EGLE-Eye

America’s animal rep didn’t take kindly to a government drone in its airspace

From the “too perfect” category this week: A Michigan bald eagle outfoxed a government drone and made clear who’s airspace the natural habitat belonged to.

And, as The Verge’s Kim Lyons pointed out, the story is not short on irony in a year seemingly oblivious to it; the drone’s acronym was ‘EGLE’…denoting the back end of Michigan’s Department of (E)nvironment, (G)reat (L)akes, and (E)nergy. Even that department wasn’t lost on the humorous connection despite its thousand-dollar loss:

“The brazen eagle vs. EGLE onslaught took place near Escanaba in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula on July 21,” the MDEGLE said when it first reported the incident August 13. “EGLE environmental quality analyst and drone pilot Hunter King was mapping shoreline erosion for use in the agency’s efforts to document and help communities cope with high water levels. King had completed about seven minutes of the mapping flight — his fourth of the day in the area — when satellite reception got spotty. He pressed the “Go Home” recall button. The drone dutifully turned, reacquiring a strong satellite feed. King was watching his video screen as the drone beelined for home, but suddenly it began twirling furiously. “It was like a really bad rollercoaster ride,” said King. When he looked up, the drone was gone, and an eagle was flying away.”

A nearby couple confirmed the eagle sighting, but was unaware of the drone “victim”. Both King and the couple said the eagle appeared uninjured as it flew from the scene of the crime, according to MDEGLE’s report.  For what its worth, animals of all species have a history of not taking kindly to their automated counterparts, especially when it comes to invasion of space:

The drone, which MDEGLE says is a $950 Phantom 4 Advanced that is no longer in production, will be replaced with a similar model.

Data from the flight records detailed the drone’s final moments:

  • The eagle strike occurred 7:39.7 into the flight roughly four-tenths of a mile from King and 162 feet above the water
  • Its speed instantly dropped from 22 mph to 10. Within a half-second the flight record shows the beginning of downward spiral along with “excessive spinning” warnings
  • In the next 3.5 seconds the drone sent 27 warning notifications including one indicating a propeller had been torn off
  • Gaining momentum as it fell, its last communication came at 34 feet above the water, falling at 30 feet per second, or 20.4 mph.

“The attack could have been a territorial squabble with the electronic foe, or just a hungry eagle. Or maybe it did not like its name being misspelled,” the report continued, hilariously. It might be that the species is trying to retain a foothold on its resurgence, as eagle populations have been recovering lately in Michigan: A 2019 U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service survey showed 849 active nesting sites In Michigan, up from a low point of 76 nesting sites in the 1970s.

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