United Kingdom

Apache helicopter was deployed to help police track rogue drone near Stansted Airport

An Apache attack helicopter was used to track a rogue drone flying illegally close to Stansted airport, a report has revealed.

The gunship was one a pair of Army helicopters flying through the controlled traffic zone around the airport in Essex when both crews spotted the drone.

Air traffic controllers gave permission for one of the £35 million helicopters to turn back and monitor the drone while police tried to find the person flying it.

Ministry of Defence sources said that the pilots tipped off police about the possible location where the operator could have been on the ground. 

As a result, a 41-year-old man was arrested the next day on suspicion of causing a public nuisance and recklessly endangering an aircraft. 

The Apache - file photo - was one a pair of Army helicopters flying through the controlled traffic zone around the airport in Essex when both crews spotted the drone

Air traffic controllers gave permission for one of the £35 million helicopters to turn back and monitor the drone while police tried to find the person flying it. File photo 

The MoD's Joint Helicopter Command which is responsible for Apache helicopters are said to have described the incident as 'a brilliant example of integration between the Army, police and air traffic controllers.'

The incident happened when the two Apaches were on a routine flight from their base at Wattisham, Suffolk, which was where Prince Harry served as a pilot.

An Essex Police spokesperson said: 'We arrested a man on suspicion of causing a public nuisance and recklessly endangering aircraft after a drone was spotted within the boundaries of Stansted Airport on Tuesday 15 September.

Apache helicopters: £35m killing machine once flown by Prince Harry  

Designed to hunt and destroy tanks, the fearsome Apache is capable of flying at 205mph and boasts a mix of weapons including a wing-mounted aerial rocket, Hellfire laser-guided missiles and a 30mm chain gun.

Seen as the attack aircraft of choice in Afghanistan - where Prince Harry served as a gunner and later a pilot - the Apache was heralded as one of the most important weapons systems to enter service with the Army since the tank in 1916. 

It can fly in all weathers from Arctic cold to desert heat, operate day or night, and detect, classify and prioritise up to 256 potential targets in seconds.

The aircraft, which cost around £44m each, is operated with two crew members - a pilot and co-pilot gunner who usually operates the weapon systems. The Apache is powered by two Rolls-Royce engines with built-in particle separators for desert operations.

It uses night vision systems and CCD TV target trackers and is also fitted with high-tech radar and thermal imaging equipment that allows the crew of two to pinpoint targets with great accuracy even if they are hidden behind foliage.

'We received reports at around 5.10pm concerning a drone in the airport's airspace and quickly acted, meaning the airport was only disrupted for 30 minutes.

'A 41-year-old man was arrested on Wednesday 16 September and has been released under investigation. Our enquiries remain ongoing.'

The UKAB report said the drone was initially seen 1,200ft above the eastern threshold of the active runway at Stansted.

It added: 'Essex Radar requested them to remain on scene with freedom of manoeuvre to provide assistance to the police in finding and tracking the object.

'He remained visual in a right-hand orbit and climbed up through the level to 500ft above.

'The drone remained largely static, climbing to about 2500ft and moving away slowly to the South East towards Great Dunmow.

'The lead Apache remained on scene for about 30min until the object was assessed clear of the runway.'

The drone was said to have been the same height and just 150ft away horizontally from the closest Apache when it was first seen.

The UKAB rated it as a Category C incident, saying it portrayed a situation where 'safety had been reduced.'

But it concluded that there had been no risk of collision, although the pilots said there was a risk which they described as 'low'.

Drones are banned from flying without permission within 2.5km radius of airports and an extended 5km area either end of each runway.

Anyone caught flying drones in the prohibited area could be jailed for up to five years if convicted of endangering an aircraft.

Drones must also not usually fly above a height of 400ft or out of the line of sight of their operators in the UK.

Experts have repeatedly warned of the danger posed by drones potentially smashing the windscreen of an aircraft or damaging its engine. 

A report by the UK Airprox Board which investigates near misses said the Army pilots were able to see the drone again and reported its exact position near Stansted (pictured) 

Drones are banned from flying without permission within 2.5km radius of airports and an extended 5km area either end of each runway. File photo of Stansted 

Rules for flying drones in the UK 

A new rule requiring anyone responsible for a drone or unmanned aircraft (including model aircraft) weighing between 250g and 20kg to register as an operator was brought in last year. 

The cost of the licence is £9 renewable annually.

Additionally, all registered as drone operators will need to take and pass an online education package.

This is free and renewable every three years.

Current rules state:

You must not fly above 400ft (120m) and must keep a direct line of sight.

You must not fly your drone near emergencies such as car crashes, firefighting, and search and rescues.

You can only fly drones during the day.

You must not operate your drone in restricted areas such as near airports.

You must not fly above crowded areas such as sporting events and beaches.

Source: Civil Aviation Authority 

Experts have repeatedly warned of the danger posed by drones potentially smashing the windscreen of an aircraft or damaging its engine.

Earlier this year, an airliner came within three feet of smashing into a large drone in what is believed to be the UK's closest near-miss between a passenger jet and an unmanned aircraft. 

The incredible close call involving an easyJet plane happened in daylight at a height of 8,000ft, shortly after it took off from Manchester Airport.

Both pilots of the Airbus A320 carrying up to 186 passengers on a flight to Athens saw the illegally flown drone as they hurtled towards it at a speed of 320mph.

The drone, which they estimated could have weighed 10kgs (22lbs), flashed past the right hand side of the cockpit where the junior First Officer pilot was sitting.

A report by the UK Airprox Board which investigates near misses rated it as the most dangerous Category A incident meaning there was a serious risk of collision.

The incident happened at around 3.20pm on September 4 this year, eight miles from the airport over the streets of Ashton-Under-Lyne, Greater Manchester.

The number of near misses between aircraft and drones has soared dramatically in recent years as the devices have become more popular, leading to fears of a catastrophic accident.

Experts fear that an impact with a heavy drone could disable a jet engine or cause serious injury to pilots by smashing a jet's windscreen. 

More than 140,000 passengers had their flights cancelled when drone sightings forced the closure of Gatwick in December 2018. 

Prince Harry served as an Apache gunner and later a pilot in Afghanistan, where he is pictured in 2013  

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