Tag: Drones


Boeing Has Completed Engine Run on First Unmanned Loyal Wingman Aircraft For Australia

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gif;base64,R0lGODlhAQABAAAAACH5BAEKAAEALAAAAAABAAEAAAICTAEAOw== - Boeing Has Completed Engine Run on First Unmanned Loyal Wingman Aircraft For Australia
Boeing Australia has completed the engine run on its first Loyal Wingman unmanned aircraft as part of ground testing and preparations for first flight. (Boeing photo)

Boeing Australia has just fired up the commercial turbofan engine on the first Loyal Wingman, as part of ground testing and preparations for first flight (planned before the end of the year), the company has announced on Sept. 14, 2020 (EST).

Very few details can be found in the official press release:

“This milestone comes on the heels of Boeing completing the first unmanned Loyal Wingman aircraft for the Royal Australian Air Force earlier this year, a major step forward for the unmanned vehicle serving as the foundation for the global Boeing Airpower Teaming System, an artificial intelligence-powered teaming aircraft developed for the global defense market,” says the official statement released by Boeing.

“This engine run gets us closer toward flying the first aircraft later this year and was successful thanks to the collaboration and dedication of our team,” said Dr. Shane Arnott, program director of the Boeing Airpower Teaming System. “We’ve been able to select a very light, off-the-shelf jet engine for the unmanned system as a result of the advanced manufacturing technologies applied to the aircraft.”

However, two new images of the Airpower Teaming System (ATS) unmanned aircraft, developed for the Loyal Wingman Advanced Development Program of the Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) have been released alongside the pretty short official statement (one is the headline photo, the other one can be found here below).

ATS engine testing 9844 hi res - Boeing Has Completed Engine Run on First Unmanned Loyal Wingman Aircraft For Australia
ATS Engine Test. (Image credit: Boeing)

A video was also shared online:

Although Boeing has been tight-lipped and has provided no detail about the location where the first three aircraft are being built, the ATS was sighted in the open while undergoing ground testing in preparation for the taxi trials at an unspecified airfield in Queensland, a location that we believe could have been RAAF Base Amberley, some 40 km south-west of Brisbane, home of Boeing Australia.

Here are some details about the ATS included in the article on the program, written by Stefano D’Urso, we published few weeks ago:

As we wrote in occasion of the roll-out, this drone is the first clean-sheet design created by Boeing outside the United States and also the first RAAF’s clean-sheet design in more than 50 years. The project, which involved several Australian companies, used new development techniques, like the “digital twin” concept, and new automated production systems.

One of the key features of the ATS is an 8.5 ft (2.6 m) long modular nose cone with 9000 cubic inches internal volume to house different payloads, which can be entirely swapped quickly according to the mission’s needs.

A similar AI-based program, called Skyborg Vanguard Program, is also in development by the U.S. Air Force and the Air Force Research Laboratory (AFRL). Skyborg is described as “an autonomy-focused capability that will enable the Air Force to operate and sustain low-cost, teamed aircraft that can thwart adversaries with quick, decisive actions in contested environments.”

The system’s functioning looks similar to the Boeing ATS: “Military pilots receive key information about their surroundings when teamed aircraft with integrated autonomy detect potential air and ground threats, determine threat proximity, analyze imminent danger, and identify suitable options for striking or evading enemy aircraft. Embedded within the teamed aircraft, complex algorithms and cutting-edge sensors enable the autonomy to make decisions based on established rules of engagement set by manned teammates. Field tests will ensure the algorithms’ accuracy and verify that the system continuously operates within the constraints established during mission planning.”

For a quick comparison, the ATS will be flown by Artificial Intelligence (AI) and controlled from the back seat of a Super Hornet or a Growler for smaller formations, or from a control station aboard a Wedgetail or a Poseidon. Boeing didn’t provide details on how the AI specifically works, but explained that the controller will simply signal the mission intent to the Loyal Wingman and the AI will figure out by itself mission specifics and navigation, while keeping a safe separation from other manned and unmanned aircraft.

