Net closes on drone threat

Ruislip & Eastcote & Northwood Gazette - - News -

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

JOHN STILLWELL/PA WIRE

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

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