back to article Dangerous flying car drone zoomed into UK's Gatwick Airport airspace after killswitch failed

A “flying car” drone being shown off at Goodwood Aerodrome in England was using unlicensed spectrum for safety-critical radio commands – and when its operators lost control the craft climbed into airspace reserved for Gatwick Airport, an accident report has revealed. The homebuilt Alauda Airspeeder Mk.II crashed into a field …

  1. HildyJ Silver badge
    WTF?

    WTF?

    Forget the danger to aircraft and spectators. These people were trying to demonstrate a flying freaking CAR? And this is supposed to give me confidence to invest in their product? I'd call it their pipedream but that is an insult to pipes and dreams.

    1. jake Silver badge

      Re: WTF?

      At 95 kilos, I'd say it was more along the lines of a flying scooter. And most likely a death-trap. You wouldn't get me into one, anyway.

      1. The Oncoming Scorn Silver badge
        Black Helicopters

        Re: WTF?

        So a flying C5 then?

        1. Pseu Donyme

          Re: WTF?

          I was a bit puzzled about the relevance of C5* in this context before I found: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sinclair_C5

          * https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Finnish_Steam_Locomotive_Class_C5

          1. MiguelC Silver badge

            Re: WTF?

            Same here, the only C5 I could think of was the Citroen one

            1. Jim Whitaker

              Re: WTF?

              It's an age thing. :-)

              1. jake Silver badge
                Pint

                Re: WTF?

                I first thought "The monster from Lockheed? WTF is he on about?" ... and then I realized he was probably British.

                It may be early, and Monday, but pints all around anyway :-)

        2. jake Silver badge

          Re: WTF?

          Essentially, yes. If you squint a little.

          On the other hand, while I've seen C5s re-powered with everything up to and including a jet engine, to the best of my knowledge nobody's ever been daft enough to actually try to take off in one of the things. There might be a reason for that ...

          On the gripping hand, Sir Clive's li'l hotrod weighs in at about half of the thing in TFA.

        3. Anonymous South African Coward Silver badge

          Re: WTF?

          Sir Clive won't be happy somebody pipped him to the post with a flying C5...

      2. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: WTF?

        jake>> flying scooter.

        It is clearly a flying coffin. Exploring a new area of business in self-delivery corpses.

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Joke

          Re: WTF?

          It is clearly a flying coffin.

          That is what the kill switch is for.

        2. Jonathan Richards 1 Silver badge
          Stop

          Re: WTF?

          > a flying coffin

          The first thing I thought when looking at the photo was "Oh, great. Four rotors doing their thing in the exact same plane as the pilot's head."

          Please take a seat between the high-speed rotating knives. Comfy?

    2. anothercynic Silver badge

      Re: WTF?

      Ohhhhh, and that's not all, folks! Mashable's[1] just been showing off footage from the manufacturers of this thing the Mk3 version. Yes, you heard that right.

      So now my question is whether that Mk3 version includes the required changes the AAIB has raised... if anything, the AAIB will have told the CAA, and the CAA will be looking at *any* documentation and request for permission to fly the thing with exceptionally close scrutiny. As they should. Once burnt, twice shy and all that.

      [1] Alauda Airspeeder Mk 3

      1. Anonymous South African Coward Silver badge

        Re: WTF?

        Alauda Airspeeder Mk 3

        Podracing on MarsTatooine is almost a reality!

    3. adam 40 Silver badge
      FAIL

      IOT?

      Why are drone stories filed under the Internet of Things?

      This drone was not connected to t'internet, and most aren't.

  2. Scoular

    Fail safe is a very old concept and it n3ver depends on expecting the device to respond to a kill command when it is already in trouble. Go back and look at deadman controls designers.

    1. Tom 7 Silver badge

      Not sure how the RC works but it should be fairy easy to implement a gentle setdown if the signal is lost for a few seconds or so. We get quite a few requests on a local FB for people to look out for drones that got out of range and kept going. Perhaps they should put pingers in them too - when I've been to amateur rocket days many of them need some serious hunting.

      1. bombastic bob Silver badge
        Devil

        it should be fairy easy to implement a gentle setdown if the signal is lost for a few seconds or so

        Agreed. the on-board IMU [necessary for something like a quad rotor] would tell you when the thing is hovering, and then you simply have it drop at a known safe velocity.

        From what i oould tell, though, they were using an Arduino Nano (or a clone) and they only have about 32k of NVRAM. Maybe the nav stuff was on a separate Pi board but still, there's _not_ a lot of code space in an Arduino Nano and, well, results were what they were...

