Air Force drone crashes in field near Grand Forks; investigation can take weeks, Air Force reports


GRAND FORKS – An Air Force unmanned drone crashed Friday morning August 6 in a field about 4 miles north of Grand Forks Air Force Base.

The RQ-4 Global Hawk crashed into a field in the 2700 block of NE 27th Avenue, according to interviews with Grand Forks County sheriff’s deputies and Air Force public affairs staff.

Sheriff’s deputies, Air Force personnel and members of the North Dakota Highway Patrol were at the scene Friday morning. The Air Force was working to recover the drone, which has a wingspan of 130.9 feet and weighs around 14,950 pounds.

The Air Force issued a press release about the crash shortly after 11 a.m., noting the time of the crash – around 7 a.m. – and that the drone was returning to base at the time of l ‘incident.

The Air Force report said there were no injuries at the crash scene. A fire has been extinguished and the incident is being investigated with recovery operations underway. The site is under active military investigation, the Air Force said, and the public is urged to avoid the area as much as possible in order to preserve the scene.

“The 319th Reconnaissance Wing has personnel on site and we are planning recovery operations and the official investigation could take several weeks,” said Col. Jeremy Fields, vice-commander of the 319th Reconnaissance Wing. “I would like to personally thank the local law enforcement, customs and border protection and emergency services for their support on site.”

Air Force drone crashes do occur occasionally, according to various reports.

In June 2020, an MQ-9A Reaper lost power and crashed shortly after taking off from an airport in Syracuse, New York. According to the Stars and Stripes newspaper, the Reaper lost all power to its engine and was “significantly damaged” when it struck the end of the runway.

The cause of the accident was later determined to be pilot error, which occurred after the pilot misidentified a flap lever on the control panel. The two levers, according to an Air Force report cited in Stars and Stripes, are only an inch apart but have “very different functions.” The damage to the plane was estimated at $ 6 million.

Also in 2020, the Air Force intentionally crashed a drone over Africa after the plane lost fuel. Rather than allowing the drone to land and take minimal damage, the Air Force chose a hard crash to prevent the recovery of sensitive parts or instruments from the MQ-9A Reaper. It was a loss of $ 11.2 million.

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