Privacy SOS

Drones crash. A lot.

Please note that by playing this clip YouTube and Google will place a long term cookie on your computer.

Today's news about a giant $176 million Navy surveillance drone crashing in Maryland (the remains of which are depicted in the video above) begs the question: how often do unmanned aircraft crash? It turns out they crash pretty frequently. (The version that crashed today was a "Global Hawk" — a Northrop Grumman product that saw massive cost overruns and experienced so many crashes that the government gave up on the first version, though it is now pouring money into "Global Hawk 2".)

The blog Drone Wars UK maintains a database containing crash incidents of large, military-scale drones, pulling data from all over the world. Their figures list 9 major drone crashes since the beginning of 2012; today's Navy crash brings that number to 10. 

But that figure just scratches the surface, the authors say, because it's likely that many drone crashes are never made public, and the database doesn't count small drone failures. Drone Wars UK says that it only keeps records of large drone crashes because small drones crash so frequently that it would be nearly impossible to keep accurate records of them. 

Perhaps in part to address the crashing problem, the Navy is about to spend $34 million to convert all of its helicopter drones over to a Linux operating system. Other government agencies that fly unmanned aircraft are also considering making the switch to Linux. (The Iranian government claims it hacked into a fancy RQ 170 Sentinel drone and took control of the aircraft, though the US denies this.) 

Likely the most famous drone crash of all was the Montgomery County Sheriff debacle, during which a newly purchased $300,000 drone out for a test run crashed into one of the department's SWAT vehicles. Many internet lulz were lulzed. 

It's all fun and games until somebody gets hurt, or maybe just until you find out how much money the government has invested in unmanned flight. 

If you like watching drones crash, here:

Please note that by playing this clip YouTube and Google will place a long term cookie on your computer.

The video below purports to show a US made and operated "spy bird" drone after it crashed in Pakistan. 

Please note that by playing this clip YouTube and Google will place a long term cookie on your computer.

Read more on drones.

© 2021 ACLU of Massachusetts.