It’s emerged that a crash involving a large American-made Yuneec Typhoon H480 “Unmanned Aerial Vehicle” – of the same type as that used by South Wales Police – has been the subject of a formal investigation by the Air Accidents Investigation Branch – the body which examines all air crashes in the UK.
Under Labour South Wales Police and Crime Commissioner Alun Michael, South Wales Police set up a surveillance “drone unit” in 2016 and now makes regular use of an unknown number of top-of-the-range professional 6-rotor Yuneec Typhoon H480 remote-controlled aircraft – all of which are equipped with live high-definition tv cameras and transmitters .
The crash raises questions about the safety of using drones over locations where there are dense crowds of people.
The drone crash investigated by the AAIB occurred whilst “aerial work” was being carried out at RAF St Athan. It’s not yet clear whether this was a machine owned and operated by South Wales Police . The drone was “damaged beyond economic repair”.
An Air Accident Investigation Branch Report into the accident has now been published – which clearly has major implications for the police in using the same type of drones over populated areas.
The AAIB says the 50-year-old “Commander” of the aircraft which crashed holds a licence issued by the Civil Aviation Authority certifying his “Remote Pilot Competence” and is reported to have had 7 hours 4 minutes experience flying the drone within the previous 90 days – including 2 hours 27 minutes in the preceding 28 days.
The Air Accident Investigators said :-
” The unmanned aircraft (UA) had been flown on several occasions earlier in the day providing aerial imagery for a multi-agency exercise”. Prior to the accident flight a new, fully-charged, battery had been installed and no problems were identified during the pre-flight checks.
“The drone had completed a flight of approximately 12 minutes duration and was returning to the landing site when, at a height of approximately 30 feet, it tilted forward and then “flew into the ground”.“
The AAIB report says the drone suffered “significant damage but no one was injured and no vehicles or property were damaged”.
The drone was returned to the manufacturers for testing . Data, recovered from the drone, showed that during the flight no error messages had been generated but “as the machine descended to a height of 37 feet, electrical power was lost”.
In what could be read as implicit criticism of the operation of the drone, the manufacturers told the AAIB Inspectors that “it is possible to operate the Typhoon H480 without the battery being fully installed and secure” and that “Movement of an insecure battery in-flight has previously resulted in a small number of crashes due to electrical power loss.”