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Fort Sill drone makes emergency landing

Published: Dec. 4, 2014 at 11:13 PM CST|Updated: Dec. 10, 2014 at 3:22 PM CST
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FORT SILL, Okla._Fort Sill is opening up about its recent use of several drones after a Lawton Public Schools employee stumbled across one when it made an emergency landing last week.

Fort Sill says they are currently operating six drones that are being used to investigate surrounding terrain. Last week, officials were testing one of the drones; they lost contact with it when it left Fort Sill's airspace. Before they could retrieve it, the drone landed 16 miles away at the Frederick Douglass Professional Development Center on East Gore Boulevard. It was turned over to police by the employee who found it.

Fort Sill knew where the drone was even after they lost sight of it. The drones are programmed to return to Fort Sill, but for whatever reason, it didn't this time. Because of that, they've suspended further testing until they can figure out why they lost contact with it to begin with. They say precision is key, so that one day the military can use them in places too dangerous for soldiers to go.

While this launch was not a success, Fort Sill Lieutenant Colonel Patrick Stitch says with more training, they hope future launches will be. They plan to eventually use them in combat zones overseas.

"This is an opportunity for us to preserve life, essentially because we can send this in the air to determine location on the ground where we won't have to send humans until it's absolutely necessary," explained Lt. Col. Stitch.

For six months, Lt. Col. Stitch says soldiers have packed these small drones inside specialized back packs. They've been testing them and had no complications until last week. He says the sudden landing in ideal conditions has left them scratching their heads.

"We had favorable conditions for flying. There was some wind that day out of the north, but it wasn't high enough that it violated the flight conditions for the Raven," said Lt. Col. Stitch.

The drone used was an Aero Vironment RQ-11 Raven, and was being operated by a crew who has undergone a special training course to use it.

"That same crew is, right now, at the master operator's course so that we can continue to build this capability internally within our battalion," said Lt. Col. Stitch.

The crew is now in New Mexico where they're furthering their training to one day be used out in the field.

Once the investigation is completed, they plan to take back to the skies.

With the backpack drone program as a new part of Fort Sill, officials say this is the first time anything like this has happened and is something they are working to prevent.