Boeing plans to submit a variant of ATS for Skyborg. Other companies competing in the program are Northrop Grumman, General Atomics and Kratos.

MQ-9 Reaper Drone Fires Live AIM-9X Block II AAM At BQM-167 Target Drone Simulating a Cruise Missile

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gif;base64,R0lGODlhAQABAAAAACH5BAEKAAEALAAAAAABAAEAAAICTAEAOw== - MQ-9 Reaper Drone Fires Live AIM-9X Block II AAM At BQM-167 Target Drone Simulating a Cruise Missile
A U.S. Air Force MQ-9 Reaper assigned to the 556th Test and Evaluation Squadron armed with an AIM-9X missile sits on the ramp on September 3, 2020 ahead of the ABMS Onramp #2. In the test, the MQ-9 successfully employed a live air-to-air AIM-9X Block 2 missile against a target BQM-167 drone simulating a cruise missile. (U.S. Air Force photo by SrA Haley Stevens)

The U.S. Air Force has recently employed a live AIM-9X Block II air-to-air missile as part of the Advanced Battle Management System Onramp #2. From August 31 to September 3, 2020, the Department of the Air Force, in partnership with U.S. Northern Command and U.S. Space Command, conducted a field test of the Advanced Battle Management System (ABMS), a complex “system of systems” that “allows a joint force to use cutting-edge methods and technologies to rapidly collect, analyze, and share information and make decisions in real time.”

The latest iteration, known as “onramp”, saw operators use ABMS “to detect and defeat efforts to disrupt U.S. operations in space in addition to countering attacks against the U.S. homeland, including shooting down a cruise missile “surrogate” with a hypervelocity weapon.”

ABMS builds an “internet of (military) things” where weapon systems and personnel in the air, on the ground, at sea as well as space and cyber domains are all linked. ABMS collects and fuses information so that information available instantaneously across geographically-separated forces spanning the operational to tactical levels of combat. AI is used to “blend” all the sources and sensors’ data so that a summarized and weighed “picture” of the battlefield can be built, preventing information saturation and freeing up a portion of the cognitive capacity that the warfighters can use to perform other tasks.

Among the test carried out during ABMS Onramp #2 at various sites, one is particularly interesting: a U.S. Air Force MQ-9 Reaper assigned to the 556th Test and Evaluation Squadron successfully employed a live air-to-air AIM-9X Block II missile against a target BQM-167 drone simulating a cruise missile. The crew received off-board cueing information, found and tracked the target, then maneuvered the UAS (Unmanned Aerial System) to validly employ the AIM-9X against the surrogate cruise missile. The official public release states that such a concept of using a drone to target and destroy a cruise missile reportely emerged as a feedback to the Weapons School.

The AIM-9X Block II is an upgraded variant of the “baseline” AIM-9X with increased range alongside Lock-on After Launch and High Off-Boresight (HOBS) capability. Although its exact range is classified and can vary a lot depending on the launch characteristics, target attitude etc, it’s safe to say that the missile, that is also equipped with a two-way datalink, must be fired from a relatively short distance from the in-coming target: this would suggest that the U.S. Air Force envisages the use of unmanned aircraft to provide point and anti-cruise missile defense.

MQ 9 Reaper AIM 9 - MQ-9 Reaper Drone Fires Live AIM-9X Block II AAM At BQM-167 Target Drone Simulating a Cruise Missile
A U.S. Air Force MQ-9 Reaper assigned to the 556th Test and Evaluation Squadron armed with an AIM-9X missile sits on the ramp on September 3, 2020 ahead of the ABMS Onramp #2. In the test, the MQ-9 successfully employed a live air-to-air AIM-9X Block 2 missile against a target BQM-167 drone simulating a cruise missile. (U.S. Air Force photo by SrA Haley Stevens)

In order to carry out this Proof of Concept, several different components had to be connected to share information in the timeframe required to intercept the target: according to the Air Force, the squadron operations cell and the ground-base control station (where the drone cockpit is hosted) was connected to the ABMS network so that the MQ-9 could target the BQM-167.

