Military Investigating Reports of Drone Flying Near Air Force One

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The official greeting party stand by on the flightline as the president, first lady and their family depart on Air Force One from Joint Base Andrews, Md., June 29, 2018. (Tech. Sgt. Robert Cloys/U.S. Air Force)
The official greeting party stand by on the flightline as the president, first lady and their family depart on Air Force One from Joint Base Andrews, Md., June 29, 2018. (Tech. Sgt. Robert Cloys/U.S. Air Force)

The Air Force is investigating whether a small drone flew close to Air Force One as it came in for a landing at Joint Base Andrews, Maryland, on Sunday, following President Donald Trump's weekend trip to New Jersey.

The 89th Airlift Wing, which oversees the base, said the incident is under review. "The 89th Airlift Wing's C-32A aircraft landed safely without incident," a spokesman said in a statement.

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Several passengers accompanying the president described seeing a small drone. Bloomberg News reported the drone was "yellow and black and shaped like a cross" and flew off the right side of the plane, a modified Boeing 757 used when an airport cannot accommodate the larger VC-25A aircraft.

"We came very close to hitting it, per [Agence France-Presse's Sebastian Smith], who had a window seat," tweeted Bloomberg's Jennifer Jacobs.

Defense against small drones has become an increasing priority for the Pentagon in recent years, especially as the systems are easy to obtain.

Some bases have already invested in defenses against small unmanned aircraft. For example, U.S. Strategic Command, which oversees the U.S. nuclear arsenal, and Air Force Global Strike Command last year began using "a command-and-control capability integrated with some detection and some jamming," according to Steve Wert, the Air Force's digital program executive officer, as reported by Air Force Magazine.

Part of the base defense role lies with Security Forces airmen. Last month, Lt. Gen. Warren Berry, deputy chief of staff for logistics, engineering and force protection, told reporters those airmen will soon need better tools to deter unmanned aerial systems (UAS), which aim to disrupt base operations or spy on aircraft.

"We're going to need to factor in, as we look to the future, [ways to] counter small UAS," Berry said during a Mitchell Institute Aerospace Nation event.

"That's going to be a demand signal on this course moving forward that we're going to have to really think through," he said, adding that the Air Force is charting solutions to "make sure that we have [airmen] resourced appropriately to execute that part of the air base air defense mission as well."

The service is coordinating with the Army-led Joint Counter-Small Unmanned Aircraft Systems Office, he added.

The office in June authorized seven of 40 proposed defensive countermeasures to be used to detect and destroy enemy drones.

-- Oriana Pawlyk can be reached at oriana.pawlyk@military.com. Follow her on Twitter at @Oriana0214.

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