        The photos of shoddy electronics workmanship didn't make it any better. It's not THAT hard to visually QA a circuit board, and things that fly should be getting extra scrutiny. When I was in the Navy I was an ET and even went to a special soldering school where we learned to solder to NASA spec. Burned insulation and improperly mounted components would have obviously failed the visual inspection. In fact the NASA spec took into consideration a number of things from thermal and mechanical stress on wiring and solder joints, to use of a 'conformal coating' to seal it all up. As I understand it, current NASA specs also mandate leaded solder, due to unleaded solder always looking like a 'cold joint', and to help mitigate the threat of 'whiskering'.

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Unfortunately it isn't that easy. The most common failure mode on drones (or any aircraft) is a sensor failure, which results in the aircraft misunderstanding the state it is in. Many drone accidents are caused by drones with "fail-safe" procedures designed to "gently land them" causing them to impact objects at high speed because a failed sensor causes a mismatch between what the drone thinks is a gentle landing and the speed and direction it is actually traveling.

        2. Jimmy2Cows Silver badge
          Holmes

          then you simply have it drop at a known safe velocity

          While still allowing horizontal maneouvering. Nothing less simple than a simple uncontrollable descent onto a busy motorway / tracks of an approaching high speed train / active car crusher / lit bonfire / preferred inescapable-death-event of choice.

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Even model aircraft over 3.5kg in weight must be fitted with a fail safe (I'm not totally sure about the 3.5kg limit as everyone in the club sets up a fail safe regardless of their model's size).

      If they had just stuck to "toy plane" safety rules there would not have been a problem.

      Model flyers have to stick to a comprehensive set of CAA rules like not being permitted to overfly a crowd, or fly within 50m of a gathering of people.

      1. Peter Christy

        update...

        More information starting to trickle out: Apparently the RC gear being used was a well known commercial brand. HOWEVER, it was set up to use the Australian frequencies (same as US FCC) in the 915 MHz band. These are illegal for model control in the UK, where we use the EU 868MHz band. In addition, the max power output permitted in the UK is 25mW on this band - one reason it is rarely used. However, the FCC systems doesn't have a 25 mW setting, so they reduced it to 10mW! This is the kind of power level you would use for an indoor toy!

        Also, although the commercial system incorporates a failsafe (mandatory for models over a certain weight in the UK) this had not been set!

        The more you read about it, the more you realise what an incompetent bunch of idiots were operating this thing!

        --

        Pete

        1. Red Ted Silver badge
          FAIL

          Re: update... 915MHz band

          The FCC 915MHz band is in fact a 26MHz wide band from 902MHz to 928MHz.

          So the unit could have been trying to talk over Vodafone or Telefonica (O2) uplink or the start of the Vodafone down links. Given the number of people at Goodwood on the day and that the GSM uses 2W TX power, it probably wasn't going to be much use!

          The build quality is below that of many hobby projects I have seen.

  3. sreynolds

    Bloody cowboys

    Didn't their wearing of sombreros make the organizers a bit suspicious?

    1. teknopaul Silver badge

      Re: Bloody cowboys

      They put gaffer tape over the Boeing logos.

    2. TeeCee Gold badge
      Coat

      Re: Bloody cowboys

      Wow! I didn't see enough detail in there to deduce exactly which model of flying car they were talking about.

      How did you get Escort Mexico from this lot?

      1. jake Silver badge

        Re: Bloody cowboys

        Well, the last Escort Mexico I saw looked like it had been maintained by a 15 year old, had stray bits of burned wire sticking out at odd angles near the power plant, badly fitted and mismatched components, and had obviously been operated outside it's design envelope because it was upside down in a ditch.

        Sounds pretty close to me.

        As a side note, "sombrero" is the Spanish word for hat or cap. Pretty much any hat or cap, not a specific make or model.

  4. Martin Gregorie Silver badge

    What the AAIB had to say

    The AAIB report is here:

    https://www.gov.uk/aaib-reports/aaib-investigation-to-alauda-airspeeder-mk-ii-uas-registration-n-slash-a-040719

    Very long, but very complete and well worth reading. As usual, the AAIB did an excellent job of analysing the crash and what caused it.

    Neither the CAA nor the CASA (Aussy CAA) exactly cover themselves with glory over this, while the Alauda gang, who 'built' this chunk of junk just come across as a bunch of incompetent fuckwits.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: What the AAIB had to say

      > bunch of incompetent fuckwits.

      Indeed. At least they've had their arses kicked before anyone got hurt.

      Video of the drone that crashed is here:

      https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tzLzeBJpofQ

      Racing manned drones looks about as much fun (as a spectator sport) as watching paint dry (or watching Formula 1 from the last 10+ years, for that matter).

