Misidentified lever caused MQ9 drone, worth $6 million, to crash at Hancock Field in 2020, report says

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SYRACUSE, N.Y. (WSYR-TV) — The crash of a 174th Attack Wing MQ9 Reaper aircraft at Hancock Field last summer is just coming to light now. It was a total loss of the machine at a cost of just over $6 million. 

It was supposed to be like all the other training flights the 174th Attack Wing has flown from Hancock Field the past five years. But on June 25, 2020, at around 1:30 p.m., the report found the MQ9 “lost engine power shortly after takeoff and impacted the ground.” It came to rest about 600 feet from the departure end of the airport’s secondary runway, “significantly damaged on impact.” A total loss valued at over $6 million.

The planned mission, like they’ve done so many times, was for a crew to remotely pilot the MQ9 reaper off Hancock Field and when it reached its designated airspace, do a crew swap with student trainees and instructors.

In this case, the report found “seven seconds after becoming airborne and 150 feet above ground,” the aircraft lost all power because the pilot misidentified a lever. Instead of pushing it forward, the pilot pulled the lever back, “which cut the fuel supply to the engine,” causing the engine to stop.

Investigators say once realizing the engine lost power, the crew continued to misidentify the lever. The MQ9 “impacted the ground 21 seconds after loss of engine power.” It hit a portion of airport runway lights, then spun 180 degrees before coming to rest 600 feet at the end of the runway.

No one was hurt. The report did blame the design of the ground control station where the operators and pilots sit. It concluded the console design and the levers could be easily mistaken by an inexperienced, tired, or confused crew member.

The full report is below:

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