Operator fired in '06 crash of unmanned aerial drone

Operator fired in '06 crash of unmanned aerial drone

TUCSON — The operator of an unmanned aircraft that crashed was fired and most of the safety recommendations made by crash investigators have been adopted, U.S. Customs and Border Protection officials said Wednesday.

The National Transportation Safety Board on Tuesday released its findings of the April 2006 crash of an unmanned, camera-equipped drone used to eye the border for illegal immigrants and drug smugglers.

Investigators said the crash of the remotely piloted Predator B aircraft near Nogales, which injured no one, probably was caused by the ground-based pilot's failure to use checklist procedures as he switched control from a console that had locked up to a secondary panel.

The pilot, a contractor hired through the Predator's manufacturer, General Atomics, inadvertently did not have all on-off switches properly aligned.

That shut the fuel valve and cut the engine's power, the NTSB said. The pilot also was going through refresher retraining while actually flying the Predator on a mission along the border — a regulatory violation.

The NTSB cited another contributing factor — the pilot's flight instructor was absent when the crash occurred.

Doug Koupash, executive director of mission support for Air and Marine and the Predator B acting program manager, said all Predator pilots have been contractors. All must hold Federal Aviation Administration certification and be instrument-rated on other aircraft.

They also must go through recertification and refresher training, Koupash said.

The agency has just started training its own pilots, Koupash said, and Congress has provided funds to expand the two-aircraft fleet to six.

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