      Airspeeder seems like a completely pointless and unnecessary "sport" - let's hope Sky TV pay them a fortune to put it behind an exclusive pay-wall as that's certain to kill it stone dead before anyone has time to care.

      1. jake Silver badge

        Re: What the AAIB had to say

        You did put a + in there ... but I'd swap a 2 for the 1. Maybe a 3. F1 has been excruciatingly boring for decades.

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: What the AAIB had to say

          > F1 has been excruciatingly boring for decades.

          Yep. F1 has been rubbish since James Hunt stopped racing. Or when they banned the Tyrrell 6-wheeler and other vehicle innovations.

          The drivers now lack all personality while contriving a faux edgy persona (if they can bothered at all), there's no actual competition between the teams, and the sport itself is no longer the pinnacle it claims to be where the technology innovations supposedly fed into road cars - it's now more likely to be going in the opposite direction these days assuming the stupidly restrictive F1 rules allow it.

          F1 selling the rights to Pay TV broadcasters is just the final nail in the coffin once the sponsors work out nobody is watching. It won't be missed.

          1. Anonymous Coward
            Anonymous Coward

            Re: What the AAIB had to say

            I continued to enjoy F1 until the mandatory pitstops came in. Since then it's been pointless because relative positions on the track say nothing about performance of the car and driver.

        2. bpfh

          Re: What the AAIB had to say

          This could be quite fun actually: loading à volunteer into a light GRP shell surrounded by 4 unprotected meat sliders - each one within arms reach - with a questionable hand built control system and get them to fly around a track for 10 minutes.

          A safer alternative sport would be soap box carts going down Bury Hill with swords stuck in the grass verge and barbed wire randomly stretched across the road.

          1. Steve K Silver badge

            Re: What the AAIB had to say

            The full-size one will have 8 props.......

          2. Anonymous South African Coward Silver badge
            Trollface

            Re: What the AAIB had to say

            A safer alternative sport would be soap box carts going down Bury Hill with swords stuck in the grass verge and barbed wire randomly stretched across the road.

            And using your shoe as brake to slow down...

    2. bombastic bob Silver badge
      Devil

      Re: What the AAIB had to say

      while the Alauda gang, who 'built' this chunk of junk just come across as a bunch of incompetent fuckwits.

      When you invent something, and want to show it off to the public, don't make the kinds of mistakes that Tesla did, on occasion. Mad science is cool, but doesn't play well with the public when things go horribly wrong.

      It's probably best to hire a safety consultant (one that's familiar with that particular field) to come in and make sure you're following regulations and taking necessary precautions, before doing anything in public.

      but yeah that's the difference between "mad science" and "industry". If you can do BOTH, like Elon Musk, then you're gonna do well if you can build the thing you're dreaming up (and it actually works and doesn't kill people or break things unintentionally). But if all of the lights are going to go out for 3 counties in all directions, or airplanes might crash, nobody out there wants to be told "RUN!". Best to avoid that, yeah.

      [I've got these ideas about nuclear fusion that I'd like to try. It wouldn't be all that hard, nor even expensive, to collect enough parts and build it. Problem is radiation, neighbors' safety, and stuff like that. So I haven't]

    3. diodesign (Written by Reg staff) Silver badge

      Re: What the AAIB had to say

      FWIW the article does link to the report...

      C.

  5. Fruit and Nutcase Silver badge
    Alert

    Arduino

    That looks very much like an Arduino nano v3 clone with an Atmel ATMEGA328P MCU next to the wireless board on the kill switch board. The AAIB report also shows the mainboard with two such devices,and the kill switch transmitter also has one. They can be purchased for under £4 each, including delivery. The type of relay board on the kill switch, around £2.50 each.

    1. jake Silver badge

      Re: Arduino

      Nothing wrong with Arduino and ATMega kit in and of itself. I've found it quite robust and very reliable. Would I fly with it? Possibly in an experimental, yes. Low and slow, though. Very, very low and slow. If I were intimately familiar with the code. Maybe.

      How these particular examples are assembled, on the other hand ...

      1. Fruit and Nutcase Silver badge

        Re: Arduino

        Agree. I use the cheaper clone devices for prototyping, then switch to slightly more expensive ones assembled in Italy for anything more permanent.

        The 2 units bought over for the demo at Goodwood were 3/4 scale versions, so very much a development prototype - but that does not excuse the issues with the design and fabrication.

        1. Neil Barnes Silver badge
          FAIL

          Re: Arduino

          Fabricated? Bollocks... I could swallow a handful of 0805s and throw up a better build than that.

          There isn't a problem per se with bolting mass produced modules together, nor even necessarily with using perfboard to hold it - if it's done right. Doing it righter would require a proper PCB being designed to some sort of recognised best practice, and significant testing of failure modes. It would also include some sort of quality control, like, say, looking at the product.

