (AV) proceeded with the automated take-off sequence. After reaching 100 feet above ground level (AGL), the AV experienced an un-commanded dive, began to descend and did not recover prior to impacting the ground.
- MQ-1C: While the aircrew prepared for landing, the AV executed two un-commanded descents, lost link with the ground station and crashed. Erroneous angle of attack (AOA) measurements prompted conflicting flight modes.
- MQ-1: The crew noticed they could not climb above 11,500 mean sea level (MSL) and opted to return to base. During final, the AV landed short of the runway, the landing gear collapsed and the aircraft stopped approximately 40 feet from the end of the active. The engine failed to provide requested power during the event.
- MQ-1C: The aircraft experienced an in-flight fuel anomaly – gradually decreasing fuel pressure and indications of a high-pressure fuel leak — and full authority digital engine control (FADEC) health degradation. The crew attempted return to base, but the engine eventually stopped producing normal thrust. The AV executed an emergency recovery landing approximately 30 nautical miles from the airfield.
- MQ-1C: The engine failed following separation of the starter nose cone and contact with the dual mass flywheel, with subsequent damage to the surface of the tone ring teeth.
- MQ-1C: During the take-off roll, the AV ran off the end of the runway, struck the airfield fence and split in half. The AV failed to take off due to frost and light ice accumulation on the lifting surfaces.
- MQ-1C: During take-off, the AV went airborne at approximately 7 feet AGL. The aircraft yawed to the side and lost airspeed and altitude, coming back down and contacting the runway and lost link. The aircraft landed at an approximate 45 degree angle and exited the runway. Partial pressure transducers (PPT) 2 and 3 read erroneously slower than PPT 1, which caused an increase take-off roll and increased yaw excursions and overcorrection to maintain runway heading.
- MQ-1C: The AV experienced a short circuit to ground on the No. 4 engine cylinder wire, which resulted in an instantaneous large system current spike in amperage. This resulted in a massive electrical system failure that affected multiple system components nearly simultaneously, to include the FADECs, resulting in a loss of power, loss of propulsion and the inability to maintain level flight.
- MQ-1C: The AV took off and immediately lost link. An angle of attack sensor failure caused the aircraft to enter STALL PROTECTION at low altitude and descend until entering the trees and crashing
Out of the above nine MQ-1 Gray Eagle crashes that occurred in FY2021 (that is, Oct 2020 – Sep 2021), only one matches an entry in our drone crash database. This shows that despite best efforts, a significant number of large drone crashes remain hidden, meaning there are far more crashes of remote piloted systems than being publicised. This is a particularly important issue as civil regulators such as the UK’s Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) and the US Federal Aviation Authority (FAA) work towards opening skies to large drones in unsegregated, domestic airspace.
Looking at other US statistics, official figures for the US Air Force, Army and Navy show that there were 18 Class ‘A’ and 3 Class ‘B’ large UAV (that is MQ-1, MQ-9, MQ-4, RQ-4 and MQ-8) accidents in Fiscal Year 2021. However only 9 US drone crashes in that time frame have been made public and are in our database. Historical data shows that 84% of Class A UAV crashes are completely destroyed.
As states consider opening domestic airspace to large drones, for the safety of the public, we urge airspace regulators including the Civil Aviation Authority here in the UK, to undertake an in-depth study of the number and causes of crashes of large UAVs across the globe.
19 July 22 Update: Thanks to Barry for pointing us to source of details of 3 USAF Reaper crashes – text has been updated to reflect fact that details of 9 USAF crashes during FY21 (not 6 as previously stated) are in public domain.