Gatwick... drone?... thread

Apologies if someone else has started a thread about this bit of weirdness, but I couldn’t find one.

I’m not sure how much of this has been in the international news since the original incident, but it seems to be getting weirder and weirder.

Basically, Gatwick airport, one of England’s busiest, was closed from December 19-21st due to drones being seen dangerously close. Initial news reports were that a drone was being launched every time the airport decided it was over and began to prep for a flight. This led to speculation that there were several drones (to allow for charging times) and probably multiple people, because it went on for days.

It was declared to be a possible terrorist incident, maybe some environmental group protesting flying, maybe someone actually trying to crash a plane. But no groups came forwards to claim it. No boasts appeared on social media, not even anonymous ones.

The police were called and could do nothing- it being far too built up around there to safely try and shoot anything down, the army got called, with mysterious claims about some technique for safely downing drones they maybe had, but no drones were dragged down by trained peregrines or anything. On the 21st, it was announced that they’d found the culprits, and a couple of local drone enthusiasts were arrested. Yay! The airport reopened and flights started up, leaving the poor people affected stuck visiting family or having to complain about foreign food, rather than stuck missing holidays.

The couple arrested had their names and pictures blazed across the papers, were questioned for almost 36 hours, and were then released without charge. Oops.

There’s been no leads on any other suspects since.

But it gets stranger; in the last few days, there’s been increasing claims that… there were no drones, just the police drones looking for the other drones. Or maybe there was just one sneaky drone, right at the start, that had gone before the police even got their drone into the air. The only photos are of a dot.

It’s pretty clear there’s been breathtaking incompetence, it’s just what kind of incompetence that’s questionable.

So… what do you think?

I’m guessing it was a kestrel.

Kind of like that joke where all the members of a Communist cell turned out to be FBI agents provocateur.

It was simply a security panic fanned by misinformation.

Politicians made statements that the laws should be stronger.

The police and security services want more money for anti-drone systems from obscure technology companies.

The press clamoured for someone in authority to do something.

The airport authorities played the precautionary principle and shut down the airport.

Our Security Minister has announced that all airports are now protected.

The Opposition wants an official inquiry.

The police are going through the sighting of drones trying to identify whether there was actually a threat.

No-one is coming out of this looking very clever and it spoiled a lot of holiday plans. But that is not unusual at this time of year.

It was a classic ‘storm in a teacup’. :smack:

What do I think? I think that in two or three years time when someone actually manages to take down a plane using a drone, we’ll all be saying what a good thing it was that we had that panic, and actually spent some money on drone security to stop it happening here.*

If you are conspiracy theory minded, you might see it as a way of getting security funding.

FWIF - it’s my local airport. Awful lot of helicopters flying about for a couple of days. I went out on the bike just to the east of the airport in the middle of this…shall we call it a Flap? Police everywhere. I got stopped - kinda. Actually, it was the pickup in front of me that got pulled over, which briefly held me up. Then he backed up - I suppose to let me by, but he took me by surprise, rolling towards me. “'Er - what’s happening here?” I asked. Kinda rhetorically.

“We’re looking for drones”, a police officer replied.



    • not to diminish the chaos it caused. I had friends caught up in that mess.

FWIW, my DJI Phantom won’t allow you to fly it close to an airport. It apparently knows the location of all airports (including the tiny general aviation airport near my house) and if you get within the protected area, it warns you about it. If you keep trying to direct it towards the airport, it refuses to go there. I don’t know if all commercially available drones do this.

My dad was a life-long RC hobbyist, pilot and Republican.

I miss him greatly, but am somewhat relieved he doesn’t have to see the state of the world today.

Now that’s really interesting. Because of location, life has been a bit drone heavy for the past few days, as you might imagine. There’s been a lot of talk, but at no point did anyone say, Nah, can’t have been a drone, they don’t work near airports. And I certainly didn’t get that impression from the many police officers I have run across recently. But it would be a really obvious thing to do - build in an inability to fly near an airport.

Raises a whole raft of follow up questions too. We need a drone engineer.