          In particular the most obvious requirement is, as pointed out in the article and above, don't use the presence of a signal command as a kill switch. Use the absence of a signal...

          FFS there was more safety and lockout on the boards we built for PARIS.

          <idle speculation> I wonder if this was 'designed' by simply scaling up an existing drone design? With perhaps little understanding at the basic level of how some of the modules really worked? </idle speculation>

          <edit> And they used a normally closed relay as a kill switch? Did they go to school? Did it rain that day and the teacher didn't come?

          1. ClockworkOwl
            Mushroom

            Re: Arduino

            No excuses, all drone software I've used has comprehensive fail safe features:

            Bad signal - drop to floor...

            Even if they'd used cheap and nasty drone racing hardware, there would have been more intrinsic safety. I can only cringe when looking at the build quality, I wouldn't even plug a flight battery into this to test it!

          2. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

            Re: Arduino

            "nor even necessarily with using perfboard to hold it - if it's done right."

            That's what I came here to say too. The build method is not relevant so long as it's done properly. Not using a custom PCB for a prototype is absolutely normal. It just requires the correct soldering skills, attention to detail and proper testing.

            Now, if they'd used the re-usable "push-in contact" type breadboard I'd be a lot more concerned.

      2. Antron Argaiv Silver badge
        FAIL

        Re: Arduino

        Was reading up on the Mars helicopter. The designer was telling how he ordered parts for the flight control system from SparkFun (US vendor of electronic parts for experimenters and hobbyists). "If they work OK, we'll get them certified for the mission" was his attitude.

        Since the SparkFun stuff is (like Arduino sensors) essentially commercial parts placed onto pluggable PCBs or "eval boards" as they're known in the industry, I see nothing at all wrong with that. However, for flight hardware, I would expect to see purpose built PCBs where those parts are integrated into a complete system, with regulated power, latching connectors, wire harnessing, etc.

        The picture looks like something I might do in the lab for testing, not something I would bet anyone's life on, which is what they did...and came away very lucky.

    2. DrXym Silver badge

      Re: Arduino

      I was going to say the same thing. I still waiting on a couple I ordered from Aliexpress where they go for $1-2 a piece. They're probably super useful for drones for controlling servos and suchlike.

      That said I think the main issue here is not so much the cobbled together bits, but the mindset of the designers. Devices that go up in the sky need to be fail to safe, i.e. the device should go into a safe mode in the absence of a command signal, i.e. if it loses contact with the command device it should hover and start descending until signal is regained or it touches down and shuts off.

      The drone also needs a kill switch on top of a fail safe mode but the kill switch needs to trigger reliably through the command signal and a sidechannel, either of which causes it to cut power.

      1. Antron Argaiv Silver badge
        Mushroom

        Re: Arduino

        With AliExpress I always order a few more than I need, assuming some of the $0.25 PCBAs are going to be DOA.

    3. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Arduino

      Droneologists in my model flying circles generally prefer flight controllers built around STMF4 or equivalent microcontroller, and look down their noses at the lower-end STM micros (that IMO are still a step above ATmel's MEGA and XMEGA).

      1. ClockworkOwl

        Re: Arduino

        It started with F1s, I still fly controllers with F3s as well...

        The newer versions of the flight software have reduced ability on the lower power chips, and you run out of UARTS for talking to pheripherals as well.

        I think the Aduino in this case was just a cobbled together 433MHz killswitch, though there is Ardupilot as flight software as well.

  6. Androgynous Cupboard Silver badge

    A breadboard

    On something wth rotors? That flies near people and weighs 100kg? I am beyond incredulous. What dd they make the rest of it from, an egg beater and baling wire?

    1. jake Silver badge

      Re: A breadboard

      "That flies with a person inside it @200KPH and only weighs 95 kilos?"

      FTFY

      Actually, the breadboard doesn't really bother me. The bloody awful assembly exhibited by these so-called "experts", on the other hand, very definitely does. I wonder if the FAA knows what they are planning on doing in the Mojave?

      1. martinusher Silver badge

        Re: A breadboard

        The Mojave is a very big place with not a whole lot going on in it. The FAA has a benign attitude towards people who want to kill themselves in experimental flying contraption -- their primairly requirement is that they do it where they're not going to harm anyone or anything.

        1. Jim Whitaker

          Re: A breadboard

          Personally I share that view. Difficult to see how those conditions could be found in the UK.

