A Raytheon Cobra unmanned aircraft system (UAS) crashed at the US Air Force Academy in ?xml:namespace>Colorado Springs, Colorado, yesterday afternoon, apparently as school administrators evaluated the platform for inclusion in the prestigious institute’s aerospace curriculum.
NTSB senior safety investigator David Bowling tells Flight International that the UAS, operated by Raytheon under a letter of authorization (LOA) from the US Federal Aviation Administration for flights over the athletic fields north of the campus, was flying a pre-programmed routine when the accident occurred at approximately 1230 local time.
Bowling says as the aircraft made its pre-programmed turn to final approach, it overshot its waypoint and while correcting the error, hit a light pole. Damage to the aircraft was “substantial”, says Bowling. Both the FAA and the NTSB are investigated the accident, only the third UAS mishap the NTSB has covered.
Raytheon’s Cobra, measuring 2.82m (9.3ft) in length with a 3.09m (10.3ft) wingspan and weighing near 45kg on takeoff, was the third UAS to receive an FAA experimental airworthiness certificate and the first of its size to gain certification. The four-stoke Desert ACF DA-150-powered single engine aircraft is designed as a testbed to highlight sensor payloads and networked command, control and communications systems for government and civilian applications.
The UAS is made up of the aircraft and a laptop computer-based ground system, says Bowling, adding that the aircraft was flying an fully robotic routine for the Air Force Academy demonstration, starting with and autonomous takeoff and intending to finish with an autonomous landing.
Bowling says that investigators have examined the weather, environment and aircraft and that the “appropriate” data is being downloaded from the system. “We’re trying to figure out why the aircraft decided to go off course,” he says.