“Joint All Domain Command and Control (JADC2) provided critical data to the MQ-9 and crew for timely and accurate target information. The network integration and cross-domain solutions proven during the ABMS demonstration significantly decreased the total time from target discovery to engagement to battle damage assessment,” said the U.S. Air Force release.

It was the second test to see an MQ-9 fire an AIM-9x since the first air-to-air shot in November of 2017 against a target drone.

“Since 2017, the MQ-9 community has investigated and proven the efficacy of the MQ-9 in a counterair role utilizing the AIM-9X and future non-kinetic effects. The combined test, weapons school, and industry team since 2009 has demonstrated the capability to integrate the MQ-9’s effects in major combat operations across a variety of missions during large scale exercises at the USAF weapons school, integrating with Naval assets, and flying in numerous combatant commands,” said Lt. Col. Michael Chmielewski, commander, 556th Test and Evaluation Squadron.

USMC RQ-21A Blackjack Drones Supported USAF B-1B and B-2’s Long-Range Air Strikes During Australian Drills

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gif;base64,R0lGODlhAQABAAAAACH5BAEKAAEALAAAAAABAAEAAAICTAEAOw== - USMC RQ-21A Blackjack Drones Supported USAF B-1B and B-2’s Long-Range Air Strikes During Australian Drills
A screenshot from a live video recorded by an RQ-21A (top right) during an air strike by U.S. Air Force B-1B bombers (Image credit: U.S. Marine Corps)

The U.S. Marine Corps, Air Force and Australian Defence Force operated as a combined task force during a exercise “Loobeye” in Northern Territory, Australia, throughout August.

The scenario of the drils focused on a small naval expeditionary force’s ability to rapidly deploy, integrate with foreign partners, coordinate airstrikes and call for close air support on targets within contested environments. The latter were conducted by U.S. Air Force B-1B Lancers with the 37th Expeditionary Bomb Squadron and B-2 Spirit stealth bombers with the 393rd Bomb Squadron deployed to the Indo-Pacific region as part of Pacific Air Force’s Bomber Task Force.

Marine Unmanned Aerial Vehicle Squadron 3, MRF-D’s Air Combat Element, based at Marine Corps Base Hawaii utilized the RQ-21A Blackjack drone to conduct surveillance and reconnaissance of one target, while a simultaneous strike was conducted with Australian Army forward air controllers airborne in Tiger armed reconnaissance helicopters.

RQ-21A Blackjack is the U.S. Navy and Marine Corps’ Small Tactical Unmanned Aircraft System designed and manufactured by Insitu Inc., a wholly owne subsidiary of Boeing. According to the Boeing datasheet, the RQ-21A Blackjack, is a Group 3 UAV: an unmanned aerial vehicle whose weight is below 1,320 lb (around 600 kg), speed is below 250 knots and normal operating altitude is below 18,000ft.

It features:

  • Six payload spaces that can carry up to 39 lbs (17 kg)
  • Endurance of 16+ hours per day (depending on configuration)
  • Electro-optic/infrared (EO/IR) payloads support real-time monitoring to provide indications and threat warnings
  • Plug-and-play payloads enable multi-intelligence capability to support a broad range of operations
  • Line of sight range of 55 nautical miles (102 km)

“What we provided was target acquisition, forward, in austere environment that allowed the MAGTF Commander to sign off on the strikes, confirm the targets with our FMV (Full Motion Video),” said U.S. Marine Corps 1st Lt. Harrison Zhu, an unmanned aerial system commander with Aviation Combat Element, Marine Rotational Force – Darwin, in an video interview released by the USMC. “So we went out, found the target, sent the video feedback back to the command element for them to identify the target, and approve the strikes. We also acted as a command and control node, so we had a communication with the command element, and we are ready to relay execution checks, and relay information to the USAF bombers.”