          1. Peter2 Silver badge

            Re: A breadboard

            Over the sea, or if they *really* want to do it over land then hire part of the defence training estate. (aka artillery firing ranges etc; they are actually available to rent when the military is not using them)

            Or the Mach Loop; it'd be good practice for dealing with other aircraft in airspace for a flying car. ;)

            1. Antron Argaiv Silver badge
              Mushroom

              Re: A breadboard

              Artillery firing ranges are fine if you're flying over them (as long as artillery is not firing at the same time) but less so if you need to land. They tend to have unexploded artillery rounds lying about. Not a good thng to land on.

        2. jake Silver badge

          Re: A breadboard

          "The Mojave is a very big place with not a whole lot going on in it."

          That's intentional. There are quite a few rules and regs that attempt to keep it that way (unless you have a valid mining claim, of course, which is a rant for another day).

          People who see the desert as a whole lot of nothing can't see the forest for trees.

  7. Fruit and Nutcase Silver badge

    Cool Runnings

    The craft and pilot position reminds me of a bobsleigh.

    No disrespect intended to the Jamaican Bobsleigh team - on the contrary, Respect.

    As for Alauda Airspeeder... Mr Bean?

  8. H in The Hague Silver badge

    Possible lack of awareness of their limitations

    I read the AAIB report with great interest as we go to Chichester regularly to visit family (and intended to retire to that area), and I have customers in the unmanned aviation industry (hence I hold both EU and UK remote pilot certificates).

    To me, the most telling sentence in the report was:

    "Statements made by the operator and the findings of this investigation showed that they did not appear to have any knowledge or understanding of airworthiness standards."

    I also got the impression that they don't even know what they don't know.

    The crash aircraft was a Mk2 demonstrator.

    Current developments (source: https://airspeeder.com/) :

    They are now working on the Mk3 for remotely piloted races.

    I think Mk4 is intended for races with a pilot on board.

    Methinks their website design is more competent than their aircraft design. Seems they've taken the "move fast and break things" approach to design a bit too literally.

    1. Jim Whitaker

      Re: Possible lack of awareness of their limitations

      > Methinks their website design is more competent than their aircraft design.

      And their web design might be competent if you have decent broadband. All of the site appears to be chucked into one page which has all to be loaded. It then betrays some of the most irritating "clever" tricks which web designers with little or no user experience skills adopt.

      This might be their design; certainly there does not seem to be any attribution.

      1. H in The Hague Silver badge

        Re: Possible lack of awareness of their limitations

        Well, I wasn't suggesting their web design was good, only that it was better than their aircraft design (and less likely to kill people).

  9. Peter Christy

    If that had been...

    ... an RC model pilot, he would have had the book thrown at him - and quite rightly too! In over 50 years of flying RC models, I don't think I've ever seen such an abysmally sloppy or incompetent installation!

    As an aside, I've just received my new CAA registration number for my models. It comprises: "GB-OP-" (which is fair enough) followed by a random string of 12 numbers and letters. Assuming they've done the usual 25-letter alphabet thing, that gives a total of 35 possible characters. If I've done my sums right (maths was never my strong point!), that yields 3,379,220,508,056,640,625 possible permutations.

    In 2020, the total global population was estimated at 7,800,000,000 (7.8 Billion)

    That means that every human alive on the face of the planet could have approximately 433 MILLION CAA registration numbers! For model aircraft!

    You couldn't make it up!

    I guess I'll have to tow a banner behind my model to have enough space for the registration number....

    --

    Pete

    1. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

      Re: If that had been...

      "That means that every human alive on the face of the planet could have approximately 433 MILLION CAA registration numbers! For model aircraft!"

      Clearly lessons have been learned from the IPv4 -> IPv6 thing. Just not by the people you expected.

    2. Headley_Grange Silver badge

      Re: If that had been...

      @Peter Christy - your number might include some coding to make it difficult to fake registrations - a sort of checksum - which means that some of the characters are needed for the coding. Credit card numbers use the Luhn algortithm - which is used for validation rather than fake-proofing. That's how websites know instantly when your credit card number isn't valid.

      More likely, the number isn't random and has other information coded in like location, date, registration type, etc. Given it's the CAA, this wouldn't be surprising.

      Most likely, however, is that someone who wasn't very good at maths picked the format.

      1. Peter Christy

        Re: If that had been...

        I believe the CAA contracted it out to a member of the "chumocracy"!

        --

        Pete

    3. Manolo

      Re: If that had been...

      The usual 25 letter alphabet?

      Your registration is written in Ogham?

      1. Jim Whitaker

        Re: If that had been...

        CAA registrations do not use "Q". I would not have been surprised to see "I" and "O" excluded either (but they are not).

        1. Manolo

          Re: If that had been...

          I was guessing something like that. Thanks for the clarification.

        2. RichardBarrell

          Re: If that had been...

          Ouite a reasonable restriction.

