Am I a prophet, or what?

In 2014, and again last year, I speculated that terrorists were likely behind some of the incidents of near-misses between aircraft and small unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV’s, also known as drones).

Now comes this news.

A SUSPECTED ISIS jihadi has been arrested in Turkey after allegedly plotting to down a US jet using a drone, police said today.

Turkish cops swooped to detain the Russian national who they say was planning the terror attack against US forces operating out of the Incirlik air base, which is used by Nato forces.

The US Air Force has used the base as a staging post for the air campaign against ISIS in Syria and Iraq since 2015.

Officers reportedly moved to arrest Renad Bakiev when surveillance showed him to be scouting the area ahead of his planned attack.

During his interrogation, cops said he admitted to surveying the base for the atrocity.

There’s more at the link.

I suppose I should be pleased to have been proved prescient in my forecast . . . but I wish I hadn’t.  I confidently predict that this sort of terrorism will increase in frequency over the next few years.  It’s terrifyingly easy for terrorists to get their hands on UAV’s, which can be bought online or over the counter with no identification at all.  ISIS has already fitted some with hand grenades and improvised bombs, using them against infantry and armored vehicles in Iraq and Syria.

ISIS weaponized quadcopter drone in Iraq

It’s a simple step from that, to flying them into the path of airliners that can’t see them until the very last minute, and probably can’t take evasive action without an increased risk of crashing.

This, of course, is one of the reasons why law enforcement authorities want to be able to track drone flights, and register their owners.  Bloomberg recently reported:

The Federal Aviation Administration created an advisory panel in June of more than 70 drone industry and user representatives — including Sugahara — in a fast-track attempt to develop requirements so battery-powered aircraft can be identified in the sky. They have to finish by Sept. 30 so the FAA can begin crafting regulations.

The pace is being driven by law enforcement agencies, which won’t go along with the agency’s plans to begin allowing more extensive unmanned flights over people and in congested urban areas until they get assurances they can tell the difference between legitimate operators and bad actors, FAA Administrator Michael Huerta said in an interview.

. . .

While the full requirements haven’t been hammered out yet, the idea is to give a police officer on the ground the identity of a drone’s operator, in the same way a car’s license plate can be traced to its owner. At the same time, it would give the drone’s location, so police or even traditional aircraft could monitor its path.

. . .

The FAA’s ability to monitor drone flights was dealt a blow on May 19, when a U.S federal court invalidated the agency’s registration system for unmanned aircraft. Both the House and Senate have pending legislation that would reinstate a drone registry.

A requirement that drones be tracked would go significantly beyond a registry — and it’s opened a raft of questions about privacy, who should pay and whether a tracking system would benefit users.

Again, more at the link.

Yet another reason not to fly commercial . . .



  1. I can't see how that sort of attack against aircraft is remotely feasible. Putting a very slow moving drone into the flight path of even an airliner and accomplishing anything more than harassment would be incredibly difficult, and even a hit wouldn't be worse than a bird strike. Guidance, payload, and endurance issues make this a chump's choice. You'd be better off with a .30-06 praying for a "golden BB" moment. But harassment at a large airport could cause significant disruptions, especially with multiple operators if they have drones large enough and powerful enough to launch and control from a significant distance from the apron.

  2. I'm with Larry on this one. The small hand carried quad copters that people are worried about are slow, short ranged, and easily disturbed by wind – like turbulence from an airliner. Yes, a quadcopter could carry explosives – but it would have to get close enough to do damage; in the air that is unlikely; it would be much easier to hit a stationary target on the ground (the easiest way would be to ram it). Something delicate but expensive could be put out of service for a while. Muslim terrorists tend to focus on body count, but if they didn't, they could cause a MUCH bigger disruption by targeting a control tower or radar. Note, however, that airport radars are typically not in the secure enclosure for an airport and could easily be attacked from the ground as well.

  3. I've read at least one short thriller (Drone: A Short Story Thriller) where the terrorists used a swarm of drones to bring down a commercial airliner, hitting it like a flock of geese. It's certainly feasible, and easier to get a bunch of drones than a bunch of MANPADS.

    And didn't you have the video from the Russian ammo dump that got hit with a drone-delivered thermite grenade?

  4. It is theoretically easy for a RPV to take down an airliner.

    You must first ask when an aircraft is most at risk.

    It is not when it is all the way in the air, or when it is on the ground.

    It is the transition zones, landing or takeoff, when a large plane is moving slowly and having to work to stay in the air.

    One medium or even smaller drone carrying nothing more than a big chunk of rock, solid glass (maybe even a chunk of leftover resin) or metal, flown into an engine during transition has the potential to hard-kill an engine.

    Loss of one engine on today's super-sized dual engine airliners during transition would cause the plane to crash.

    The larger the drone, the more danger to the engines.

    No need for explosives. Just solids. Though explosives would tend to ensure a kill.

  5. Andrew,
    The loss of ONE engine during takeoff on a modern airliner SHOULDN'T lead to a loss of the aircraft as long as it is within its operating limits and flown by a capable crew. The problem comes when multiple engines are lost, or when the airplane is outside of its design limits or the crew doesn't respond to the emergency well.

