As reported by the New York times and other news outlets yesterday and today, a Northrop Grumman Firescout unmanned air vehicle (UAV), an unmanned helicopter to be exact, apparently strayed into the Washington DC Special Flight Restrictions Area (SFRA), a large swath of airspace around DC and formerly know as the DC ADIZ.
In the picture to the left, which I grabbed from SkyVector.com, the SFRA is is the area bounded by what looks like a sprocket with white shading.
The Navy was operating the aircraft out of Webster Field, which is just south of the Patuxent River Naval Air Station, when they apparenty lost communications. The aircraft, apparently continued flying north by northwest on its own, despite fault detection designs that are supposed to trip and fly the aircraft back to a known location or make it land if in fact communications were lost.
But why were comms lost? I fly in that exact area, and during a recent flight, I was attempting to speak to air traffic controllers and could not get them to hear me no matter what I tried. I had assumed the problem was my radios, but it very well could have been some type of interference brought on by all the security assets in place around DC. In my case, I could hear air traffic controllers perfectly fine, but they couldn't hear me. Didn't matter which of my two radios I tried. There are other trouble spots around the SFRA as well, places where the radios just seem to go haywire. Time will tell what happened to the Firescout, but I'm guessing RF phenomena will be part of the investigation.