Experimental ROBOpilot drone damaged in mishap

By Courtney Albon / August 23, 2019 at 7:29 PM

The Air Force Research Laboratory’s experimental unmanned aircraft conversion program experienced a mishap during a mission today at Michael Army Airfield in Utah.

No one was injured in the mishap, which occurred during an experimentation mission, but the unmanned aircraft was damaged, according to a press release issued this evening.

The Robotic Pilot Unmanned Conversion Program, dubbed ROBOpilot, aims to convert manned aircraft into unmanned systems without making permanent modifications to the aircraft. AFRL, in partnership with contractor DZYNE, successfully flew the first converted platform -- a Cessna 206 -- in a two-hour flight on Aug. 9.

AFRL's press release did not detail the cause or circumstances surrounding the mishap, but noted that an accident investigation is underway. AFRL Commander Maj. Gen. William Cooley said in a statement the incident will serve as a learning experience for the lab as it works to mature the technology.

"This is exactly why we have experimentation programs," Cooley said. "We are here to provide cutting-edge technology to the warfighter, meaning at a certain point in the process we need to take calculated risks to move forward. We learn important lessons from every experiment, and I’m certain the ROBOpilot team will study this data and chart an appropriate course going forward."