    A UAV (I won't say drone, because it is a misuse of the word) is in general lighter and less strongly built than a bird. Could it happen? Yes. In my opinion, is it likely to happen int he near future? NO.

    The military use of both manned and unmanned aircraft in Iraq and Afghanistan has resulted in a large number of near misses and a few mid air collisions between manned aircraft and unmanned aircraft that are MUCH, MUCH larger than the cheap small aircraft available on store shelves across the world now – and not a single fatality has resulted from any of the many incidents over 15 years.

    Hitting a jet aircraft with a helicopter or piston aircraft is very, very difficult; it is the same as the flip side of using a jet aircraft to shoot down a piston aircraft – the speed difference is so big it is virtually impossible. Don't believe me? Look up the stories of Israeli jets trying to shoot down unmanned aircraft coming from Lebanon, or American fighters who crashed trying to shoot down North Korean biplane bombers in the Korean war.

    I'm not surprised that terrorists have 'looked into' the possibilities and have scouted American bases overseas, but if they thought it was easy to do I'm sure they would have already done it!
    Having said that, a hand grenade or a block of plastic explosive attached to a kamikaze dive would disable an aircraft on the ground or destroy a fuel tank quite easily. As long as munitions are properly stored, such a device won't have the impact it did in the video referenced above.

  6. It's the guidance system That's the problem. How do you fly a 10-20 mph drone into an engine or cockpit of a plane? There's no homing device, at best you've got a non-stereoscopic video camera feeding a laptop screen. GPS is not going to help, and you can't eyeball it from the ground. Not are you really going to be able to practice it. A *small* payload of likely homemade explosive, homemade contact detonator, very low speed and terminal maneuverability make this harassment device rather than a extremely low Pk option. Once a drone is confirmed in the airspace, they will stop all landings or takeoffs on that runway, so very limited opportunity. You'd be FAR better off attempting to land a drone with a small explosive on the wing of a plane waiting it's turn to take off. Not much chance of a high body-count, there, though.

  7. We lost power to half the city for an hour on Saturday and the culprit was a drone/RV into the transmission lines.

    Multiply that by several dozen/hundred with better targeting, you could cripple a nation for awhile…

  8. If they can get explosives, the registration won't do anything. Drunk drivers kill how many people per year with registered cars? How many cars with registrations on them were used in europe to kill?

    Registration will help fogure out after the fact in accidents but not deliberate attacks unless the attacker doesnt care.

  9. David Land writes:

    so, what makes you think that people who are willing to break the law by attempting murder are going to be slowed down by a requirement to have a 'license plate' on a drone.

    Remember, quadcopters can be built from scratch, including free software (which means that any tracking/ID/override/geofencing options can be ripped out), so it's just not possible to make it so that they can't have a drone that violates the law.

  10. I probably shouldn't say this, but a far more credible threat to an airliner just after takeoff would be a largish jet-engine powered RC aircraft, one with an HD video camera and downlink. Stereo video for a headset might be possible. A lidar or radar range-finder, relative speed-finder might be useful. That would have the speed, and the payload, and the kind of maneuverability to make a shallow diving kamikaze run on an airliner just off the ground to have a reasonable chance at a hit, and a reasonable chance at inflicting enough damage. They're expensive rigs, but not really more so than a drone copter with sufficient range and payload for guidance and warhead to be dangerous if they maneuver into the right spot soon enough and aren't spotted soon enough, and are so very, very lucky to have judged just the right place to creep to, and actually get itself hit. A near miss only means the copter gets tossed about like a turd in a blender within the trailing vortexes of the plane. Of course, any rigs with that capability will be eminently traceable by the FBI from whatever debris is left, so the damfools better be prepared to die.

    Thank whatever G/god(s) there may be that anyone smart enough to do that, is generally too damned smart to want to do that. I like to think I might be smart enough for the technical side, but I also know that by the time I got it figured out and troubleshooting finished, I'd have screwed up somewhere and be in custody "on suspicion of". There are so many safer, easier ways to mess things up that even I'm smart enough not to talk about them. Some of them I thought up 35 years ago in high school when terrorism of the 70's was still in the news sometimes, and bull sessions with friends led to all kinds of "what if" situations. Especially after "Red Dawn" was released! 😀 And, no, I'm not naive enough to think that what I thought were original ideas back then hadn't actually had WWII antecedents. I just didn't know it then. 🙂

  11. I build quads for fun and fly FPV. I do the RC plane thing too – and Larry is mostly right. To lift something like a grenade or a couple pounds of C4 or thermite – will take a very big machine. To control it with any precision in disturbed or turbulent air? I couldn't do it, and I doubt your average rag head that is confounded by the workings of a modern flush toilet could either. Even your hypothetical drone jet would take super human reflexes and wouldn't power to weight ratio to make an effective weapon.

    A far more credible threat is a very large drone attacking a stationary target like the Whitehouse, or a military camp or something like that… and large drones will be countered good skeet shooters. Sorry guys… there's simply better, more effective ways to kill people and planes. The vast majority of multirotors are just toys and aerial cameras with lots of limitations.

    It's like watching the media gobble in fright over guns because they see Arnie/Sylvester/Bruce blowing up buses with a single shot from a 9mm. A tempest in a teapot.

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