  10. Boris the Cockroach Silver badge
    FAIL

    Last time I saw

    soldering that bad was when I was a 16yr old apprentice... and it was me doing it shortly before having my instructor kick my arse and being made to do it properly.

    And that was'nt even on stuff expected to fly (except when the instructor got really pissed off and threw it out of the window)

  11. Mike 137 Silver badge

    Kill switch?

    Quite part from there only being one kill switch system, both the transmitter (report page 10 fig. 8) and receiver (report page 13 fig. 10) are abominations. A safety device must be more robust than the thing it's there to protect, and also ideally multiply redundant. These were clearly mere afterthoughts by someone who does not understand engineering in the slightest. Unpardonable considering a 95kg drone could easily kill someone in falling or destroy an aircraft engine.

    This unfortunately typifies IoT. The negligent attitude common to software development has permeated the more established branches of engineering, dragging their standards down to its level.

  12. Mike 137 Silver badge

    CAA recommendation

    "Safety Recommendation 2021-012

    It is recommended that the Civil Aviation Authority, before issuing an Operational Authorisation to operate an Unmanned Aircraft System they have not previously had experience with, carry out a physical examination of the Unmanned Aircraft System to ensure that it is designed and built to suitable standards, and observe a test flight to confirm operation in accordance with the Operating Safety Case." [incident report page 54]

    Good idea.

    Approval for this flight was given without sight of a completely unknown craft from a completely unknown manufacturer, based solely on information provided by that manufacturer.

    A bit like at Boeing?

    1. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

      Re: CAA recommendation

      "Approval for this flight was given without sight of a completely unknown craft from a completely unknown manufacturer, based solely on information provided by that manufacturer."

      It also had approval from the Australian regulator, which was accepted by the CAA. After the Boeing/FAA debacle, maybe the CAA (and by extension, all air worthiness regulators) should be seriously considering not blindly accepting certifications from other countries until they've had another look at said procedures and at least spot checking some random samples to see if reality matches up with theory.

  13. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Gatwick and Drones

    Moths to Flame

  14. Jan 0 Silver badge

    Hint? Class A controlled airspace.

    Surely this "drone racing" is just a front for drug delivery.

    No need for unreliable couriers in trains, boats or cars.

    1. Steve K Silver badge

      Re: Hint? Class A controlled airspace.

      I don’t think Speed (vertical or otherwise...) is Class A

      1. jake Silver badge

        Re: Hint? Class A controlled airspace.

        Last time I checked, speed is Class B in Blighty (Schedule II here in Leftpondia).

    2. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

      Re: Hint? Class A controlled airspace.

      Surely this "drone racing" is just a front for drug delivery.

      And when they reach their eventual goal of flying in "manned" ones, they stop being drones by definition. But I bet they call it manned drone racing.

      1. jake Silver badge

        Re: Hint? Class A controlled airspace.

        "But I bet they call it manned drone racing."

        I've seen references to "passenger drones" and "taxi drones". Personally, I'm going to call them "Judas drones".

  15. Conundrum1885

    UAPs

    Incidentally do authorities have an explanation for the *other* Gatwick drone incident?

    It seems that the unidentified object was hovering for hours at a time, and apparently a certain spooky agency (tm) sent up to investigate may or may not have clear pictures of the object taken on a Police drone which (surprise!) were classified for reasons of national security due to the nature of its propulsion system.

    1. Headley_Grange Silver badge

      Re: UAPs

      https://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/2020/dec/01/the-mystery-of-the-gatwick-drone

      TLDR - They haven't found anyone responsible. The drone allegedly did some technically unfeasible stuff. Some people think there never was a drone. Some other people think there was a drone.

      1. jake Silver badge

        Re: UAPs

        There was no drone, just a little bit of mass hysteria.

        Ol' Bill O'Ockham sez so, innit.

      2. Richard 12 Silver badge

        Re: UAPs

        On the balance of probabilities, there was no drone.

        Drone sightings are the new UFOs, with the same causes for the most part.

    2. JimC

      Re: UAPs

      https://www.getsurrey.co.uk/news/surrey-news/gatwick-drone-incident-how-things-19473462

      No doubt your reaction to that will depend on your preconceptions...

      1. jake Silver badge

        Re: UAPs

        "No doubt your reaction to that will depend on your preconceptions..."

        My reaction is mostly predicted by the fact that nobody has presented one, single, solitary shred of evidence that any drones existed in that airspace at that time. Given the very few facts that we do know, it was most likely a minor case of mass hysteria. The authorities should just admit they over-reacted, are continuing to over-react, and have spent inordinate amounts of the Public's money on a wild goose chase. It's time to drop it and move on, already.

  16. trevorde Silver badge
    FAIL

    TL;DR

    University student project fails spectacularly in real world test. No one killed. Just.

