A civilian photographer landed his $350 drone on the flight deck of HMS Queen Elizabeth, the United Kingdom’s brand-new aircraft carrier, without anyone noticing. Even more alarming, when the incident was reported, the government authorities didn’t seem particularly concerned by the breach of security. The incident comes after drones have been used to monitor military bases, conduct acts of sabotage, and even kill.
The drone operator, who only goes by the working name Black Isle Images, flew the DJI Phantom drone (The Register says it was a Parrot Bebop) over Queen Elizabeth as she was docked at Invergordon, Scotland. The photographer claims had had no intention of actually landing on the carrier, but a sudden gust of wind triggered the drone’s high wind sensors, which immediately set the tiny unmanned aircraft down on the carrier’s flight deck as a precaution. The photographer snapped a picture from the flight deck and flew the drone away. Here’s video the drone shot before it was forced to land:
After picking up the drone, the photographer decided to confess and went to speak with police guarding the ship. “I was only able to speak to some armed police, I think from the MoD,” Maritime Executive quoted him as saying. “They said there was no one available on the carrier, as they were at dinner on shore. No one seemed too concerned. The officer I spoke to said he’d pass it up the chain of command.”
The drone operator left his contact information for the authorities, but says that nobody ever got back to him. According to the BBC, a UK Ministry of Defense spokesperson said, “‘We take the security of HMS Queen Elizabeth very seriously. This incident has been reported to Police Scotland, an investigation is under way and we stepped up our security measures in light of it.”
HMS Queen Elizabeth is the United Kingdom’s newest aircraft carrier, and the largest warship ever built for the Royal Navy. The 70,000-ton, $3.9 billion dollar vessel will embark F-35B Joint Strike Fighters and serve as the Royal Navy’s flagship. A second carrier, HMS Prince of Wales, is currently under construction.
The incident comes as armed forces around the world are gradually responding to the drone threat. Islamic State forces were among the first to weaponize civilian drones, converting them to drop mortar bombs and hand grenades. In March, a drone armed with a Russian hand grenade blew up a Ukranian ammo dump, destroying a billion dollars’ worth of ammunition, killing one person and injuring five. U.S. forces have secured permission to shoot down or take control of drones flying close to U.S. military bases, after a F-22A Raptor had a near miss with a drone.
The UK government has announced plans to introduce drone registration and safety awareness courses for owners of the small unmanned aircraft.
It will affect anyone who owns a drone which weighs more than 250 grams (8oz).
Drone maker DJI said it was in favour of the measures.
There is no time frame or firm plans as to how the new rules will be enforced and the Department of Transport admitted that “the nuts and bolts still have to be ironed out”.
The drone safety awareness test will involve potential flyers having to “prove that they understand UK safety, security and privacy regulations”, it said.
The plans also include the extension of geo-fencing, in which no-fly zones are programmed into drones using GPS co-ordinates, around areas such as prisons and airports.
‘Protect the public’
“Our measures prioritise protecting the public while maximising the full potential of drones,” said Aviation Minister Lord Martin Callanan.
“Increasingly, drones are proving vital for inspecting transport infrastructure for repair or aiding police and fire services in search and rescue operations, even helping to save lives.
“But like all technology, drones too can be misused. By registering drones and introducing safety awareness tests to educate users, we can reduce the inadvertent breaching of airspace restrictions to protect the public.”
Drones prompt ‘flood’ of complaints
Police drone unit is first in UK
Man fined over airspace drone flying
There has not been a significant accident involving a drone yet, but there have been several reports of near misses with commercial aircraft. There have also been incidents of drones being used to deliver drugs to prison inmates.
“Registration has its place. I would argue it will focus the mind of the flyer – but I don’t think you can say it’s going to be a magic solution,” said Dr Alan McKenna, law lecturer at the University of Kent.
“There will be people who will simply not be on the system, that’s inevitable.”
There have been occasions of near misses between drones and other aircraft
Similar registration rules in the US were successfully challenged in court in March 2017 and as a result are currently not applicable to non-commercial flyers.
Dr McKenna said there were also issues around how a drone’s owner could be identified by police and whether personal liability insurance should also be a legal requirement in the event of an accident.
DJI spokesman Adam Lisberg said the plans sounded like “reasonable common sense”.
“The fact is that there are multiple users of the airspace and the public should have access to the air – we firmly believe that – but you need systems to make sure everybody can do it safely,” he said.
“In all of these issues the question is, where is the reasonable middle ground? Banning drones is unreasonable, having no rules is also unreasonable.
“We’re encouraged that [the British government] seems to be recognising the value drones provide and looking for reasonable solutions.”
After a drone carrying bags of methamphetamine landed in San Diego, a man was arrested for allegedly smuggling drugs nearby.
The drugs were worth about $46,000 and weighed over 13 pounds, according to U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP).
On Aug. 8, the agent spotted the remote-controlled drone flying over the U.S.-Mexico border around 11:25 p.m. Other agents in the area were immediately placed on the lookout for the drone, said CBP officials.
“Due to the agents’ heightened vigilance, this drone smuggling scheme was stopped before these dangerous narcotics could enter our communities,” said Acting Assistant Chief Patrol Agent Boone Smith, in a statement.
An agent driving an all-terrain vehicle found the suspect at about 11:40 p.m. near the border at Servano Avenue and Valentino Street.
When the agent went up to the man, he caught him carrying a large open bag filled with plastic-wrapped packages of methamphetamine.
The CBP agent arrested the man and searched the surrounding area, about two miles west of the San Ysidro Port of Entry. As he investigated the scene, he discovered a drone hidden in the bushes. The drone was about 2 feet tall.
CBP officials said the man was later identified as a 25-year-old U.S. citizen.
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