A bald eagle taking down a federal drone? Why not? It's 2020!
The Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes and Energy (EGLE) learned not to mess with mother nature last month after a bald eagle snatched a $950 survey drone out of mid air and promptly dropped into the depths of Lake Michigan.
A routine flying mission to map erosion on the Lake Michigan shoreline turned into a frustrating day when the pilot, Hunter King ran into unexpected problems with the local wildlife.
King was using a DJI Phantom 4 Advanced, a drone that retails for about $950. The agency has been documenting high water levels and mapping the effects on the shoreline erosion to help residents. King had flown at least three other flights without any incident when he began having problems with satellite reception. If you have ever flown one, you know that this is not an uncommon occurrence for any drone pilot. According to the press release, King hit the fail safe "Go Home" button to bring the machine back. However, about four-tenths of a mile back, the video feed King was watching suddenly went crazy.
"It was like a really bad rollercoaster ride," King said in the press release.
The drone began spinning around before disappearing. King looked up in time to see the bald eagle flying away. A couple of birdwatchers nearby saw the whole thing unfold and confirmed that the eagle was unharmed by the incident. Authorities believe there could be many reasons for the attack. The Phantom 4 drone is white, which may have given it the appearance of a seagull to a hungry eagle looking for prey. It also could have been a simple defense of its territory.
Whatever the eagle's reasons were, drones keep data of their flights, and the data from this one was especially interesting according to the press release. The drone had been flying 162 feet above the water at a brisk, 22-mile-per-hour clip until the eagle hit it, at which point it slowed to 10 mph. The drone sent off 27 warnings before it hit the water, including one that said a propeller was gone, presumably torn off by the eagle as it battled the machine in midair.
King and the couple who witnessed the event searched for the fallen drone for hours. They were unsuccessful in relocating it. Another EGLE employee returned a few days later using the drone's flight data and conducted a second search using a kayak and snorkeling gear, which was also unsuccessful. A shame. We would have loved to see the footage from that. The press release states that EGLE plans to replace the drone with a newer model.
You know, in any other year this story would raise our eyebrows a little bit, but in 2020, an eagle taking down a government drone is just par for the course!
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