Unmanned Aircraft Flies into Restricted Airspace

The Northrop Grumman MQ-8B Fire Scout on display during the Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International (AUVSI) demonstration day at Naval Air Station Pax River Webster Field Annex in St. Inigoes, Maryland, on August 10, 2009. AFP PHOTO/Jim WATSON (Photo credit should read JIM WATSON/AFP/Getty Images)
Getty Images/AFP/Jim Watson
An unmanned aircraft went off course during testing and entered restricted airspace near the nation's capital earlier this month, the Navy said Wednesday.

The craft, an MQ-8B Fire Scout unmanned aerial vehicle, is one of six the Navy is testing for intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance operations. It was supposed to fly a preprogrammed route over the Webster Field Annex at the naval air station at Patuxent River, Md., a Navy spokesman, Lt. Myers Vasquez, said.

During testing on Aug. 2, controllers lost the link to the aircraft and it flew off route into the restricted area. Vasquez said the craft was about 40 miles away from Washington. The Federal Aviation Administration was notified that it was a Navy craft so they were aware and monitoring it, Vasquez said.

The controllers were able to reprogram the craft and bring it back to the field about 20 minutes after they lost contact with the craft, Vasquez said. During that time, there was no communication between the controllers and the helicopter-like aircraft.

Authorities have been on high alert for planes entering air space in and around major government buildings in the national capital region since the terror attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.

FAA figures show that since then aircraft have entered restricted airspace around Washington roughly twice a day.

Vasquez said the plane had flown about 1,000 hours and never had a similar incident.

One of the other Fire Scouts was deployed on the USS McInerny off the coast of Central America and used in drug interdiction.

The restricted airspace intrusion was first reported in The New York Times.