By Graham Warwick in Washington, DC

The General Atomics Aeronautical Systems MQ-9 Predator unmanned air vehicle (UAV) operated by US Customs and Border Patrol (CBP) along the Mexico border crashed in the early morning of 25 April. The $6.8 million UAV was being used to detect illegal immigrants and drug smugglers crossing the US-Mexico border in Arizona.

The ground station lost communication with the UAV at 02:50 in the morning, about 8.5h into a 10-12h mission patrolling the border at an altitude of 12,000-15,000ft (3,600-4,600m). The wreckage was found about 16km (10 miles) north of Nogales, Mexico at around 06:20.

Predator B W445
© General Atomics

The UAV came down close to its location when the link was lost, suggesting it crashed soon after losing communications. The vehicle did not conduct the recovery procedures programmed into the flight-control computer, which should have resulted in it coming down in a pre-determined area, says the CBP.

The Predator B entered service with the CBP in September last year and had flown more than 900h. It was credited with the apprehension of almost 1,800 illegal entrants and seizure of almost 100kg (220lb) of marijuana. A second UAV is scheduled for delivery in August, but could be accelerated.

UAV operations along the Arizona and New Mexico borders are conducted in civil airspace, but are protected by a controversial temporary flight restriction in effect from 17:00 to 07:00. This has attracted criticism from the general-aviation community.

To read full specifications of the General Atomics Predator B unmanned air vehicle, visit the entry in the Flight International UAV directory.

Source: Flight International