Possibly, yes. It would have been nice to get there without quite so much chaos or the feeling that yakkity sax should be playing in the background though.

I’m not a “drone engineer”, but I have seen hobbyist drone planes and copters built from scratch, and there is nothing to prevent them from flying anywhere they want except a point-defence system or electromagnetic interference.

With a majority of people having phones, didn’t anyone try to photograph those purported drones? My grandkids seem to photograph practically anything they see in any way unusual.

From the OP:

I thought the whole thing sounded like mass hysteria from the start, especially when it supposedly recurred in daylight and nobody (not even the police) could get any usable photographs of the thing.

That could be done with consumer drones, and that would probably solve the problems caused by idiots rather than willful malefactors, but there will still be a need for some that can fly near an airport, and a risk that those will be misappropriated (or built from scratch).

Some drones have a Geofencing feature that restricts their operation if it is close to airports and official secure areas.

DJI is one of the companies that provide this. But it is the subject of some debate because they operate a subscription model that requires the software is kept updated and fees are paid. Some users prefer to run the drones they have bought with their own hacked software. There is also some debate over how accurate this is. The signals that comes from aircraft may not be precise enough. Extremely sophisticated airliners still go missing. Drones can fly pretty high well away from airports and still be a danger. DJI is also a Chinese owned company, which are not flavour of the month at the moment in government security circles.

I think the airline pilots would prefer to see something like a Locomotive Red Flag Act to deal with the considerable threat to the public, which is best left aviation professionals like themselves.

So there are a LOT of issues there relating to a technology that is still developing and has a very wide range of potential benefits and business opportunities.

I expect the major airports and secure sites will eventually have drone detectors and be patrolled by security drones before long. Airports have always had to scare birds away to avoid bird strikes, they can surely develop a system to deal with drones. Retrain that eagle!

With regards to shooting a drone down, would it be possible to use some kind of modified gun that fires a net rather than bullets?

Most of the consumer drones have geofencing, but that can be turned off.

They have these, I believe it’s drop, not shoot. However, one of the issues in bringing down something from the sky is what’s underneath when it falls. Think about what’s around an airport, there’s moving vehicles, & parking garages, & shipping businesses. Imagine the liability if a drone-hunter drops a drone onto a moving vehicle which then causes a crash that kills someone(s).

One of the theories I’ve heard is that the drone scare was a cover for a systems failure at the airport, the reasoning being that apparently there are no photographs or identifiable witnesses to corroborate the existence of a drone/drones.
The idea behind such a cover up would, allegedly be that it saves face for the airport operator and a metric crap load of money on fines.
It was also pointed out that the supposed sightings occurred over a span of hours, which is extremely unlikely considering the flight endurance of a drone.

It would help a lot to know who, when and where made the first report and what was the nature of the sighting.

To add to the confusion it appears the police deployed drones to search for the drone and that may have been what people saw besides the supposed original sighting. Way to go guys.

But besides that there’s one thing I would through into that theory to add some credibility to it, I would think that TPTB would not make a big fuzz about a, presumably, off the shelf drone paralyzing an airport for a few days. It’s tantamount to saying “Hey, bad guys, want to do something really harmful on the cheap and low risk? Here’s how”.

Personally, I think it was hysteria+incompetence, with a slim chance of a cover up for a systems failure at the airport, let’s say 90/10.

FWIW, I could literally turn around on my chair, open a few drawers and pull enough parts to build a drone that wouldn’t care less for geo fencing, the technology is widely accessible and multipurpose.
The notion of banning drones to supposedly prevent incidents like this, or worse, is pointless. Activities like the one that allegedly occurred are already illegal, and under one form or another were illegal way before anyone associated the word “drone” with anything else but insects.

I agree with Ale. The idea that it was a cover up for a systems failure seems rather ridiculous- they reopened at one stage then closed down again. The cost must have been- well outside my pay range.

What I find really strange is how they all disappeared after the arrest and release of that couple. However I thought the police found a crashed drone.

Now there is drone emergency at Heathrow, the busiest airport in Europe.:eek:

Hell. Due to fly out of Heathrow on Thursday.