A United States Navy drone wandered into restricted airspace early this month around Washington D.C. before operators could stop it. A Navy spokesmen could not say later if anyone on the ground was alarmed by the drone — officially an MQ-8B Fire Scout Vertical Takeoff and Landing unmanned aerial vehicle — which looks like a small windowless helicopter, and was flying at 2,000 feet. The Navy said the drone got within 40 miles of Washington before operators were able to re-establish communication and guide it back to its base in southern Maryland. The incident resulted in the grounding of all six of the Navy’s Fire Scouts as well as an inquiry into what went wrong. The Navy is calling the problem a “software issue” that foiled the drone’s operators. Navy spokesmen said the Fire Scout, made by Northrop Grumman, was a little more than one hour into a test flight operating out of Naval Air Station Patuxent River on the Chesapeake Bay when operators lost its control link. The drone then flew 23 miles on a north-by-northwest course to enter Washington’s restricted airspace. A half-hour later, the Navy spokesmen said, operators re-established control and the drone landed safely back at Patuxent.

Earlier this year, unmanned aerial vehicles patrolling along the Canada-U.S. border were taken offline for a period of time after a similar so-called “software” failure.

Pentagon accident reports == mostly from war zones -- reveal that the pilotless aircraft suffer from frequent system failures, computer glitches and human error. It is estimated that each crash incident can cost between $3 and $5 million.

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