An MQ-8B Fire Scout, similar to the one shown above, crashed early June 21 while flying a reconnaissance mission over Libya, according to Navy and NATO officials. (Navy via AP)
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A Navy unmanned helicopter crashed while flying a reconnaissance mission over Libya on Tuesday, Navy and NATO officials said.
At 7:20 a.m. local time, the http://www.navy.mil/navydata/fact_display.asp?cid=1100&tid=2150&ct=1">MQ-8B Fire Scout, which was flying over Libya's central coast, lost contact with a command center and crashed.
It is unclear exactly from where the unmanned helicopter was being controlled, where it was attached, or where it flew from. The Navy referred inquiries to NATO. NATO would not provide details about the aircraft's origin or operators. NATO, for its part, would only say that it was an unmanned aircraft that crashed on the coast and that an investigation is underway.
NATO has been using such craft to build up a "knowledge base," according to an Operation Unified Protector spokesman. NATO has used "a number of intelligence, surveillance, [and] reconnaissance platforms ranging from the whole spectrum available" including drones, since the organization began leading operations March 31, Royal Air Force Wing Commander Mike Bracken said at a news briefing in Naples, Italy.
The crash marked the first military hardware loss since NATO took over operations, and it was the second time the U.S. lost an aircraft in Libya. An Air Force F-15 Strike Eagle crashed on March 21, when the campaign was led by American, British and French forces. Crew members safely ejected and were rescued.
There have been previous control problems with Northrop Grumman's Fire Scout. During an Aug. 2 test flight from Naval Air Station Patuxent River, Md. operators http://www.navytimes.com/news/2010/08/navy-uav-enters-dc-082510/">lost their communication link to the aircraft. The unmanned helicopter flew for around 30 minutes toward Washington before entering restricted airspace. While the aircraft was around 40 miles outside the district, operators switched control to another ground station and regained command of the aircraft before directing it to Webster Field in southern Maryland. Navy officials blamed a software problem but said they developed a fix.