Science and Tech


Analyzing how a U.S. reconnaissance drone was downed

Authorities have released video that gives clues about where and how Russian jets collided with a U.S. surveillance drone.
Posted at 6:42 PM, Mar 16, 2023

Examining details of footage showing the downing of a U.S. reconnaissance drone sheds some light on the encounter and where it happened.  

Video of the incident over the Black Sea was released by U.S. European Command.

According to the Pentagon, it shows two Russian SU-27 fighter jets approaching the back of the MQ-9 Reaper drone, dumping fuel as they zoom by. 

U.S. officials say on second approach one of the Russian jets struck the drone’s propeller, forcing the pilot to ditch it in the sea. 

It’s a stark contrast to the account provided by Russia’s ministry of defense. Moscow claims the drone had its transponders off Russian pilots didn’t use any weapons and there was no contact with the U.S. drone. 

The video excerpt from U.S. European Command doesn’t show what happened leading up to the apparent confrontation or the actual collision between the plane. 

But here’s what we do know, looking at the footage a little closer. 

The end of the video clearly shows one of the propeller blades of the drone was damaged. You can see the damaged blade on the footage, as well as landmasses. 

Rescue crews help a motorist stuck in the snow at Willamette National Forest in Oregon.

Man uses drone to get help while stranded in snow

The man launched a drone with his phone attached after becoming stuck in a remote area that had spotty cell phone service.


Based on elevation data from a tool called PeakVisor, we can see that this matches up with a section of Crimea — so we have a rough idea of where the drone was before it went down. 

To get a more exact idea, we’d need some additional details — like how high the drone was flying or what kind of camera was used. The Pentagon is unlikely to release that info.  

The U.S. Air Force released a map showing where roughly it says the MQ-9 was when it was first intercepted by the Russian pilots, when it was struck, and where it crashed into the sea. It also noted the points on the map weren’t plotted to scale.  

We’ve seen other intercepts of U.S. aircraft over the Black Sea that the Pentagon has deemed "unsafe." 

While none of the aircraft involved in those incidents dumped fuel on the U.S. planes or clipped them, the Pentagon nonetheless labeled them as both unsafe and unprofessional. 

The MQ-9 Reaper drone has been in use by the U.S. for more than a decade. It’s used in both ISR-type missions — Intelligence, Surveillance, and Reconnaissance — as well as armed missions where it typically uses advanced Hellfire missiles.