After 28 successful test flights over the Mountain Pine Ridge area in Belize, a prototype of the YMQ-18A Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV), formerly known as The Hummingbird, crashed upon landing at the Central Farm Airfield in Cayo, Belize.
Major Armando Hernandez of the US Military and US Special Operations Command, spokesperson for the testing of the chopper and radar, told Amandala Monday that a decision was made last night to suspend tests in Belize, and the second prototype craft, which was also being tested in Belize, has also been grounded.
The cause of the accident, which happened around 10:00 Saturday morning, is not yet known, Hernandez said.
“No injuries or fatalities resulted from the accident and the cause is under investigation,” said a press release from the United States Embassy in Belize on Saturday.
The first test flight in Belize was reportedly conducted on Monday, August 9. Hernandez said they did 90 flight hours in Belize and ran a record number of days in August.
The mission was also engineered to test the FORESTER - the Foliage Penetration Reconnaissance, Surveillance, Tracking and Engagement Radar, an 800-pound device that can see moving and man-made objects through dense forests.
The operation in Belize was the first time the radar has been deployed to scan through jungle, and according to Hernandez, they have learned a lot about the capability of the radar on this mission. They will look at ways to make the radar lighter, he told us.
“Safety is our #1 concern,” added Hernandez. “We’ve always had that as #1 on our list—to ensure that people are protected.”
The US Embassy says that “the testing team on the ground conducts daily coordination with the Belize Civil Aviation Authority to ensure safety during the evaluation of the system and ensures that no test flights occur over populated areas.”
Hernandez told our newspaper that all had been going well before Saturday’s accident.
Just before the mission was dispatched to Belize, the foreign media had reported that one of the Hummingbird planes had crashed in California. Hernandez had told us back in August, when we queried the issue, that while a 30-day suspension of tests is generally invoked by Boeing (the producer of the craft) after a crash, to investigate the cause and make rectifications, the airline company has determined that “...it wasn’t a fault of the aircraft.”
Belize was the first overseas site for the testing of the UAV, which has no cockpit and is manned via controls at the ground station.
According to both Belize and US officials, it was the Government of Belize that invited the US to conduct the tests in Belize.
Hernandez said that this week was scheduled to be the last for the 45-day mission. There would not be enough time within the 30-day window during which the flights are suspended, to resume the Belize mission, he added.
According to Hernandez, the plane, which is reparable, is valued US$3 million to US$5 million and the FORESTER costs an additional US$1 million.
He said that there was no damage to the runway.