Smoke billows from an aircraft crash site near Nanticoke, Md. The Navy says… (Keith Goldsborough / The…)
WASHINGTON -- An unmanned Navy surveillance aircraft crashed into a marsh in southern Maryland on Monday without causing any injuries or apparent property damage on the ground, officials said.
Officials said that the Global Hawk, a high-altitude drone aircraft that normally carries sophisticated cameras and sensors, was on a test mission from the Naval Air Station Patuxent River, about 65 miles southeast of Washington, when the ground pilot lost control of the plane.
After Navy personnel lost contact with the drone, a Navy F/A-18 fighter jet pilot flew over the area and spotted the smoking airframe on the edge of the Nanticoke River, which flows into the Chesapeake Bay. Navy officials are investigating the cause of the crash.
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The Coast Guard set up a 500-yard safety zone around the crash site and will seek to contain any fuel leaks, according to a spokesman.
The Navy is testing Northrop Grumman RQ-4A Global Hawk drones in eastern Maryland for maritime intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance missions. The Navy wants to use drones to help find enemy boats as well as potential threats on shore, according to a statement released by Naval Air Systems Command.
The Navy, Army and Air Force all use specially designated airspace around the U.S. to test drones and train new pilots. It is unclear if the drone that crashed was in specially designated airspace for the naval air station or if it had strayed into civilian airspace.
In 2006, a Predator B drone flown by U.S. Customs and Border Protection crashed 1,000 yards from a home near Nogales, Ariz. An investigation later determined that the pilot had made an error.
Operated by a ground-based crew of four, a Global Hawk drone has a range of 10,500 nautical miles, flies 11 miles above the ground, and can stay aloft for 30 hours, according to the Navy. Each aircraft costs $176 million.
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