  17. E 2

    Pardon my French, but why the fuck are they allowed to operate drones at all within 20 Km (or 200 Km) of such an airport?

    1. John Brown (no body) Silver badge
      Facepalm

      Possibly because a) they had clearance from the CAA and b) the clue is in the name of the location, "drone being shown off at Goodwood Aerodrome"

  18. David Pearce

    The UK is not as relaxed about "experimental" aircraft as the USA and calling the planned manned version a "drone" is an attempt to dodge very strict regulations

    Not being required to have a GNSS is remarkable. You would hope that loss of signal shoul make the aircraft freeze and hold position for a while to get gignal back and failing that land gently. This machine is way to heavy to just drop

  19. Danny Boyd Bronze badge

    Aha!

    So that's what was flying around Gatwick back in 2018 and was never found! It traveled in time.

  20. Zulu 10

    I'm not intending to excuse the shortcomings of the operators, but on a point of (geographical) order: Goodwood Festival of Speed (GFoS) is held in front of Goodwood House, which is at least a mile north of the Goodwood motor race circuit which surrounds the aerodrome.

    On that day therefore there would have been a minimal crowd at the circuit.

    There is no proper 'aerodrome' near the House, simply some temporary areas set up to facilitate rotary wing ops for the duration of the event.

    The aerial view on page iv of the AAIB report is misleading because it shows three arrows pointing to what it describes as the "Event Area", but in fact the event is predominantly located to the north of the northernmost arrow.

    I would have expected better of the AAIB, and frankly the reporting of The Register seems to conflate the circuit and the hillclimb.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      My reading of this was that in fact two demonstrations had been planned - the first at the aerodrome and had that not been a failure, a second demo at the festival.

  21. The Basis of everything is...
    FAIL

    Failing safely

    As a young lad I would occasionally accompany my dad to watch him fly RC planes and sometimes have a twiddle on the controls myself before getting bored and wandering off to drop stones in ponds, explore the abandoned buildings from when it was an active flying strip or other more interesting things.

    One of his models had the on/off switch for the electrics mounted on the side of the fuselage for easy access. The usual take-off method for this plane was to get the motor running, then carefully pick it up and throw it from one hand then quickly grab the transmitter from an unwilling assistant and start flying. Except on this one occasion he managed to catch the on/off switch with his finger mid-throw and was rewarded with the sight of it flying perfectly straight and climbing slightly over the trees at the far edge of their field and away across the countryside, ignoring all control inputs. From this I learned two things:

    1. Ergonomics is a useful science. If the only places you can put the on/off switch means it can be accidentally caught by an errant finger, make sure the forward position is on.

    2. Never repeat the new words learned from your father and his flying buddies after an incident in front of your mother later that day.

    Happy Ending 1: A couple of weeks later he got a call from a farmer who'd found the plane in a field 20 miles away, slightly trampled by cows. The plane never flew again but at least he got the receiver, servos and engine back which were still usable and quite expensive.

    Happy Ending 2: In later years he had a job involving the design of cockpits and flight instruments on real aircraft. He never said where the master on/off switch for them was located.

  22. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Surely it had a BRASTRAP that could have been pinged

    (https://www.theregister.com/2013/09/12/doomsday_box_result/)

  23. Imhotep Silver badge

    Umbrellas Aren't Designed For This

    Aww, jeez. As if they weren't all around anyway, now I have to worry about idiots falling out of the sky?

  24. Kevin McMurtrie Silver badge

    Wow

    I feel a lot better about how I built my custom bicycle light. At least I etched a proper SMD PCB, made sure there's no vibration strain on the wires, and built in some fault tolerance. That flying car circuit looks like it's from a hackathon.

  25. VerySlowData
    Big Brother

    Hmm.. I wonder

    Maybe what was flown at Goodwood was not what was submitted to CASA for approval. Here in Oz, CASA are very fussy about approvals for flying stuff, generally.

    1. graeme leggett

      Re: Hmm.. I wonder

      reading the AAIB report it looks like the CAA asked the CASA for information. CASA said get the operators permission to release information but the CAA didn't follow up and ask operator for permission and so didn't find out what CASA knew or thought.

      Between that and not actually looking at the drone, on the question of inspection the CAA seem to have not only dropped the ball, but knocked it into their own net.

      That said the CAA had made some strict limitations to the permitted flight (eg 20 m max height) on the basis of the lack of geofence, multiple points of failure etc.

      1. JimC

        Re: strict limitations to the permitted flight (

        > strict limitations to the permitted flight (eg 20 m max height)

        Just about none of which appear to have been followed... I guess they were just too busy being disruptive.

