Net closes on drone threat
POLICE at Heathrow Airport could soon be armed with anti-drone weapons that look like bazookas, according to reports.
Experts have warned Heathrow, Gatwick and all UK airports remain vulnerable to “attacks” or disruptive criminal flights from drones, and it now seems steps are being taken to protect runways.
Police at Heathrow have already been armed with the anti-drone guns, according to The Sunday Times. The newspaper reported that drone-slaying ‘bazookas,’ part of the SkyWall 100 system, could be used in a “matter of weeks” to protect planes from trespassing drones.
The Metropolitan Police is already practising using rocket-propelled nets to bring down drones, Mail Online also reports.
It follows Sussex Police working with the army and Gatwick Airport to introduce a range of anti-drone ‘military measures’ to prevent further days of travel hell for hundreds of thousands of passengers.
The anti-drone guns, reportedly being tested at Heathrow, are part of the SkyWall system developed by a company in the north of England.
Openworks Engineering, based in Northumberland, claims to offer the world’s “only physical capture system that offers a cost effective and proportionate response to the civil drone threat”.
The SkyWall system uses a gaspowered launcher to fire a projectile that expands into a net, bringing down the targeted drone in a controlled way with a parachute.
A computer tracks the flight of the drone, allowing the user of the SkyWall anti-drone weapon to fire it more accurately. Even if the net misses, it will descend lightly to the ground, allowing it to be re-used.
While SkyWall 100 is a portable device designed to be carried and used by one person, other systems are also being developed. They include SkyWall 300 – a permanent anti-drone gun.
Police were criticised for not simply shooting down drones when they reportedly appeared in the Gatwick area a few days before Christmas and forced planes to stay away from the airport runway.
But a drone expert said there were all sorts of dangers with trying to bring down a drone with bullets.
The chief operating officer at Operational Solutions, a company which provides a different system for detecting and tracking drones, explained how having live ammunition fired in a built-up area was a bad idea for a range of reasons.
Discussing the recent disruption at Gatwick, Lee Mansell said: “First of all we don’t know who’s behind this. It seems in this case that whoever is doing this is relatively benign. What they could have done is a lot worse.
“But if it had been someone putting a bomb or something like that on or under a drone, shooting at it could create an airburst effect which is even more devastating than having a bomb on the ground.”
Mr Mansell added: “Secondly, even if there’s not a bomb, shooting a drone and setting 20/30kg of plastic on fire could be dangerous in itself over a runway.”
The third flaw with shooting the drones is that it is not an easy task.
“They’re incredibly difficult to shoot,” Mr Mansell explained. “Even crack snipers need to know roughly what distance away their target is.
“Without a detection system it’s going to be incredibly difficult to shoot at a drone accurately.”
The Metropolitan Police referred questions about trials of SkyWall 100 at Heathrow to the National Police Chiefs’ Council (NPCC), which is leading the effort to tackle drones at airports. However, a spokesman for the NPCC said it could not comment on “live operations”.
The hunt for the person or persons behind the alleged drone flights at London Gatwick Airport remains active after police released two people from custody on Sunday December 23.
[email protected]plc.com @LiamTrim
Police are working with airport authorities to try and stop drone activity around airports, after reported sightings caused major disruption at London Gatwick before Christmas