An MQ-1B Predator crashed in U.S. Central Command’s area of operations due to a datalink failure and a distracted crew, according to a report released this month.
After experiencing datalink problems on Feb. 2, 2016, the launch and recovery crew lost control of the aircraft before it crashed roughly 10 miles south of its deployed base. The drone was conducting a combat support mission, according to the report by an Air Force Abbreviated Accident Investigation Board.
The datalink failure with the aircraft occurred in the C-band, a frequency allocated for commercial satellites. Losing that communication link resulted in “ill-informed control inputs and a subsequent unrecoverable departure from controlled flight,” the report reads.
Lt. Col. Richard Orzechowski, the investigation board president, also wrote in the report’s opinion that the drone’s “under-performing turbocharger was a factor that substantially contributed to the mishap by causing a major distraction to the [launch and recovery team].”
The turbocharger was not operating correctly, and while the aircraft was still able to maintain a flight level of 10,000 feet above sea level, it wasn’t able to climb above that.
The pilot decided to descend, enter a landing configuration and reassess engine performance at a lower altitude. However, entering that configuration disables the autopilot function on the aircraft for stall protection.
At that point, the pilot slowed the aircraft down and prepared for the landing approach. While descending, the datalink degraded, and flight information transmitted to the pilot and sensor operator became “intermittent and erroneous,” the report read.
“I believe the [mishap pilot] was distracted by the under-performing turbocharger and the aircraft’s proximity to a populated area, and incorrectly chose not to execute the [emergency checklist],” Orzechowski wrote in his opinion.
Damage to the remotely-piloted aircraft, which was deployed from the 432nd Wing at Creech Air Force Base in Nevada, was estimated to cost $4.1 million.
However, “no one reported any injuries or deaths, only minor damages to a cultivated field,” the report reads. “The impact destroyed the [Predator drone] but the parts remained close together and almost intact or attached.”