The RQ-21A UAS live recorded the attacks and provided BDA (Battle Damage Assessment) too, as the following footage, filmed at the Bradshaw Field Training Area by Cpl. Harrison Rakhshani, shows:

“What the RQ-21 brings to the fight is a smaller RCS (Radar Cross Section) with a smaller footprint, that can go forward and operate independent from runways. So we provided a risk-worthy asset in a contested airspace. And then basically, a self supporting aerial reconnaissance asset. Of course it’s the first time RQ-21 has been flown in Australian airspace. […] Additionally RQ-21 is a system that the Australians are looking at so we can we provide them a template and a peek into how we operate it.”

“Integration with the US Air Force was extremely smooth. RQ-21 and VMU’s in general are trained with joint standards. So the language that we spoke with the Air Force was completely the same. We had a video conference ahead of time and we instantly spoke the same language from there and then we got on station, and we’re in the same airspace speaking the same language and actually incredibly smooth. But again, that’s why we trained to the joint standard. And this is exercise Loobeye was a proof that that works. So anytime we go forward, we don’t expect to be in only US controlled areas, of course, so that’s the importance of the Australian Defense Force. I mean, you look at the commandant planning guidance and how we’re looking at force design and trying to be an inside force in within enemy weapon engagement zones, you’re gonna have tons of different assets in their joint services especially the US Air Force, if we’re conducting deep air support, and absolutely other countries if we’re fighting on their soil. So the importance of being able to show up and integrate and effectively bring fires to targets and then intelligence back to headquarters is absolutely critical. This is the first time an unmanned aircraft without the requirement for runway, has been operated in Australia. So that in and of itself is immediately improvement and modernization of our capabilities. That being said we’re testing a whole bunch of new comm pathways. We’re operating satellite communication systems that VMU-3 has not operated before, quite frankly, that the Marine Corps has not operated before organically only with FSR support, and that’s multiple SATCOM systems. So absolutely modernizing to see to that way and then the overall base capability of launching independent of a runway.”

The exercise design was driven by the Marine Corps’ modernization plan, which seeks to make Marines “first on the scene, first to help, first to contain a brewing crisis, and first to fight if required to do so,” according to Commandant of the Marines Corps, Gen. David H. Berger’s planning guidance released in 2019. The plan calls for Marines to operate from forward expeditionary bases as a fast and mobile force in order to conduct a variety of missions that help set conditions for larger naval forces.

Iran showcases Shahed 181 and 191 drones during “Great Prophet 14” Exercise

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gif;base64,R0lGODlhAQABAAAAACH5BAEKAAEALAAAAAABAAEAAAICTAEAOw== - Iran showcases Shahed 181 and 191 drones during “Great Prophet 14” Exercise
The Shahed 181 and Shahed 191 UAVs (in the box and in the main image respectively) in flight during the exercise. (Image credit: screenshots from IMA Media YouTube video)

Earlier this week, the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) kicked off its annual exercise in the Strait of Hormuz. This year’s edition, called “Great Prophet 14”, included – again – an attack on a fake U.S. Navy Nimitz-class aircraft carrier on July 28, 2020. The fake ship was seen for the first time in 2014, when it was built as a movie prop, then blown up during Great Prophet 9 exercise in 2015 and repaired to be used again this year near the port city of Bandar Abbas. Another target seen in the videos of the exercise is a replica of the AN/TPY-2 missile defense radar, the eyes of the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense System (THAAD).

During the exercise, the IRGC used different weapons and platforms, including multiple types of short-range ballistic missiles, Nasr-1 anti-ship missile (copy of the Chinese C-704) with a 22 km range launched from an Agusta-Bell AB-206 (or the Iranian copy Shahed-278), ground-launched anti-ship cruise missiles, commandos both rappelling from an Mi-17 and parachuting on the fake carrier’s deck, combat divers and swarming fast boats, Su-22M4 with glide bombs, drones and even a surveillance satellite, although there is no concrete evidence to support this latter claim.

