The Air Force said the number of crashes involving Predator and Reaper drones has been going up because more of them are being used, the Los Angeles Times reported. The accident rate has been declining, however.
Investigators blame the crash rate partly on a rush to get the drones into use after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. While the Air Force had been using unarmed drones for several years, giving them the capacity for air strikes was new.
"It was never designed to go to war when it did," said Lt. Col. Travis Burdine of the Air Force Unmanned Aircraft Systems Task Force. "We didn't have the luxury of ironing out some of the problems."
Some of the electronics allowing ground operators to communicate with the drones was cobbled together in the early days of drone usage, with purchases from retail electronics stores. One drone crashed because it ran out of fuel and another because an operator confused two switches.
Retired Rear Adm. Thomas J. Cassidy Jr., now an executive at General Atomics Aeronautical Systems in San Diego, which makes the drones, said they spend much more time in the air than they did a few years ago.
"That's a lot of flying," Cassidy said. "Some get shot down. Some run into bad weather. Some, people do stupid things with them. Sometimes they just run them out of gas."