Eagles are waging war against drones, knocking them out of the sky

Ten UAVs have been lost since South Africa’s Gold Fields, the world’s seventh-biggest gold producer, began operating the Trimble UX5 systems at its St Ives operations near Kambalda.

One crashed as a result of human error, while nine have been taken down by wedge-tailed eagles, which are known to have wingspans more than twice that of the 1-metre-wide UAVs.

The UAVs are constructed from foam and carbon fibre, and fly at an altitude of about 125 metres, reaching speeds of up to 92km/h.

Razor-sharp talons have turned the wedge-tailed eagles into what St Ives Mine surveyor Rick Steven calls “the natural enemy of the UAV”.

“Eagles are extremely territorial birds,” Mr Steven

“Seeing a UAV in the sky, obviously they consider it a threat and something that’s encroaching on their territory.”

THE DRONE FOOTAGE SURVIVED AFTER AN EAGLE ATTACK

Mr Steven told 140 delegates at the Australasian Institute of Mining and Metallurgy’s Open Pit Operators’ Conference in Kalgoorlie-Boulder yesterday the introduction of UAVs was the biggest step forward for surveying since global positioning systems (GPS).

The UAVs capture large-scale photographs, down to 2cm resolution, and computer-generated, high-detail contouring of mined areas that are incorporated into future plans.

Mr Steven, who considers drones a “derogatory” term for the UAVs because pilots must pass a five-day course to fly them, showed delegates at the conference a recent photograph of an eagle attacking a UAV mid-air.

“People couldn’t believe I was able to get such a good photo of an eagle airborne, but I didn’t … another eagle took that photo,” he said.

“I was flying the tailings dam out at St Ives and I was getting attacked by two eagles simultaneously.

“I know the eagle loves to fly on thermals. Because they’re a big heavy bird, and the more thermal activity there is, the easy it is for them to fly. Thermals activate during the hottest part of the day — which is why we’re flying first thing in the morning now,” he explained.

“That’s been really successful. So if we fly first thing, say 6:30 a.m., we can get our flight done. Modus operandi on site; if I see an eagle in the air, I call off the flight.”

For future commercial drone operators that happen to be sharing the air with a watchful eagle, you have been warned.