Midair Collision Between a C-130 and a UAV

Well, it finally happened. Something some pilots operating in Iraq and Afghanistan have told me they worry about more than enemy surface-to-air fire; a midair collision with a UAV.

A small RQ-7 Shadow UAV apparently collided with what looks like it might be an Air Force Special Operations Command MC-130 in the skies over Afghanistan. The collision apparently ruptured the wing fuel tank and may have done damage to the spar and wing box. Still, this could have been much worse. Good job to the pilots for bringing the Herk home safely.

It will be interesting to see how this changes protocols for operating UAVs in congested airspace. Maybe this was a fluke incident that no amount of UAV sense and avoid technology could have stopped or maybe the collision is a prime example of why this technology must be implemented ASAP.

Via sUAS News.

41 Comments on "Midair Collision Between a C-130 and a UAV"

  1. I wonder how the UAV looks after the collision. Something tells me the Herk came out on top.

  2. If the RQ-7 had been carrying an explosive payload instead of a reconaissance one, I imagine the Herk might've been challenged to return home at all.

    The RQ-7 on paper would seem unlikely to intersect with the operating envelope of a C-130; perhaps this occured while on approach or takeoff?

  3. It's amazing that it hit the wing right between the propellers. I wonder if they have video footage from the UAV up until impact.

  4. at least it was "only" a UAV: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/2009_California_mid-

    maybe UAVs are the solution, rather than the problem

  5. Your not gonna see the footage, the army can't have the whole world seeing there mistake! No fluke, if they don't change the way they fly your gonna see more of this,
    TCAS only works if you use it!!

  6. Bet it woke the pilot up. There are many cases in history i saw WW2 B-17 almost torn in two by collisions but made it home.

  7. Not that it really matters… but the spar is part of the wing box.

    Thank goodness for birdstrike protection regulations on the leading edges!

    In response to the main comment though… the air-traffic control with UAV's is already being investigated quite a lot. In particular as someone mentioned to ensure no collision with aircraft without TCAS. This also applies to civilian based UAV's in particular where people fly microlights and balloons etc.

    It is a problem you can throw technology at… but the UAV's are all about minimising weight, so adding extra equipment (recognition cameras and software) is terribly expensive. Even then, it is unlikely to be trusted 100%, If the probability of a UAV strike is 1×10^5 and you half that to 5×10^4 it is a serious question if this is really worth the money.

  8. Damn, I'm glad the C-130 and crew weren't lost.

  9. Assuming cameras on the UAV are monitored by ground operators, likely the Herc overtook the UAV or it came into the FP on an angle. I can't see it being a headon collision.

  10. Crew Chief Xx-87-xX | August 17, 2011 at 5:22 pm |

    The Aircraft would have been a total loss if it wasn't for the quick thinking and reaction of the Aircrew and Maintenance Response Team. This is another example of why UAV's should never be operated near airstrips where actual people land and take off.

  11. the real problem is with uav's,the operator can only see what the cameras see.they are talking about pilotless airliners,hope that never happens

  12. As an avionics tech for a major UAV manufacturer, I find it interesting that everyone is assuming that the UAS operators screwed up. The reports don't entertain the possibility that ATC or the C-130 aircrew might have screwed up.

  13. Fix the problem not the blame…Air Crew is alive. 87's and her Crew chief one of the best. She will be missed… JAFO thanks for your concern for the crew…

  14. I'm a Shadow operator. As John s. Pointed out, we get the immediate blame ALLOT. Pilots are the leading cause of near misses, simply because of the lack of training on how we operate. airspace management is a close second since they are in a windowless building several hundred miles away. I would also like to point out that the Shadow program has flow a HALF MILLION flight hours in both theaters without an accident like this, and an accident record/flight hour record much better then any manned aircraft in the Army inventory.

  15. Thomas L. Nielsen | August 18, 2011 at 2:04 am |

    As I see it, the question is not "Will we have mid-airs with UAV's?" OF COURSE we will.

