Not only is trying to find a single drone extremely hard, but trying to find the individual(s) who is/are flying the drone is even harder.
Whenever someone decides to defy any notion of common sense and fly their drone near to a major airport, then it is often a commercial pilot who will first spot the device.
Pilots are experts at scanning the skies around them for any objects which might hinder their ability to be able to fly their aircraft safely.
Drones pose a major threat to aircraft because if a drone ends up in the jet engine of a passenger jet, then that engine will quickly cease to function.
You do not have to be an aviation specialist to then understand what could then happen to the aircraft – especially during take-off.
Once the pilot has let Air Traffic Control (ATC) know about the unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV), then the ATC Tower will alert the airport police and airport security.
Often the sight of police cars driving around the perimeter of the airport will be enough to make the UAV ‘pilot’ see sense and land his/her ‘drone’.
But clearly, in this case, whoever it is that is responsible for the airborne menace has decided to play ‘cat and mouse’ with the police and has thus caused no-end of disruption to tens of thousands of commuters.
So why the military?
The armed forces will be able to use specialist Directional Finding (DF) equipment that will allow them to ‘triangulate’ where the signal that is controlling the drone is coming from.
They will also be able to use high-frequency short-range radar (if needed) to scan the skies and find the drone and then, hopefully, the individuals responsible for flying the drone.
The short range radar at Gatwick Airport MIGHT be able to occasionally get a ‘return’ on the drone, but their equipment will not be configured to specifically look for and track such a small object.
The police, at the moment, simply do not have access to this sort of specialist equipment nor do they have the skills to operate it.
Loads of people have asked ‘why don’t the drones just get shot down?’.
Spotting a small drone in the sky is hard enough. Hitting it with a piece of metal that is flying at close to the speed of sound is even harder.
And remember, what comes up, must come down – the round fired towards the drone can do just as much damage when it lands as when it is fired.
Nets are another option, but then the range of the devices which fire the nets is typically not beyond 10-20 metres.
The Dutch trialled the use of Eagles to take out drones, but we have no such birds which have been trained to do just that.
Jamming equipment is another option, but it will be the military who has access to this sort of equipment.
‘Hijacking’ the signal that controls the drone is also another option.
But it will be the military who will be able to identify the specific frequency that is being used to control the drone before, again, the military can ‘take over’ the drone.
Because of the threat posed by drones in relation to drones which have been made and adapted for the battlefield, the military is the best resource when it comes to actually finding not only the drone, but the irresponsible individual(s) who took it upon themselves to cause so much disruption.
I have no doubt that, in the future, Police Drone Teams will be given the equipment and expertise needed in order to bring down a drone.
It’s just a matter of time.
But that doesn’t help the thousands of people currently stuck at Gatwick Airport.
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