Lightning Strikes Again

Lightning likely caused an MQ-9A Reaper to crash in a remote part of Afghanistan in May 2015, Air Force Special Operations Command investigators found. The remotely piloted aircraft was assigned to the 27th Special Operations Wing at Cannon AFB, N.M., but deployed to Kandahar International Airport when it was inadvertently flown into a thunderstorm, according to the abbreviated investigation report. After takeoff, four crews operated the RPA for 10 hours without incident, but a fifth crew encountered developing storms in a new area of operations, according to the report. While attempting to leave the area, the pilot mistakenly flew the aircraft into rapidly growing clouds. After nine minutes, the RPA stopped responding, took a sharp descending left, and then crashed with its payload of four missiles. A direct or near lightning strike is believed to have caused the system failures and loss of control because a quick-flash whiteout was seen on the RPA’s video feed, and the immediate failure of the aircraft’s redundant systems is consistent with previous known or suspected strikes. Loss of the RPA is estimated at $12.9 million. There were no fatalities or damage to private property.