Aerial battle between $950 government drone and bald eagle ends with drone sinking to the bottom of Lake Michigan

News & Politics

A government drone was mapping shoreline erosion near Michigan’s Upper Peninsula on July 21. The quadcopter, which belonged to Michigan’s Department of Environment, Great Lakes and Energy, was disabled after seven minutes in flight and at an altitude of 162-feet because of a devastating airstrike by a bald eagle.

Hunter King, one of the department’s drone pilots, received warnings that the $950 Phantom 4 Pro Advanced drone was losing altitude fast, approximately plummeting at 30 feet per second. Another alert came in that notified the pilot that one of the propellers had detached while it had been flying at 22 mph.

“I was looking through the camera on the drone with my iPad, and it just went into a spiral,” King told NPR. “It was like a really bad roller coaster ride.”

King looked up into the air to see what went wrong and he spotted a suspicious bald eagle flying away.

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The next thing King knows is that the EGLE has landed. Unfortunately, the drone landed somewhere in Lake Michigan and sank to the bottom. Data indicated that the drone crash-landed in 4 feet of water about 150 feet offshore. A one-man search party by EGLE Unmanned Aircraft Systems coordinator Arthur Ostaszewski in a kayak was fruitless.

“The attack could have been a territorial squabble with the electronic foe, or just a hungry eagle,” the department said in a press release.

“I had flown out and it was on my way back. So it was probably the second time the bird had seen this drone,” King said of the attack.

The government won’t be able to bill the bird of prey for the downed drone.

“Unfortunately, there’s nothing we can do,” a spokesperson for the Michigan Department of Natural Resources said. “Nature is a cruel and unforgiving mistress.”

A bird fought the law and the bird won.

There are some eagles who have been trained to take down drones. Since 2015 the Dutch National Police have been experimenting with eagles as a counter-drone measure to prevent potential terrorist attacks and unauthorized small flying craft from invading restricted airspace, such as airports.

“We found out that it is probably one of the most effective counter-measures against hostile drones,” police head of operations Michel Baeten told AFP in 2016.

“None of the eagles were hurt, but as for the drones, none of them survived,” police spokesman Dennis Janus said of the training.

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