An initial analysis may absolve the AAI RQ-7 Shadow of blame for a mid-air collision with a Lockheed Martin C-130 over Afghanistan on August 15, according to sources familiar with the investigation.
Rather than colliding with the manned aircraft, the unmanned RQ-7 was overtaken from behind by the C-130, sources said.
Images of the damage to the C-130 posted on the Internet show the aircraft struck the left wing between the two engine nacelles. The damage appeared limited to the leading-edge structures, as well as the tips of some of the C-130's propellers.
Although the RQ-7 was not apparently at fault, several news headlines implied that the unmanned aircraft collided with the manned aircraft and not vice versa. For example, highly popular technology blog Gizmodo's headline declared: "Here's what it looks like when a drone crashes into a C-130."
In reality, neither a manned or unmanned aircraft can sense and avoid a collision from behind in the absence of a cue from ground-based radar or other offboard warning systems.
The highly publicized incident came at a particularly sensitive time for the small-UAS industry. The US FAA is close to publishing new standards for allowing small UAS into the national airspace on a relatively unrestricted basis.
UAS of all sizes have compiled millions of flight hours in Afghanistan and Iraq, but with a mixed safety record. No fatalities have yet been recorded from a collision between a manned and unmanned aircraft, although there have been several reports of hits and near-misses.