Australians hoping to make the country a hot spot for drones are struggling with local inhabitants. But it isn’t a group of people that is causing the problem, it’s the Wedge-tailed Eagle.
According to drone users in the outback, eagles have been swooping down from above as residents fly their expensive drones, bringing the equipment down. The Wall Street Journal (WSJ) reports that the approximate nine-pound birds, with a wingspan of up to eight feet, have been attacking drones in the region.
Australia’s largest bird of prey, the Wedge-tailed Eagle is highly territorial and has even been known to harass the occasional human in a hang glider.
Daniel Parfitt, who runs a drone business called Aerial Image Works, reports using an $80,000 drone for a two-day mapping job in a remote patch of the Australian outback. The drone had a reported wingspan of 7 feet and resembled a stealth bomber; however, a local eagle showed no fear when it swiftly dispatched the machine.
“I had 15 minutes to go on my last flight on my last day, and one of these Wedge-tailed Eagles just dive-bombed the drone and punched it out of the sky,” said Mr. Parfitt. He said the raptor punched a hole in the carbon fiber and Kevlar fuselage of his drone with its talons, causing the drone to plummet to the ground.
“It ended up being a pile of splinters,” Parfitt said of the demolished drone, which he thought was too big for a bird to damage.
According to the WSJ, birds around the world attack drones. Yet the Wedge-tailed Eagle is “particularly eager to engage in dogfights, operators say.” They say some drone operators even try using evasive maneuvers to slip past their avian foes, “sending their drones into loops or steep climbs, or just mashing the throttle to outrun them.”
James Rennie, who started a drone-mapping and inspection business in Melbourne, called Australian UAV, reports that he estimates 20% of drone flights in rural areas get attacked by the eagles. On one occasion, he reports attempting to evade nine birds determined to remove his drone from their territory.
Apparently, drone users have not devised a solution to the problem, as camouflage techniques aren’t very effective. Though some pilots have reportedly considered arming drones with devices to ward off eagles, such as pepper sprayers, the idea was discarded, it seems, out of concern for the birds.
“They’re really the kings of the air in Australia,” Todd Katzner, a biologist and eagle expert at the U.S. Geological Survey in Boise, Idaho, reportedly told the WSJ. “There’s nothing out there that can compete with them.”
He said the eagles often attack in pairs. “If you take your eye off that aircraft, even for a couple of minutes, the likelihood is, it will end up in pieces on the ground,” he reportedly said.
Rick Steven, a survey superintendent at the St. Ives gold mine in Western Australia, reportedly uses drones to survey the pits and says he uses time to his advantage. He says with the eagles being less active in the early morning, he’s taken to flying then. He says he went from losing 12 drones to eagle attacks in 2.5 years -a $210,000 loss- to only losing two over the last year by shifting his flight time.
Any method of evading the Wedge-tailed Eagle attacks would be welcome for drone users like Parfitt, who reports staying vigilant as his jobs continue to attract eagles. He said he’s not afraid of other birds that fly at his equipment, but he remains quite concerned about the Wedge-tailed Eagle.
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