Category Archives: Drones

U.S. drone crashed in Syria. Probably shot down by a Syrian SA-3 surface to air missile

An MQ-1 Predator crashed in Syria. According to Syria state media it was shot down by Syrian air defenses.

The U.S. lost contact with an unarmed MQ-1 Predator drone on Mar. 17.

Whilst Pentagon officials could not confirm whether the aircraft was shot down or crashed because of a failure, the Syrian SANA news agency reported that the unmanned aerial vehicle was shot down in the Latakia province by the Syrian air defenses.

Indeed, images of the wreckage of an aerial vehicle were later posted on social media: provided the photographs were really taken at the crash site, they show parts of the UAV (including a wheel of the landing gear) along with parts of what seems to be the body an S-125 Neva/Pechora (NATO reporting name SA-3 Goa) Soviet surface-to-air missile system: this may confirm the version of the Syrian State Media according to which the MQ-1, most probably operating out of Incirlik airbase, in Turkey, was shot down.

The event is interesting for several reasons:

1) it proves U.S. drones perform ISR (Intelligence Surveillance Reconnaissance) missions in a region (on the western coast of Syria) currently not interested by the air strikes targeting the Islamic State. Monitoring jihadist activities in the area? Keeping an eye on the fightings between rebels and loyalist forces? Monitoring shipments that reach Syria via sea?

2) if the shot down is confirmed, it proves that Assad fires back and Syrian air defenses can pose a threat to manned and unmanned aircraft that operate inside the Syrian airspace.

3) the area where the drone was allegedly shot down is the same where a Turkish RF-4E jet was shot down by a coastal air defense battery.

Image credit: U.S. Air Force


U.S. Air Force disclosed some details about gigantic Global Hawk unmanned aircraft operations against ISIS

RQ-4 Global Hawk aircraft in BACN configuration is supporting Operation Inherent Resolve.

The U.S. Air Force has not released much details about the U.S. Air Force RQ-4 Global Hawk unmanned surveillance aircraft and its involvement in the air war on ISIS.

We just know that the gigantic UAV (Unmanned Aerial Vehicle) is taking part to Operation Inherent Resolve, the U.S.-led operation against Islamic State in Syria and Iraq from an undisclosed location in southwest Asia that, based on photographs and other reports, should be Al Dhafra airbase in the UAE.

However, the Air Force has recently released a tidbit about its Global Hawk aircraft 2019 (or “A2019″), an RQ-4 Block 20 unmanned system which has recently surpassed the 10,000 flying hours. Interestingly, the milestone was achieved on Mar. 7, shortly after dawn, during a 30.5-hour mission over Syria or Iraq: almost a record considered that the record for the longest Block 20, held by the same A2019 aircraft, is 31.5 hours.

Hawk soars past 10,000 flying-hour milestone

Interestingly, “A2019″ was the first block 20 and first RQ-4B model to be deployed in the region on Oct. 16, 2010. It carries the Battlefield Airborne Communications Node (BACN) payload, which replaces the imagery sensor package normally installed in the aircraft, and its role is to support ground ops by relaying communications between people and aircraft as well as enabling airstrikes on the Islamic State militants.

Three RQ-4B have been converted into EQ-4 and carry the BACN payload instead of the sensors fielded with imagery intelligence (IMINT) sensors.

“It is primarily a data and communications bridging node. It can support multiple bridges simultaneously across multiple radio types. We like to call it ‘Wi-fi in the sky'” said Lt. Col. Anthony, launch and recovery element operations supervisor in a post on the Air Force website.

While EQ-4 performs its communication relay mission, manned and unmanned aircraft provide ISR (Intelligence Surveillance and Reconnaissance) support to Operation Inherent Resolve by gathering information about the security situation on the ground.

Although the article does not mention it, it would be interesting to know which ground or air assets, require to be interconnect with a BACN platform. Most probably, the F-22 or the B-1s, with other planes.

In fact, the U.S. armed forces use various datalink systems to exchange tactical information, and many are not capable of working together. For instance, a U.S. Air Force F-15 can use its Link-16 system to exchange targeting data with a U.S. Navy F/A-18E.  However, the Super Hornet could not exchange information with a USAF B-1 bombers.  The advanced F-22 can exchange information with other Raptors, but cannot exchange information on legacy datalinks such as Link-16.

Hence the need for a “flying gateway” as the EQ-4.

