Fort Carson soldiers who crash-landed a drone in a Colorado Springs neighborhood in May will get remedial training after an investigation found they didn’t have proper clearance to fly the small RQ-11 Raven aircraft and failed to tell key leaders at the post that the drone had been lost.
The Army’s 64-page investigation into the May 12 incident was released to The Gazette under a Freedom of Information Act request. The report shows that the post’s military police were flying the 4-pound drone outside authorized airspace amid rising tension over Islamic State threats that led to heightened security at military bases nationwide.
“Negligence in two areas contributed to the ultimate outcome,” Army investigators wrote. “Neither item appears to have contributed to the loss of control but impacted the mission management and public affairs office response to the loss of control.”
Exactly why the drone crashed 12 miles north of Fort Carson in the yard of a home off Uintah Street in downtown Colorado Springs is unknown – the Raven has a stated range of 6 miles. Investigators speculated that a battery or computer problem could have sent the plane awry.
Investigators found, contrary to Fort Carson statements in May, the drone was flown in violation of Army regulations and Federal Aviation Administration rules that govern use of unmanned planes over American soil.
Fort Carson spokeswoman Dani Johnson on Friday said leaders thought they were in compliance with regulations, but later discovered the violations.
The investigators also noted that Fort Carson hadn’t put stickers on its unmanned planes identifying them as Army property and asked those who find wayward aircraft to return them to the nearest military installation.
Fort Carson boss Maj. Gen Ryan Gonsalves ordered his subordinates to give him a report on improved plans for drone flights. The general also ordered the unit of the lost the drone, the 759th Military Police Battalion, to complete remedial training within a month.
The battalion flew “multiple Raven aircraft” over housing areas and military facilities on the northern post from May 8 to May 12. The goal was to keep an eye on the northern perimeter of the post as part of a plan to increase security. The area is miles north of Fort Carson’s restricted airspace where drone flights are authorized.
Drones, with few exceptions, are kept in restricted airspace to avoid putting manned planes and unmanned craft in the same section of sky. Flying drones in places where manned flights take place, including over Colorado Springs, requires clearance from air traffic controllers and the FAA.
The drone began to malfunction at about 2 p.m. on May 12. Controllers said the aircraft gave faulty airspeed and compass readings – a sign that its computerized brain was scrambled. Controllers recalled the plane for a landing, but instead it flew north.
The investigation found that Fort Carson’s air traffic controllers didn’t know the drone had been missing until they learned about it on television the next day. A Colorado Springs resident found the plane in a tree in his yard. Since the man who found the craft didn’t know who owned it, he called police. Police put the plane in a plastic bag and stored it in an evidence locker until soldiers picked it up.
Similar flights had been grounded at the post pending the outcome of the investigation.
Johnson said the post wasn’t flying drones as of Friday, but noted that could change depending on the need for enhanced security.
Contact Tom Roeder: 636-0240