  26. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Not a red herring

    This is a bit of a red herring: the AIP contains nominal distances such as runway lengths and taxiway widths along with a schematic of the aerodrome layout.

    It doesn’t contain the information the drone operators needed, which was the distance between the runway in use and the crowd line. That could have been obtained from Goodwood Aerodrome itself.

    Part of the information contained in the AIP are the position and elevation of the runway thresholds (https://www.aurora.nats.co.uk/htmlAIP/Publications/2021-01-28-AIRAC/html/eAIP/EG-AD-2.EGHR-en-GB.html#AD-2.EGHR), and it is in fact the official source for such information.

    That data does usually originate from the airfield operator, via an approved survey, but the official source is the AIP (in its printed or CD-ROM version, if one wants to be pedantic).

    1. gazthejourno (Written by Reg staff)

      Re: Not a red herring

      Not so much. The operator was using Google Earth satellite images, and presumably the ruler function, to draw his display box and safety buffer zone. He didn't check with the aerodrome if they had any up to date survey maps he could have used. The Google Earth image was out of date because the runway had been reduced in width after it was taken.

      The AIP doesn't contain distances from runway edges to buildings, which in this case was the measurement the operator needed. See pp xx and xxi of the report.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Not a red herring

        Hi Gaz, I see your train of thought but:

        > He didn't check with the aerodrome if they had any up to date survey maps he could have used.

        He would have been directed to the AIP. Or to be fair, he should have known to look in the AIP if he had an inkling of an idea of what he was doing.

        From the AIP he could also have obtained the runway centreline and width. Then he could have offset the centreline of RWY 14/32 Eastward by the semiwidth (15 m) to find the runway edge (though for grass runways the edge is hardly ever identifiable on the ground) and that would have given him the edge of what he claimed was to be his display area, from which he then had to distance the guests somehow.

        Incidentally, did he actually publish his video of the Chichester demo, omitting one rather crucial aspect? https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tzLzeBJpofQ

  27. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Accident reports

    The aircraft was designed for high speed, high performance operations and the importance

    of the control systems functioning correctly was reflected in the risk assessment. The flight

    control circuit boards were mounted on Velcro with a foam lining, in an IP55 box. The circuit

    boards were not subject to any vibration, shock, RF or temperature testing and the in-house

    developed software was not developed to any level of assurance.

    Masterpieces of the art of sentence juxtaposition. :)

  28. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    From the report

    > After the accident, and before they left the aerodrome, the CAA staff informed the operator that the exemption would be withdrawn

    I suspect this may not have come as a surprise.

    1. FILE_ID.DIZ Bronze badge
      Mushroom

      Re: From the report

      Maybe not. They did bring two frames with them and damaged the first one the day before.

      For some people this might be shocking... for others, just another day at the office. I suspect the latter for this cohort.

  29. Evil Auditor

    I for one find it quite amazing what they've accomplished. Think of it: about 20 years ago it would have been prohibitively expensive to create such a flying "car". And nowadays you get some ready-to-use components for a few quid at Maplin, stick and solder them together and there you go: you've got a flying crap. Surely, they did give exactly one flying fuck about safety, reliability and risk in general. Surely, it got out of control and crashed. But it was flying ffs.

    </sarcasm>

  30. FILE_ID.DIZ Bronze badge
    Megaphone

    What are the points of these RC models?

    I'm deeply interested in what these RC models, representing something that will eventually carry a human, are accomplishing for the company today. It looks like fundraising at best and at worst, a massive cash burn and/or fraud.

    Quad-motor RC piloted software and hardware already exist, so nothing novel here. And from the investigation, they're not collecting any engineering data to help them identify issues and inform them when they've fixed past problems with these flights.... so what is the purpose for these flights?

    As a result of the investigation, it looks like they had to solve a crap-ton (technical phrase) of engineering and safety issues that are likely explicit for an unmanned vehicle, which take them no closer to a manned flight.

    Once they put a meatbag in this machine, this becomes something wholly different from a regulatory point of view.

    1. jake Silver badge

      Re: What are the points of these RC models?

      You answered it for yourself. They exist as a "Wow!" factor to hopefully help put a crap-ton[0] of investor money into the direct, personal control of the officers of the company, with little to no oversight as to how those funds are to be distributed. In other words, advertising from the marketing department. (Don't look at that man behind the curtain!)

      Exciting investment opportunity or scam? You decide with your pocketbook.

      Caveat emptor, quia ignorare non debuit quod jus alienum emit

      [0] If you're into the Metricals, that would be a crap-tonne. The conversion factor is 1:1

  31. Evil Auditor

    Exciting investment opportunity or scam?

    In this case there is no difference: the outcome will be the same.

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