Hawk soars past 10,000 flying-hour milestone

Image credit: U.S. Air Force


MQ-1C Predator footage of repatriation of Italian nationals from Libya

An Italian Air Force MQ-1C Predator A+ escorted the ships involved in the repatriation of Italian nationals from Libya.

On Feb. 15, Italy announced the closure of the Libya embassy and the orderly repatriation of nationals from the North African country as a consequence of the IS advance.

The 100 Italian citizens were ferried to the port of Augusta, in Sicily, by the Maltese ferryboat “San Gwann”, which was escorted by the Italian Navy “Carlo Bergamini” FREMM (European multipurpose frigate) and by a Predator A+ of the Italian Air Force.

Belonging to the 28th Gruppo (Squadron) of the 32° Stormo (Wing) based at Amendola, in southeastern Italy, the MQ-1C Predator A+ acted as “On Scene Eye” and filmed the entire operation, monitoring any suspect activity in the vicinity of the ships and near the convoy which brought the Italians to the Tripoli harbor.

Here’s the footage recorded by the Predator.

The Italian Air Force operates a mixed force of 6 MQ-9 Reaper and 6 MQ-1C Predator A+ both assigned to the 28° Gruppo (Squadron) of the 32° Stormo (Wing) at Amendola airbase.

The Italian drones have flown ISR (Intelligence Surveillance Reconnaissance missions) as well as MEDEVAC (Medical Evacuation), support to TIC (Troops In Contact), IED (Improvised Explosive Devices) monitoring and Convoy Escort in Iraq and Afghanistan; they have supported Operation Unified Protector in Libya, Mare Nostrum operation in the Mediterranean Sea near Lampedusa (where they have monitored the migratory flows and consequent tragic ship wreckage off the island) and they are also currently deployed in Kuwait (to support the US-led anti-ISIS operation in Syria and Iraq) and Djibouti, where they are used to monitor the seas off the coast of Somalia in anti-piracy missions.

Leveraging their persistence on the target area (up to 20 hours), the drones will now enable Police forces to monitor major events and support anti-crime and riot-control operations.

Top image and video credit: Italian Air Force

NASA’s demilitarized MQ-9 Predator B drone filmed Orion splashdown for NASA TV

The video of the Orion crew module Exploration Flight Test 1 (EFT-1) as it descended through the atmosphere until splashdown into the Pacific Ocean was filmed by Ikhana, NASA’s unmanned aircraft system (UAS).

On Dec. 5, NASA successfully launched an Orion Multi-Purpose Crew Vehicle (MPCV), a spacecraft destined to carry a crew of up to four astronauts to destinations beyond low Earth orbit (LEO), aboard a Delta IV Heavy rocket.

The first flight lasted 4 hours and 24 minutes.

The Orion descending for landing as planned in the Pacific Ocean was filmed by NASA’s Ikhana UAS (Unmanned Aerial System). The drone, a demilitarized MQ-9 Predator B owned and operated by the agency with technical support from the Air Force’s Medium Altitude UAS Division and the Nevada Air National Guard, was acquired by NASA in 2006 to support science missions and technology developments.

The UAS, remotely piloted from a ground control station at NASA’s Armstrong Flight Research Center at Edwards Air Force Base, California, filmed the re-entry phase of the capsule it detected though its IR (Infra Red) camera: once located and acquired, the camera operator switched to the optical camera to follow the descent until splashdown.

In the past, the Ikhana was used to perform wildfire imaging and mapping (Western States Fire Mission 2007-2009); in March 2012, NASA used the drone to test an Automatic Dependent Surveillance-Broadcast device. In August 2014, the UAS conducted a series of tests in Arctic Circle.


Epic Fail Of Portuguese Navy New Drone’s First Launch

It’s not easy to launch a drone.

Some of our readers may have seen it already. For all the others, here is a funny video filmed during the press conference held in Portugal last April to showcase the new coastal surveillance UAS (Unmanned Aerial System) of the Portuguese Navy.

The video speaks for itself: just like a large paper airplane, the hand-launched drone immediately plummets and crashes into the water.

The mishap occurred while Portugal’s Defense Minister José Pedro Aguiar-Branco was visiting a naval base near Lisbon and, according to local reports, was caused by a “launch sequence” affected by some part of the airframe clipping the special operator who was launching it.

Fortunately, a second attempt to launch the drone was successful. Too late to save the reputation of the small UAS…

H/T to Emiliano Guerra for the link