Reportedly, three missiles splashed down in the waters near Al Dhafra Air Base (UAE) and Al Udeid Air Base (Qatar), prompting them to switch to a high alert posture.

Iranian drones 2 - Iran showcases Shahed 181 and 191 drones during “Great Prophet 14” Exercise
Composite image of the fake carrier as seen from a drone after being hit (left) and the AN/TPY-2 radar replica about to be hit by a missile (right). (Photo: screenshots from IMA Media YouTube video)

The most interesting aspects about the latest iteration of the drills, are the drones that took part in it.

Apart from the already known Shahed-129, a Medium Altitude Long Endurance (MALE) UAV that appears to be a hybrid of the Israeli Hermes 450 and the US MQ-1/9 Predator, what really stood out are the Shahed 181 and Shahed 191, developed from the RQ-170 captured by Iran in 2011. The American stealthy UAV, dubbed the “Beast of Kandahar” when it was first spotted in Afghanistan in 2007, was either hijacked via GPS spoofing, as claimed by Iran, or, most likely, crash landed because of an unknown failure and later found by the IRGC.

Before we continue, it is important to note that the videos of the drones during this week’s exercise are mixed with videos from another exercise carried out last year in the same area, so it may be difficult to confirm which images were actually recorded during “Great Prophet 14”.

Once they got their hands on the RQ-170, the Iranians immediately started to reverse-engineer the aircraft, creating a full-scale exact copy that they called Shahed 171 Simorgh (Phoenix), unveiled in 2014. Another copy of the RQ-170 is the scaled down, about 60% of the original size, Shahed 161, called also Saegheh (Thunderbolt) and unveiled in 2016. This drone presents some differences, mainly the absence of the two fairings on the sides of the air intake and landing gear, and can be armed with four Sadid-1 TV-guided anti-tank missiles mounted semi-recessed under the fuselage.

After that, the next to be developed were the two drones seen during this week’s exercise, the Shahed 181 and Shahed 191, both called also Saegheh-2, which are essentially the same aircraft except for the engine and weapons’ placement.

Like the S-161, both UAVs are smaller than the original RQ-170 copy. Some analysts suggest that the drones may be made of fiberglass.

Iranian drones 3 - Iran showcases Shahed 181 and 191 drones during “Great Prophet 14” Exercise
Composite image of the Shahed 191 showing, from the upper left, the drone with EO/IR turret, weapon bays open and its engine, Sadid-342 guided glide bombs being loaded (note the rather simple engine exhaust), the drone in flight and a bomb being released. (Photo: Iran media/screenshots from IMA Media YouTube video)

The S-191 is powered by a micro turbojet engine which Iranian media claim is capable of pushing the UAV up to 300 km/h at 25000 ft, with an endurance of 4.5 hours and a combat radius of 450 km. The UAV can mount an EO/IR (Electro-Optical/InfraRed) turret under the nose that however seemed to miss in the photos from the exercise (but a closer look still shows a panel for mounting the turret). According to the Iranian media, the drone can also carry a Synthetic Aperture Radar (SAR) turret instead of the EO/IR turret. It is interesting to note that both turrets have a heat sink that protrudes from the upper part of the fuselage, just in front of the engine’s air intake.

Instead of using a normal landing gear, the S-191 uses two retractable skids, but it also has a parachute to be used when a runway is not available. The takeoff is performed by using a rail installed in the back of a pickup truck, which then speed up on a runway until the UAV lifts off. Some earlier versions of the S-191 missed the two elevated fairings on the sides of the air intake.

