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Airspeeder drone crashes near residential homes after climbing 8,000 feet

Airspeeder drone crashes near residential homes after climbing 8,000 feet

British aviation occurrence analyst AAIB has released details of a bizarre incident involving an experimental drone. A scale model of an Alauda Airspeeder Mk II racing drone weighing 210 pounds became uncontrollable, climbed to an altitude of approximately 8,000 feet, and then crashed just next to a residential area due to an empty battery. Fortunately, nobody got injured.

Airspeeder drone crashes near residential homes after climbing 8,000 feet

Star Wars, but for real

The Airspeeder can best be described as a cross between a Formula 1 car and a racing drone. The company behind the Airspeeder wants to organize races with manned drones in the future. It sounds like the Podrace from Star Wars but in real life. The first races with unmanned aircraft are planned to take place this year, before racing with manned versions of the racing drone in 2022.

Accident during test

Before racing, however, a lot of testing must be done. To this end, Alauda develops scale models of the final Airpeeders, which are controlled remotely. But during a test flight in West Sussex, in the United Kingdom with such a scale model on July 4, 2019, things went horribly wrong, according to an investigative report just published by the British Air Accidents Investigation Branch reports (AAIB).

The summary of the report is clear:

“While conducting a demonstration flight, the pilot remotely lost control of the 95 kg Alauda Airspeeder Mk II scale model. After the loss of control was confirmed by the remote pilot, the safety kill switch was activated. However, this had no effect. The unmanned aerial vehicle then climbed to about 8,000 feet (about 2.5 km) and entered controlled airspace at a waiting location for flights arriving at Gatwick Airport, until the battery ran out and the plane crashed. The aircraft landed in a field about 40m from inhabited houses, 700m from the test area. There were no injuries.

Airspeeder drone crashes near residential homes after climbing 8,000 feet
The Airspeeder just crashed next to a few houses (source: AAIB)

Airspeeder drone crashes near residential homes after climbing 8,000 feet
The remains of the crashed Airspeeder (source: AAIB)

The AAIB found that the Alauda Airspeeder Mk II had not been designed, built or tested to recognized standards and that the design and build quality were of poor quality. The operator’s safety analysis contained several statements that turned out to be false.

The Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS) division of the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) had reviewed the operator’s application and, after some modifications were made, granted a waiver to allow the flight tests in accordance with the safety analysis of the operator. The CAA did not speak to the operator or inspect the Alauda Airspeeder Mk II prior to the accident.

Airspeeder drone crashes near residential homes after climbing 8,000 feet
The Airspeeder during the test flight, just before the accident (source: AAIB)

Many similar events in which control of an unmanned aircraft was lost resulted in a crash or fly-away. Even a small drone that falls from a few meters height can cause fatal injury if it hits a person.

The CAA and the organization that designs and operates the Airspeeder Mk II have taken steps to address a number of issues identified during the investigation. In addition to the measures already taken, this investigation report makes 15 safety recommendations regarding operator procedures, airworthiness standards and regulatory oversight.”

Main recommendations

One of the recommendations of the AAIB is that in the future experimental drones must first have a certificate of airworthiness before they are made test flights. The AAIB also recommends that operators implement a safety management system as part of the application for an operational waiver. The aviation authority should also carry out a physical inspection prior to a test flight with a new experimental aircraft.

It is still unclear what the consequences will be for the further development of the Airspeeder and the planning of the intended races. To eVTOL magazine, a company spokesperson said it was a “momentary loss of control,” “caused by unforeseen external factors affecting the controls.” The problems would have been addressed and resolved by now.

Similar project

Incidentally, the Airspeeder is not the only Formula 1 drone in development. The Drone Champions League (DCL) is also working on a manned racing drone. Test flights have now also been made with this, even with someone in it – but at a low altitude.

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This article first appeared on Dronewatch.nl and is written by Wiebe de Jager who is also a DroneXL contributor.

Wiebe de Jager

Wiebe de Jager (@wdejager) is the founder of Dronewatch and author of several bestselling books about drone photography. Wiebe is a certified drone pilot and has a full ROC license.

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