The Washington Post

‘Stop saying ‘uh-oh’ while you’re flying': Drone crash pilot quotes unveiled

A drone crashed in Iraq on August 1, 2008. (Department of Defense)

Drones are often called unmanned aircraft. But there is a lot of human drama when they crash. Drone pilots and other crew members swear, scream and yell at their remote-control video screens when the aircraft fly out of control. Those moments are often captured by audio recorders in ground control stations. Here’s a sampling of that dialogue, according to transcripts contained in Air Force accident investigation reports:


“This thing’s kind of climbing like a pig. Climb, you pig. . . . Boy, this is going to be tight. . . .  Okay, interesting. We are falling out of the sky.”

Unidentified pilot of a Predator that crashed near Creech Air Force Base in Nevada on May 13, 2013.


“Drone just pitched up. Drone’s pitching over. Drone is uh, crashed and destructed, at uh, the end of the runway.”

Unidentified pilot of a chase plane that was following a QF-4E target drone before it crashed at Tyndall Air Force Base in Florida on July 17, 2013.


“What’s going on? Hang on! Hang on!. . . . Uh-oh! Shit! It’s spinning! . . . Okay, I think it just fell out of the sky.”

Unidentified pilot of Predator that crashed near Kandahar Air Base in Afghanistan on March 2, 2013.


“We’re in the soup here.  . . . Dude, uh, we’re not sure what the aircraft is doing.  . . . Yeah, we crashed.”

Unidentified pilot of an Air Force Reaper as it crashed in Douglas County, Nev., on Dec. 5, 2012.


“Stop saying ‘uh-oh’ while you’re flying. It’s never good. Like going to the dentist or a doctor.  . . . ‘Oops? What the f— you mean ‘Oops?’ “

Unidentified camera operator, to a habitually nervous Predator pilot right before takeoff at Jalalabad Air Base on July 24, 2012.

“Whoa. . . . I don’t know what the hell just happened.”

The same nervous Predator pilot, moments later, after the drone crashed.


“Holy shit! We got hit by a UAV! Hit by a UAV!”

Unidentified Air Force navigator of a C-130 Hercules transport plane that collided in midair with an Army RQ-7B Shadow drone in Afghanistan on Aug. 15, 2011.

“There’s a big frickin’ hole in the airplane.”

Unidentified pilot of the Hercules, moments later.


“Dude, look at this camera. Seriously, I can’t do anything. There’s nothing I can do. This camera is completely f—–. Like there’s something in the air. Yeah, dude, I literally have no picture right now. This camera’s like, completely messed up.”

Unidentified camera operator moments before his Predator crashed in the fog two miles short of the runway on May 17, 2011, in Djibouti, a country on the Horn of Africa where the U.S. military operates a large drone base.


“Where the hell is — where is the runway? It’s all the way over here. I overshot. Oh, shit. I think we lost the engine. Oh, shit, oh damn, oh my God, what is that? . . . What was all that stuff I just hit?”

Air Force Capt. Matthew Scardaci as his Predator crashed into a row of empty shipping containers at Kandahar Air Base on May 5, 2011.


“Holy crap, this is really spinning.”

Pilot of an MQ-9A Reaper moments before it crashed on Aug. 31, 2010, near Gray Butte Airfield in California.


“That’s freaking us!”

Camera operator for a Predator after the air-traffic control tower at Balad Air Base in Iraq reported seeing a burning drone that had just crashed on Aug. 16, 2010.


“I couldn’t tell which way it was turning, or if it was straight, if it was upside down, or if it was right-side up. . . . I couldn’t grasp what was happening with the aircraft. And he said he thought it was upside down.”

Unidentified Predator pilot to investigators trying to determine how and why she flew the drone upside down before it crashed near Kandahar Air Base on Jan. 15, 2010.

“Um, I guess I’ll just be blunt and say not well.”

The Predator pilot who flew upside down, when asked by investigators how well her training had prepared her for such an incident.


“As the plane was going down, all I saw were tents and I was afraid that I had killed someone. I felt numb and I am certain that a few cuss words came out of my mouth.”

Maj. Richard Wageman to Air Force investigators examining the crash of a Predator at Kandahar Air Base on Nov. 2, 2008.


RELATED: Read the Washington Post’s yearlong investigation on drones

Part two: Crashes mount as military flies more drones in the U.S.

Part one: When drones fall from the sky


Craig Whitlock covers the Pentagon and national security. He has reported for The Washington Post since 1998.



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