    It's also not "Will we have blue-on-blue incidents with UAV's?" Again, OF COURSE we will.

    The question is "Will this happen more or less often with UAV's than with crewed aircraft?"

    Regards & all,

    Thomas L. Nielsen

  16. The report I saw was the UAV lost link and it's "predetermined" course flew it through the approach of the 130. It may not have been a Shadow, but I know for a fact that an Army UAV flew into an Pave Hawk (which took evasive action) while the Hawk was on approach a few years ago. The only explanation we were given is that it had also "lost link", though they didn't report it until after the UAV wreckage had hit the ground….I'm not trying to pick on the UAV guys, but seriously, lost link should be a airfield declared IFE.

  17. Concur. Lost link should be IFE situation; perhaps with a warning beacon transmittal during any lost link occurences. Particularly if it occurs in a controlled airspace. Could you imagine what havoc a lost-link UAV could cause in a domestic airspace for civilian ATC? Yikes. How many times has that already happened

  18. The argument about UAV's vs manned aircraft is sort of like the Buggy whip versus the horseless carriage. They (UAV's) are not going away and in fact are going to grow exponentially. Sophisticated on board active Sense and Avoid (which by the way is very high on the military’s priority list) is coming VERY soon to both military as well as civilian applications and will be the first step toward a totally pilotless airspace. .

  19. S Pendergast | August 18, 2011 at 11:50 am |

    Aviation Week article points finger at C130 pilot in this incident. RQ7 was stationed where it was supposed to be under full control at 4500ft off end of runway, when C130 flew into it. Army says ground based sense and avoid would have prevented this, but I don’t see how. See: http://www.aviationweek.com/aw/generic/story_gene

  20. With the US military planning to use smaller UAVs, situations like this will happen more frequently as it's just a matter of time before a military or civilian aircraft experiences something like a bird-strike where the UAV gets sucked into an engine or worst because these small UAVs do have onboard radar and are virtually invisible.

  21. Hernan Betancourt | August 19, 2011 at 12:01 am |

    This collision happened in FOB Sharana. I did see UAV’s around the pattern daily and wondered if they would ever be an obstacle to other aircraft. Well surprise, surprise. Apparently, there is no good ATC near Sharana. Somebody is getting demoted. Air traffic around Sharana is similar to Class Delta back home…and the one near Bagram a little moire busy than JFK.

  22. Why do most automatically assumed that this was the UAVs fault. I'm not saying it was or wasn't but for those that are not aware there are very strict airspace integration plans in place to seperate aircraft (being manned or unmanned). Was it the UAV or the Herc that wasn't where he was supposed to be. Of all the near mid-airs that I have researched it is usally the manned aircraft that violated their airspace. The investigation will bring out the facts. Just because it was a UAV does not mean it caused the accident.

  23. Who said the UAV was to blame. Why did the C-130 not see and avoid or sense and avoid. Who was in compliance with their ATC clearance…….

  24. I hope the people on the UAV are OK

  25. Even with the best of air traffic control in crowded situations, in military operations, UAVs can easily end up in the flight path of other aircraft. The UAV operators are not even aware of potential collisions, because they are not looking out a cockpit window, and because collisions can come from any direction.
    Our company (www.sara.com) has been testing an acoustic-based Sense & Avoid system for years that is able to detect and automatically avoid collisions by listening for the sound of other aircraft. We have flown the system on UAVs as large as the Shadow. The C-130 would have easily been detected at over 2 miles and a collision avoided, with no operator intervention.

  26. It happened here on my FOB, the C-130 was on final approach to the airfield. The UAV launched with an inbound aircraft? Whose protocol is that? The UAV cut across the C-130's nose, I was told that 4 feet to the left and it would have taken out the entire C-130 Aircrew and would never have made the landing, probably killing all the passengers. The 130 pilots did an awesome job landing it safely with only 2 good engines and should be commended on their expertise. Nothing against the UAV pilots and program, just might want to look into their launch protocols.

