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Air Force drone crashes in field near Grand Forks; investigation may take weeks, Air Force reports

The Air Force is working to recover the drone, which has a 130.9-foot wingspan and weighs about 14,950 pounds.

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The presumptive site of a RQ-4 Global Hawk, near a combine and truck, that crashed into a field about four miles north of the Grand Forks Air Force Base Friday morning is viewed from about 2 miles south of the scene. Photo by Eric Hylden/Grand Forks Herald
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GRAND FORKS — An unmanned Air Force drone crashed Friday morning, Aug. 6, in a field about 4 miles north of Grand Forks Air Force Base.

The RQ-4 Global Hawk crashed into a field on the 2700 block of 27th Avenue Northeast, according to interviews with Grand Forks County Sheriff's deputies and Air Force public affairs staff.

Sheriff's deputies, Air Force staff and members of the North Dakota Highway Patrol were on the scene Friday morning. The Air Force was working to recover the drone, which has a 130.9-foot wingspan and weighs about 14,950 pounds.

The Air Force issued a news release about the crash shortly after 11 a.m., noting the time of the crash — around 7 a.m. — and that the drone was returning to the base at the time of the incident.

The Air Force report noted there were no injuries at the scene of the accident. A fire was extinguished and the incident is under investigation with recovery operations underway. The site is an active military investigation, the Air Force said, and the public is requested to avoid the area as much as possible in order to preserve the scene.

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“319th Reconnaissance Wing has personnel on site and we anticipate recovery operations and the official investigation may take several weeks,” said Col. Jeremy Fields, 319th Reconnaissance Wing vice commander. “I’d like to personally thank local law enforcement, Customs and Border Protection and emergency services for their support on scene.”

Crashes of Air Force drones occasionally occur, according to various news reports.

In June 2020, an MQ-9A Reaper lost power and crashed shortly after takeoff from an airport in Syracuse, New York. According to the news outlet Stars and Stripes, the Reaper lost all engine power and was “significantly damaged” when it struck the end of the runway.

The cause of the accident was later determined to be pilot error, occurring after the pilot misidentified a flap lever on the control panel. The two levers, according to an Air Force report quoted in Stars and Stripes, are just an inch apart but have “very different functions.” Damage to the aircraft was estimated at $6 million.

Also in 2020, the Air Force intentionally crashed a drone over Africa after the aircraft lost fuel. Rather than let the drone coast to a landing and have minimal damage, the Air Force chose a hard crash to make it impossible for sensitive pieces or instruments of the MQ-9A Reaper to be recovered. It was an $11.2 million loss.

Joe Bowen is an award-winning reporter at the Duluth News Tribune. He covers schools and education across the Northland.

You can reach him at:
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