Yesterday, a lengthy and very well researched article was posted by The Guardian about the mystery of the Gatwick drone. If you have been curious to learn all the details, I would recommend you read it. If however, you’re short on time, the conclusion basically is that the Gatwick drone is our version of the ‘monster of Loch Ness.’ Seen by many, but no evidence to be found.
The Gatwick drone is our version of the ‘monster of Loch Ness’
Samira Shackle wrote a very well-researched and elaborate article for The Guardian explaining what happened during those few hectic days right before Christmas in 2018 when multiple drones were seen by a large number of people around the Gatwick airport in the United Kingdom.
The first drone sighting at Gatwick occurred on Wednesday, December 19, 2018. The unmanned aircraft was spotted by an airport security officer who was waiting at a bus stop ready to go home.
“He immediately called the Gatwick control centre and reported what he had seen: two drones. One was hovering above a vehicle inside the airport complex, and the other was flying alongside the nearby perimeter fence. The message was relayed to senior management. Unauthorised drone activity is considered a danger to aircraft and passengers because of the risk of collision. Within minutes, Gatwick’s only runway had been closed and all flights were suspended,” reports The Guardian.
This set off a massive response of police and airport security personnel canvassing the airport and looking for a drone and its pilot. In the meantime, travelers were stuck in the airport, and airplanes circled above unable to land. It wasn’t until Friday before Gatwick officially reopened and the Gatwick drone drama was over. Gatwick airport had been closed for 33 hours, more than 1,000 flights had been canceled and over 140,000 passengers were affected.
170 Gatwick drone sightings, 115 deemed credible
In that same timeframe, 170 drone sightings had been reported, out of which 115 were deemed credible. No evidence of any drone at Gatwick was ever presented. Even military counter-drone installations had not been able to observe any drone activity in the Gatwick airport area. Many people were questioned and investigated, most famously the married couple Paul Gait and Elaine Kirk who were arrested on suspicion of having caused the Gatwick drone drama. In the end, the couple turned out to be innocent and they were compensated. In the end, “police knocked on 1,200 doors, took 222 witness statements and identified 96 persons of interest,” without finding any new proof or evidence that a drone had indeed flown at Gatwick airport.
The Gatwick drone story had become a media sensation over these few days. The Guardian reports that:
“The Gatwick drone incident led news broadcasts and front pages for days. It had cost airlines around £50m, and there were fears that it could spark copycat attacks if the culprit wasn’t found. That weekend, the Sunday Times ran a story warning that terrorist groups were planning to attack airports using drones.”
People within the drone community started to question whether in fact there had ever been a drone, to begin with. Eyewitness reports are often unreliable and the absence of any real evidence made people wonder if it might have been something else that set of the Gatwick drone panic in the days leading up to Christmas.
One drone enthusiast, Ian Hudson even filed multiple freedom of information requests (FOIs), most of which were left unresponded.
Samira Shackle writes that; she “heard several drone flyers repeat some variation of a new saying: “Gatwick drone? There’s more evidence for the Loch Ness monster.”
At one point a journalist thought he had seen the drone, even took a photo of it. However, after closely examining the image on his laptop he realized that the drone had in fact been a helicopter at a great distance away. Over the years there have been many cases in which other objects such as plastic bags, balloons, and even birds have been mistakenly recognized as drones. It seems plausible that a great deal of the Gatwick drone sightings can be attributed to mistaken identity as well as a police helicopter did, in fact, fly in the area, as did several other police drones, looking for the mysterious Gatwick drone. It is unclear if some of the reported drone sightings are actually sightings of police helicopters and drones.
More hi tech equipment in use at Gatwick pic.twitter.com/olb8Zz4dkx
— eddie mitchell (@brightonsnapper) December 20, 2018
Chasing the Gatwick drone
Since the Gatwick drone incident, the airport (and others) did beef up their counter-drone policies and protocols and it even affected drone manufacturers, who updated their geo-fencing restrictions to make the more precise around airports.
“While we may never know what really happened at Gatwick,” says Adam Lisberg, the corporate communications director at drone manufacturer DJI, “it was the event that forced the aviation and drone industries around the world to find solutions so that a single drone sighting doesn’t close down an airport.”
“I cannot rule out the capabilities of a mystery drone, but the more seemingly magical powers ascribed to it, the more skeptical you become,” said Lisberg. “Every time a bit of information challenges the initial version, it seems to confirm how sneaky it really was. You find yourself doing mental gymnastics. At a certain point, you’re really chasing drones.”
So there you have it. Many alleged drone sightings at Gatwick airport during the final days of 2018. However, no hard evidence was ever brought forward. A possible case of mass hysteria as suggested in the article? Maybe. Personally, I like the comparison of the Gatwick drone with the (in)famous monster of Loch Ness. Seen by many, but any proof? Nope. Legendary!
If you have the time, I do recommend reading the entire article as it provides a much richer picture.
Let us know in the comments below, what you think. Was there really a drone at Gatwick? Was it staged? Were people mistaken? We’d love to hear your thoughts.
Flying drones as a career?
If you want to turn your hobby into your career, practice how to fly your drone safely, and learn what it takes to get your Part 107, be sure to check out the excellent training modules from The Drone U.
Stay in touch!
Subscribe to our Daily Drone News email.*
Submit tips If you have information or tips that you would like to share with us, feel free to submit them here. Support DroneXL.co: You can support DroneXL.co by using these links when you make your next drone purchase: Adorama, Amazon, B&H, BestBuy, eBay, DJI, Parrot, and Yuneec. We make a small commission when you do so at no additional expense to you. Thank you for helping DroneXL grow! FTC: DroneXL.co uses affiliate links that generate income.
* We do not sell, share, rent out or spam your email, ever. Our email goes out on weekdays around 5:30 p.m.
Photograph: Alexandre Rotenberg/Alamy