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Two More British Watchkeeper Drones Crashed

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Two Drones, Two Crashes In Two Months: MoD Still Won't Say Why (excerpt)

(Source: The Register; posted Nov 01, 2017)

By Gareth Corfield

A damning Ministry of Defence report into the UK government department's safety oversight systems has revealed when two unmanned aerial vehicles crashed into the sea off Wales.

The Watchkeeper WK450-series drone fleet, built and partially operated by French defence contractor Thales, has been marred by a number of crashes in British service over the past few years.

The MoD has tried to keep the crashes hidden from the public, not admitting they had happened until a chance remark made by an admiral in September disclosed this year's incidents.

The two drones, tail numbers WK042 and WK043, crashed within seven weeks of each other, in February and March this year. Both "remotely piloted aerial systems" (RPAS) were lost in Cardigan Bay, immediately west of West Wales Airport, Aberporth, causing the remaining 52 drones to be grounded for four months.

The Watchkeeper is undergoing lengthy flight testing with the Army. Initially proposed as a surveillance drone, the programme has achieved relatively little for the 12 years and £1.2bn+ spent on it, though the Bureau of Investigative Journalism found two years ago that the drones had seen a total of 146 hours of active duty – equating to two days' operational flying each.

WK042 was lost in the sea on February 3, according to the Defence Safety Authority's latest biannual report published this week. The drone was being flown from its ground station by a combined crew of Thales and UAV Tactical Systems (UAVTS) operators who were testing de-icing equipment. Historical weather data for Aberystwyth, around 20 miles north of Aberporth and also on the edge of Cardigan Bay, shows that temperatures on the day averaged about 9oC.

WK043 was lost on March 24 in the same area while being flown by a combination of Army, Thales and UAVTS operators, while a soldier was being trained to pilot the drone. Watchkeepers cannot be flown in the "stick and rudder" sense; instead, operators select waypoints on a map display and the drone flies itself towards them. (end of excerpt)

Click here for the full story, on The Register website.