Drone grave

The state of Michigan is considering making its drones look "less like seagulls" after losing one recently to an eagle attack.

"An Upper Peninsula bald eagle launched an airborne attack on a drone operated by a Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes, and Energy (EGLE) pilot last month, tearing off a propeller and sending the aircraft to the bottom of Lake Michigan," EGLE said in a press release on Thursday, Aug. 13.

The attack happened near Escanaba on July 21.

Hunter King, EGLE environmental quality analyst and drone pilot, was mapping shoreline erosion for use in the agency's efforts to document and help communities cope with high water levels, the department said.

King had completed about seven minutes of the flight when the satellite reception got spotty. He called the drone home and was watching the video screen as it suddenly began twirling furiously.

"It was like a really bad rollercoaster ride," King said.

He looked up and the drone was gone. King saw an eagle flying away from the scene.

"A nearby couple, whose pastimes include watching the local eagles attack seagulls and other birds, later confirmed they saw the eagle strike something but were surprised to learn it was a drone. Both King and the couple said the eagle appeared uninjured as it flew from the scene of the crime," the department said.

After several hours of searching the shoreline and the lake, EGLE abandoned the search for the drone - which was a $950 Phantom 4 Pro Advanced.

EGLE released the following data from the drone's final moments:

  • The eagle strike occurred 7:39.7 into the flight roughly four-tenths of a mile from King and 162 feet above the water
  • Its speed instantly dropped from 22 mph to 10. Within a half-second the flight record shows the beginning of downward spiral along with "excessive spinning" warnings
  • In the next 3.5 seconds the drone sent 27 warning notifications including one indicating a propeller had been torn off
  • Gaining momentum as it fell, its last communication came at 34 feet above the water, falling at 30 feet per second, or 20.4 mph.

"The attack could have been a territorial squabble with the electronic foe, or just a hungry eagle. Or maybe it did not like its name being misspelled," EGLE said.

The department said it is considering steps to prevent a repeat attack including using "skins" or other designs to make the drones look "less like seagulls."

The Michigan Department of Natural Resources was contacted about issuing a citation or violation notice to the "rogue eagle." A spokesperson for the agency said it has no authority to issue notices to non-human wildlife and it would likely take an act of the legislature to do so.

"Unfortunately, there's nothing we can do," the spokesman said. "Nature is a cruel and unforgiving mistress."

Copyright 2020 WNEM (Meredith Corporation). All rights reserved.

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