The weapons are installed in two internal bays (which sometimes lack their doors, remaining open for the entire flight and thus nullifying the drone’s claimed “stealthiness”), each capable of holding a Sadid-342 guided glide bomb with fragmentation warhead, which is also extremely similar to the Sadid-1 anti-tank missile, so much so that often is difficult to discern one from the other in the photos (the same difficulties are also valid when identifying the S-171 and S-191 UAVs, with the only external differences being the size and the different landing gear). According to some analysts, the weapon could use “man in the loop” guidance.

Iranian drones 4 - Iran showcases Shahed 181 and 191 drones during “Great Prophet 14” Exercise
Composite image showing the Shahed 181 from below and above. Note the pusher prop and the bombs between the landing skids from below and the missing elevated fairings and different air intakes for the piston engine from above. (Photo: IribNews/screenshots from IMA Media YouTube video)

The Shahed 181 is a variant of the S-191 propelled by a piston engine and with a different air intake design than the S-191 and missing fairings on the sides of the air intake. The retractable skids are replaced by four fixed skids, along with the weapon bays replaced by semi-recessed attaching points between the skids. Apart from these differences, the two airframes are identical.

Iran claims to have used the jet powered S-191 operationally to attack unspecified terrorist targets in eastern Syria in October 2018, with a video of the drone flying over an unspecified city at night and showing a weapon drop and the bay’s doors closing before landing on its skids on a runway. The prop-powered S-181 was instead used in February 2018 to infiltrate Israel from Syria and was subsequently shot down by an IAF Apache helicopter, prompting retaliatory strikes that resulted also in the loss of an F-16I Sufa.

Other than the drones, a new weapon seen for the first time in operation is the Yasin GPS/Glonass/INS guided glide bomb with a 300 kg warhead and range claimed to be between 50 and 100 km. The Su-22M4 was seen carrying a single bomb under the inner left pylon, with what could possibly be a datalink pod under the inner right pylon. Interestingly, the Su-22’s cockpit was upgraded with the addition of Garmin Aera and 430 GPS systems and another unknown radio system.

The last claim made by the IRGC during “Great Prophet 14” is the usage of a Nour satellite to monitor the exercise. Video distributed by Iranian media show the satellite’s orbit, designated “IRAN_SAT” in the graphics, showing a conic shape that could be a representation of the satellite’s field of view. The same video shows what is claimed to be satellite recon imagery of Al-Udeid Airbase in both the visible and thermal spectrum, but it is difficult to prove their authenticity.

U.S. MQ-9 Reaper drones Deploy to Estonia For The First Time In History

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gif;base64,R0lGODlhAQABAAAAACH5BAEKAAEALAAAAAABAAEAAAICTAEAOw== - U.S. MQ-9 Reaper drones Deploy to Estonia For The First Time In History
A remotely piloted MQ-9 Reaper taxis toward the runway at Miroslawiec Air Base, Poland, March 1, 2019. In the top right corner the patch of the Squadron (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Preston Cherry, The Aviationist)

MQ-9 Reapers from 52 EOG Detachment 2, based at Miroslawiec AB, in Poland deployed to Amari Air Base on Jun. 14, 2020, marking the very first time the UAVs (Unmanned Aerial Vehicles) deployed to Estonia.

The purpose of the deployment is to provide ISR (intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance) missions in the Baltic region: a region where several intelligence gathering assets operate every day.

“We are specifically focusing on air, maritime, and land domain,” said Brig. Gen. Jason Hinds, Deputy Director of Operations, Strategic Deterrence and Nuclear Integration and the United States Air Forces in Europe and United States Air Forces Africa Air Operations Center Director. “We are gathering requirements from the U.S. European Command and our NATO allies, and then we are going to execute those taskings in coordination with the Estonian Air Force.”

While the number of aircraft deployed to Estonia has not been unveiled, according to a Spangdahlem Air Base public release, one of the aircraft was transported via cargo truck from Miroslawiec AB, where it was then offloaded and assembled in a hangar at Amari with the help of the Estonian Air Force. At least two UAVs appear in the images released by the U.S. Air Force.

