from Washington Post
Shortly after the day’s final bell rang and hundreds of youngsters ran outside Lickdale Elementary School with their book bags and lunchboxes, a military drone fell from the sky.
The 375-pound Shadow reconnaissance drone skimmed the treetops as it hurtled toward the school in Jonestown, Pa. It barely missed the building, then cartwheeled through the butterfly garden and past the playground. The aircraft kept rolling like a tumbleweed and collided with a passing car on Fisher Avenue. People called 911. The rescue squad arrived in a hurry. Luckily, no one was hurt.
The April 3 near-disaster was the latest known mishap involving a military drone in the United States. Most U.S. military drone accidents have occurred abroad, but at least 49 large drones have crashed during test or training flights near domestic bases since 2001, according to a yearlong Washington Post investigation.
Air Force personnel inspect the wreckage of a Predator drone that crashed during a training flight in May 2013 near Creech Air Force Base in Nevada. (U.S. Air Force)
A 63-foot-long QF-4 target drone exploded into a fireball at Tyndall Air Force Base in Florida last July 17, forcing authorities to close a nearby highway. A Global Hawk, the largest drone in the military’s fleet, crashed on Maryland’s Eastern Shore in June 2012. Two years earlier, the military almost had to shoot down a runaway Navy drone after it penetrated some of the most guarded airspace in the country, over Washington, D.C.
The number of accidents has jumped as the military has brought back drones from overseas and operated them more frequently in airspace shared with civilian planes. The military has almost tripled the number of hours its drones have flown annually in shared U.S. airspace since 2011, according to federal data.
Now, the military and the federal government are preparing for a far bigger expansion of drone flights that will transform U.S. aviation — but could also pose the biggest challenge to safe air travel in decades.
Thanks in part to a new federal law that will open the national airspace to drones of all kinds, the Pentagon is planning to operate thousands of drones from at least 110 bases in 39 states, plus Guam and Puerto Rico, by 2017.
Alan is serial entrepreneur, active angel investor, and a drone enthusiast. He co-founded DRONELIFE.com to address the emerging commercial market for drones and drone technology. Prior to DRONELIFE.com, Alan co-founded Where.com, ThinkingScreen Media, and Nurse.com. Recently, Alan has co-founded Crowditz.com, a leader in Equity Crowdfunding Data, Analytics, and Insights. Alan can be reached at alan(at)dronelife.com