Hazard Above: Drone crash database

Fallen from the skies

By Emily Chow, Alberto Cuadra and Craig Whitlock, Updated Jan. 19, 2016, originally published June 20, 2014.

Since 2001, the U.S. military has had a problem with drones crashing around the world. Last year, though, set a record for Air Force drone crashes. All told, 20 large Air Force drones were destroyed or badly damaged in accidents last year, the worst annual toll ever, according to a Washington Post investigation. Driving the increase was a rise in mishaps involving the Air Force’s most advanced “hunter-killer” drone, the Reaper.

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The 237 "Class A" drone crashes

According to accident-investigation reports and other records, since 2001 there have been 237 military drone crashes that were categorized as 'Class A' mishaps: accidents that destroyed the aircraft or caused at least $2 million in damage.

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A breakdown of Class A drone accidents. What type of drone, who flew it and where the accident occurred.

Crash numbers rising again

The number of U.S. military drone crashes climbed sharply last year, with the Air Force marking a record. Here's a breakdown of each crash by year and by branch of military service.

Accidents by year

A histogram of the drone accidents by year.

Not just in war zones

About one-third of the crashes occurred in Afghanistan, but nearly one-quarter happened in the United States during test and training flights. As the Pentagon deploys drones away from traditional combat zones, more accidents are occurring in Africa and other locations.

World map highlighting countries where U.S. drones have crashed.

MQ-9 Reaper

6 ft. man

to scale

55 feet

Air Force

The bigger, faster and more reliable successor to the Predator. It can fly as high as 50,000 feet and carry four Hellfire missiles, twice as many as the Predator. The Air Force expects to replace all its Predators with Reapers by 2018. The civilian version of the MQ-9 is called the Predator B.

MQ-1 Predator

66 ft.

Air Force

First flown in 1994, the Predator later became the first weaponized drone. Designed to conduct surveillance with powerful cameras and sensors, it can be armed with laser-guided Hellfire missiles. It often stays aloft on missions for more than 20 hours at a time and can reach an altitude of 25,000 feet.

MQ-9 Reaper

6 ft. man

to scale

55 feet

Air Force

The bigger, faster and more reliable successor to the Predator. It can fly as high as 50,000 feet and carry four Hellfire missiles, twice as many as the Predator. The Air Force expects to replace all its Predators with Reapers by 2018. The civilian version of the MQ-9 is called the Predator B.

MQ-1 Predator

66 ft.

Air Force

First flown in 1994, the Predator later became the first weaponized drone. Designed to conduct surveillance with powerful cameras and sensors, it can be armed with laser-guided Hellfire missiles. It often stays aloft on missions for more than 20 hours at a time and can reach an altitude of 25,000 feet.

MQ-1 Predator

MQ-9 Reaper

6 ft. man

66 ft.

55 ft.

to scale

Air Force

Air Force

First flown in 1994, the Predator later became the first weaponized drone. Designed to conduct surveillance with powerful cameras and sensors, it can be armed with laser-guided Hellfire missiles. It often stays aloft on missions for more than 20 hours at a time and can reach an altitude of 25,000 feet.

The bigger, faster and more reliable successor to the Predator. It can fly as high as 50,000 feet and carry four Hellfire missiles, twice as many as the Predator. The Air Force expects to replace all its Predators with Reapers by 2018. The civilian version of the MQ-9 is called the Predator B.

Select a drone crash to see details

Sources: Air Force, Army, Navy accident-investigation reports; Defense Department records; General Atomics Aeronautical Systems Inc.; Northrop Grumman Corp.

When drones fall from the sky

More than 400 large U.S. military drones have crashed in major accidents around the world since 2001, a record of calamity that exposes the potential dangers of throwing open American skies to drone traffic, according to a year-long Washington Post investigation.

How drones are controlled

Seven models of military drones are involved in the great majority of crashes. See how the ground-control station keeps in contact with the drone.