Cross-shaped drone almost hits Air Force One with Trump, Melania and Barron on board, White House launches probe
The incident has raised questions about the safe integration of drones, which are becoming increasingly common into the nation's airspace
White House military officials are investigating after a small object believed to be a drone nearly hit Air Force One as the latter prepared to land in Maryland with President Donald Trump, First Lady Melania Trump, and their son Barron Trump on board. The incident unfolded on Sunday, August 16, when Trump was returning from the Trump National Golf Club in Bedminster, New Jersey, according to various reports. As the aircraft was making its final approach into Joint Base Andrews around 6 pm, something flew under the plane, raising safety concerns.
AFP White House correspondent Sebastian Smith confirmed the incident in a now-deleted tweet where he wrote, "@realDonaldTrump just landed at Andrews on AF1. Shortly before, while descending, we flew right over a small object, remarkably close to the president’s plane. Resembled a drone though I’m no expert."
He was backed by Bloomberg's senior White House reporter Jennifer Jacobs, who also tweeted about the drone. "Multiple people on AF1 saw what appeared to be a drone just below the plane as we were descending toward Joint Base Andrews. We came very close to hitting it, per @SebastianAFP, who had a window seat," she posted.
Multiple people on AF1 saw what appeared to be a drone just below the plane as we were descending toward Joint Base Andrews.— Jennifer Jacobs (@JenniferJJacobs) August 16, 2020
We came very close to hitting it, per @SebastianAFP, who had a window seat. pic.twitter.com/WVbxT9ckG7
In a follow-up tweet, she said the Air Force’s 89th Airlift Wing was aware of the incident. "Air Force’s 89th Airlift Wing is aware of reports AF1 nearly hit by what appeared to be a drone and 'the matter is under review'. Civilian drone probably couldn’t take down a jetliner, but could shatter a cockpit windshield or damage an engine," she tweeted.
NEW: Air Force’s 89th Airlift Wing is aware of reports AF1 nearly hit by what appeared to be a drone and "the matter is under review.” Civilian drone probably couldn’t take down a jetliner, but could shatter a cockpit windshield or damage an engine. https://t.co/CaWIDdABQm— Jennifer Jacobs (@JenniferJJacobs) August 18, 2020
Bloomberg reported that the object, which was "yellow and black and shaped like a cross," was off the right side of the plane and seen by several passengers on the jet shortly before it touched down. While most civilian drones weigh only a few pounds and would likely be incapable of taking down a jetliner, government research suggested that the damage dealt could be greater than that from a similar-sized bird, which could shatter a cockpit windshield or damage an engine.
The incident is not an isolated one either, as far as drones as concerned. Drones are a fast-growing segment of the transportation sector, with nearly 1.5 million drones and 160,000 remote pilots registered with the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA). This has meant that the FAA receives thousands of reports per year about drones flying too close to aircraft and operating in restricted areas.
Under current federal regulations, drones must be flown within sight of the operator and no higher than 400 feet above the ground without special waivers. While the more popular drone models have software designed to prevent loner range flights, incidents such as this past week's have continued to rise. There have been a handful of cases where drones have struck aircraft as well, but none has resulted in serious crashes or injuries, according to National Transportation Safety Board data.
However, steps have been taken to curb such incidents. In December, the FAA proposed a rule that would continue the safe integration of drones into the airspace by requiring them to be identifiable remotely. "Remote ID technologies will enhance safety and security by allowing the FAA, law enforcement, and Federal security agencies to identify drones flying in their jurisdiction," US Transportation Secretary Elaine L Chao said at the time.