- The Enterprise
- The Recorder
An unmanned aircraft from Patuxent River Naval Air Station crashed Monday at approximately 12:11 p.m. near Bloodsworth Island in Dorchester County.
The Broad Area Maritime Surveillance Demonstrator aircraft was undergoing routine maintenance tests by the U.S. Navy when it went down on the Eastern Shore, approximately 20 miles from Salisbury, the Navy reported.
No one was injured and no property was damaged at the unpopulated swampy crash site, Navy officials said. A Navy F/A-18 made visual confirmation of the crash.
The U.S. Coast Guard set up a perimeter around the crash site near a tributary of the Nanticoke River near Bloodsworth Island. All recreational boat traffic was blocked from the area.
Navy officials reported that they are investigating the cause of the crash.
The aircraft was received from the Air Force Global Hawk program. The Air Force purchased the drones for $45.9 million each in fiscal year 2011, Lt. Aaron Kakiel, a spokesperson for Naval Air Forces Pacific, said Tuesday.
“The Navy had five of these aircraft until yesterday,” he said.
The 44-foot-long drone that crashed had a 116-foot wingspan and could fly at 391 mph with a range of 10,500 nautical miles, according to specification.
The drones support maritime intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance and has flown more than 5,500 combat hours in support of U.S. combat operations since 2008.
“If it loses communication the aircraft will continue on its preplanned mission until it regains communication,” Kakiel said, adding that it was too early to know if there was a communication or mechanical issue that caused the crash.
“Unfortunately there are no updates yet as to the cause of the crash,” Kakiel said. “The investigations usually take quite some time and are very thorough, so I have a feeling it will be a while before we hear anything regarding the cause … maybe even a couple weeks.”
Jamie Cosgrove, a spokesperson for the Unmanned Aviation and Strike Weapons Program at Pax River, said the plane was undergoing a routine training flight when it went down, and that no information about the cause of the crash had been released as of Tuesday afternoon.
Northrop Grumman plans to unveil a newer version of the drone at its facility in Palm Dale, Calif., on Thursday.
That plan is still going forward, Cosgrove said Tuesday.
The new MQ-4C drone will have a similar style as the RQ-4A Global Hawk that crashed Monday, but will feature upgrades and additions to address the Navy’s specific needs, she said.
In August 2010, a rogue drone lost contact with its Webster Field control center during a test flight, flying into restricted airspace before eventually reestablishing communication and being brought back safely to its home base in St. Inigoes.
The MQ-8B Fire Scout, one of four based at Webster Field at the time, was flying at about 1,700 feet altitude when it went rogue about 75 minutes into the flight.
Unarmed, the drone proceeded 23 miles north/northwest toward the nation’s capital and was still about 40 miles south of the D.C. area when contact was reestablished. Still, the drone was found to be within the National Capital Region airspace, which restricts such flights.