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An Air Force drone crashed and caught fire in North Dakota field. Here’s what happened

The U.S. Air Force said the unmanned aircraft had been on its way back to Grand Forks Air Force Base and no one had been injured at the crash scene

An RQ-4 Global Hawk at Naval Air Station Sigonella, Italy.
Members of the 7th Reconnaissance Squadron prepare to launch an RQ-4 Global Hawk at Naval Air Station Sigonella, Italy. An RQ-4 Global Hawk crashed several miles outside of Grand Forks Air Force Base on Friday morning.
Staff Sgt. Ramon A. Adelan/U.S. Air Force via Associated Press

A unmanned military drone crashed several miles outside of Grand Forks Air Force Base on Friday morning.

A U.S. Air Force RQ-4 Global Hawk — a massive, remotely piloted surveillance drone with a 131-foot wingspan — crashed and caught fire in a field about 4 miles north of the North Dakota air base, the Grand Forks Herald reported.

  • The U.S. Air Force and several law enforcement agency were on the scene of the crash Friday, according the Herald.

In a press release Friday, the Air Force’s 319th Reconnaissance Wing said the RQ-4 Block 40 aircraft was returning to base when it crashed and that no one had been injured at the scene. They requested people avoid the area while it recovered and investigated the wreckage.

According to the 319th Reconnaissance Wing’s official Air Force website, the unit “provides rapid combat support through mission support functions, mobility preparedness, and continuous security to Grand Forks, U.S. Customs and Border Protection, and Cavalier Air Force Station located in Cavalier, North Dakota.”

  • U.S. Air Force Col. Jeremy Fields, vice commander of the 319th Reconnaissance Wing, said in a statement Friday that members of the military unit were at the site of the crash and that an investigation of the incident could take weeks.
  • “I’d like to personally thank local law enforcement, Customs and Border Protection and emergency services for their support on scene,” Fields said.

Unlike the lethal MQ-1 Predator and MQ-9 Reaper drones that have found infamy during the global war on terror, the unarmed Global Hawk is a surveillance and communications aircraft.

Northrop Grumman, creator of the RQ-4, advertises that the drone can fly at high altitudes, up to 60,000 feet, and can stay airborne for more than 30 hours.