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Eagle takes down Internet firm's drone in Unalaska

July 14th | Jim Paulin Print this article   Email this article  

The drones and animals are having more and more interactions in the Aleutian Islands, some friendlier than others. An eagle killed a flying drone last month in Unalaska.

Scientists cover a lot of ground counting Steller sea lions with the airborne cameras on the beaches all the way to Attu, the westernmost island in the chain, according to a biologist's presentation last week at the Museum of the Aleutians in Unalaska.

A few weeks earlier in late June, not far from the museum, an eagle attacked and drowned a drone that was making a video for satellite internet service, according to Emmit Fitch, owner of the local internet firm Optimera.

Fitch was assisting a drone videographer from his service provider SES, for an in-house movie about the remote areas it serves. The drone was flying over Captains Bay, near the Carl E. Moses Boat Harbor, when the $6,000 device experienced death from above.

An eagle swooped down and clobbered the drone in mid-air, which then fell from the sky and into the depths of the bay, and hasn't been seen since, Fitch said. He said he viewed a close-up of the attack on the monitoring screen on land.

Eagles annually attack people in Unalaska/Dutch Harbor, and this year so far, one patient was reported treated at the local clinic. The "danger - nesting eagles" signs are up outside the Dutch Harbor Post Office and across the street from Unalaska City Hall, near cliffs with eagle nests.

Fitch said it was the first eagle attack on a drone that he's heard of in Unalaska, but it was nothing new in the world. "It happens a lot."

Eagles are being trained to take down drones, he said, citing postings on YouTube. And a quick internet search found that the French army is training eagles to cripple hostile drones.

Elsewhere in the Aleutians, drones haven't had any problems with eagles, said biologist Katie Sweeney of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, who'd just returned from counting sea lions with drones at Attu and Agattu and other islands, traveling on the Tiglax, the research vessel of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

Sweeney operated a $25,000 hexacopter, a drone with six propellers. Drones fly with four propellers, but the advantage of six blades is that if one motor fails, the drone can keep flying. And that's very unlikely if one propeller on a four-blade drone quits, she said, with the results most likely being catastrophic.

Getting approved as a professional drone operator has gotten easier, she said, with new regulations last year that no longer require drone pilots to undergo medical exams. Previously, a drone pilot was subject to the same requirements as airplane pilots, she said. Now, it's a written test, and satisfactory hands-on experience at a drone training center, she said.

The testing requirements only apply to professionals, who are working for pay or other compensation, regardless of the cost or capability of the drone, she said.

While the drones haven't had any violent encounters with eagles, another animal has caused problems to the equipment of sea lion researchers, with rats chewing on the wiring of remote cameras taking photos of the marine mammals when nobody's on the island.

 

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