The Chinese Military Blasted a Private Drone With a Shotgun
That’s one way to stop drone flights near airports
Almost a year ago, a small white drone flew towards Beijing’s largest airport. It wasn’t very close to the airport—about 18 miles away. But that was close enough to trigger the People’s Liberation Army air-defense network.
A surface-to-air missile regiment swung into action. But the size of the tiny drone ruled out blasting it from the sky with a missile. Instead, the military notified the Beijing Military Region—responsible for security in the capital—and dispatched a helicopter.
The helicopter approached, but the drone continued on its way. That’s when the helicopter—or someone on board—blew the drone away with a shotgun.
It’s a straightforward and strictly-business way of dealing with errant drones. The People’s Liberation Army Daily newspaper described the Dec. 29, 2013 shoot-down in a recent article. The paper, not unexpectedly, took a hard-line view.
“We must impose more severe punishments on illegal or irregular flights and much higher fines on unapproved operations,” an officer from the Beijing Military Region told the paper.
Police arrested three men from the drone manufacturer Beijing UAV Sci-Tech for failing to submit a flight plan and endangering public security. The incident delayed 11 flights.
The drone operators didn’t have any ill intent—they were mapping real estate projects. The Wall Street Journal’s China blog spotted the story and interviewed a local official. “Actually, they’re just ignorant of the law,” the official told the Journal.
The Chinese government is very protective of its airspace—around 80 percent directly belongs to the military. The military has also dominion over airspace below 1,000 meters. Want to fly an aircraft below this limit? You need approval from the military. Beijing’s airspace is tightly restricted, with a heavy concentration of early warning radars.
It’s not exactly clear how the bureau shot the drone down—except that a shotgun and a helicopter was involved. A China Daily story mirrored on the Ministry of National Defense’s Website noted that an “attack helicopter” took part in the shoot-down.
A more likely possibility is that a soldier with a handheld shotgun dispatched the drone.
China’s growing economy has meant the proliferation of small aircraft in private hands—and numerous companies manufacturing inexpensive and capable unmanned aircraft. On its Web site, Beijing UAV Sci-Tech advertises several quadrotors and fixed-wing drones.
The Chinese government is also struggling with an increase in illegal flights.
“Many of them are willing to pay the fine, if they were to be caught in unapproved operations, rather than waiting nearly one month for the authorities’ review for a 30-minute flight,” aviation analyst Wu Peixin told China Daily.
This isn’t an issue unique to China. Drone flights near nuclear power plants in France and a near-miss with a commercial airliner near London Heathrow sparked investigations in both countries this year. In the United States, incidents are on the rise involving private drones straying uncomfortably close to commercial airports.
In China, the military simply shoots them down.
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