  27. I knew this would happen soon, just glad the Herky Bird landed safely, I was flying over in Afghanistan once and the operator lost control of the uav, which made us change course(due to it about to fly through our flight path) and stop CAS to destroy it. Last year on my deployment there on approach an uav came right across our flightpath right before landing, so we had to do an emergency climb to get away from it.

  28. Imagine the fallout if such a collision brought down a passenger jet.

  29. Robert Adelbride | February 15, 2012 at 3:36 pm |

    Shadows in Afghanistan have the same procedural controls as manned aircraft. Tower. If see and avoid were the only factor then mid air collisions would not have been a consideration prior to the advent of UAS OR this C130 could have prevented the incident. Pilots have every reason to fear mid air collisions but pointing at UAS like it’s the boogeyman is as ignorant as it is unproductive. It is what happens when two things share the sky…pilots undergo extensive training to ensure proper coordination occurs but accidents happen and complacency is as rampant in the manned world as it is in any other field. With a wingspan of 20 feet the shadow is big enough to do considerable damage to an aircraft when (for perspectives sake) you consider how much damage can be caused by a birdstrike. Opinions can differ wildly, but when you come right down to it regulations for UAS have long since been brought up to speed with manned aviation requirements and it doesn’t take alot of digging to recognize that.

  30. Hey Bob,

    Did you ever find out if the UAS guys were OK?

    As long as your life is not on the line for avoiding a collision then your not taking is serious enough, period.

    There is a time and a place for UAS. But as soon as the real ground to air threat is over let’s put them away until they are needed again. There is an industry that is pushing their use for everything and it defies logic.

    Have fun with this one boys and girls.

  31. c130 crewchief | March 19, 2012 at 9:08 pm |

    Well after months of field repairs, 89-1187 (the C-130 that gobbled up that poor little UAV) is back in the states getting final repairs. Can’t wait to get her home for a good old fashioned ISO. Maybe some day I’ll be able to post some of the “up close” pictures I have.

  32. "you should've seen the other guy"

  33. Uranium238 | March 21, 2012 at 2:59 pm |

    Just missed the external fuel tank I see.

  34. Sgt. Buffy | March 22, 2012 at 8:54 am |

    For one: Thank God that the crew is OK. This could have turned out very poorly, but it looks like the UAV didn't hit anything too major. Secondly, I can't determine whether this is human or program error, and there doesn't seem to be any way to see (on radar or visually) the RQ7, it's a tiny plane, as far as aircraft go. This does remind me of the German LUNA drone that was destroyed by an Airbus A300 a while ago. The drone missed the aircraft by a hair, then turbulence threw it into an unrecoverable spin. It was at the end of the runway like this one. Maybe our holding patterns need to be rethought?
    At the end of the day:
    Very Large Aircraft: 2. Military Drones: 0.
    Let's keep this game a shutout, shall we?

  35. The UAV Pilot will now get the New Medal that has been released — The C-130 Crew will get nothing!!

  36. medbroker | March 6, 2013 at 7:31 pm |

    Obama may have decided to take out the Talon crew without due process..

  37. Paul Deplagne | May 17, 2013 at 7:38 pm |

    Well, this is material for high level research since no UAV does include sense-and-avoid algorithms. The actual police and defence drones are actually a serious threat to civilian safety. I do not want to see them over our cities. Moreover, these are so small that pilots cannot see them 90% of the time. Hence, they should be grounded until someone researchers do find proper techniques.

  38. This is for everyone the C-130, carrying cargo not passengers, broke airspace and over ran the UAV. Don't ask how I know. It was Pilot error that caused the crash if he would of have followed towers instructions this story would not be here.

  39. TCAS requires a transponder on the other aircraft. Unless the UAV had an operating transponder, it was invisible to the Herk's TCAS.

  40. It's like driving a Semi-truck in N. Dakota Oil Fields 24-7…..its not a question of whether or not yr going to have a wreck …….it is more like…When are you going to crash…..LoL.,,,,,Sincerely; Old Sarge

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