The MQ-9 assigned to the 52nd EOG are civilian registered and the airframes registered N428HK and N429HK have been noted in the past.

“We are the first American contingent to operate out of their hangar and operations building,” said Lt. Col. Clayton Sanders, 52 Operations Group Detachment 2 commander. “The Estonians have done everything they can to help us work out the kinks to operate out of both buildings, and that is where we have seen the increase in partnership.”

The 52nd EOG Det. 2 is a geographically separated unit assigned to the 52nd Fighter Wing at Spangdahlem AB (Germany) whose mission is to conduct Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance (ISR) and has been operating from the Polish base since May 2018. A ribbon cutting ceremony to celebrate the opening of new facilities at the detachment and the 52nd EOG’s  full operational capability was held on Mar. 1, 2019.

The unit is assigned unarmed Block 5 Reapers flown and maintained by contractors, with the Air Force providing communications, intelligence analysis and force protection.

About one year ago, the MQ-9 drones of the Det. 2 relocated to Romania for a certain period because of construction works in Miroslawiec AB, Poland.

Drone Flies Dangerously Close to Blue Angels in Detroit America Strong Flyover.

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gif;base64,R0lGODlhAQABAAAAACH5BAEKAAEALAAAAAABAAEAAAICTAEAOw== - Drone Flies Dangerously Close to Blue Angels in Detroit America Strong Flyover.
A screen capture from the drone video of the U.S. Navy Blue Angels over Detroit on Tuesday showing the camera drone dangerous close to the Blue Angel formation. (Photo: via YouTube)

A recent America Strong flyover by the U.S. Navy Blue Angels in Detroit, Michigan on Tuesday, May 12 could have ended in a midair collision when a remotely piloted camera drone flew dangerously close to the six F/A-18 Hornets as they flew over buildings in the city’s downtown area.

The video began to surface on social media Wednesday, May 12, 2020, the day after the Blue Angel’s America Strong flyover in Detroit. The original video posted to YouTube included a number of different angles with the camera drone appearing momentarily in some of the shots. The final shot shows the Blue Angel six-aircraft wedge formation flying extremely close to the camera drone as they pass overhead at speed. The left-wing, likely the #5 aircraft in the formation, is very close to the camera drone in the shot. Most aerial drones are equipped with wide-angle lenses, making the proximity of the drone to the Blue Angel formation seen in the video extremely close.

The U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has established specific rules for safe camera drone operation. One requirement listed on the faa.gov website specifies, “Do not operate your drone in a careless or reckless manner.” Drone activities for commercial use, such as real estate survey and listing work, require a license from the FAA. Operators must pass an FAA test and obtain a “Part 107” drone operation certification. Basic drone operation rules also include not operating a drone near other aircraft. The video of the Blue Angels shot from the drone seems to be a clear violation of this specification.

The drone video has been attributed to a social media account with the designation “@GIOLUCIA” that appears in the opening titles of the video. A Google search on this led to accounts on Instagram and Facebook owned by a person named Giovanni Lucia. While it has not been confirmed by the FAA or law enforcement that any person named Giovanni Lucia is connected with the video, all social media attributed to the credit shown in the beginning of the video link to this name. Other social media posts from a page attributed to the same person included aerial photos of downtown Detroit at night, when drone operation should be prohibited by the FAA. One Facebook post included aerial photos of downtown Detroit from February 18, 2017 with the caption, “Might of broke a couple FAA regulations today…”

That said it’s not the first time a drone is flown dangerously close to the Blue Angels.

The Blue Angels flew a circuit of Detroit between 11:47 AM and 11:51 AM in Detroit on Tuesday. No official mention of the incident has appeared in Blue Angels or U.S. Navy media. One reliable source told TheAviationist.com that, “The FAA and the Blues are aware of the video.”

H/T to Matt Haskell for sending this over to us.

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