Department of Great Lakes and Energy employee Hunter King was busy piloting a mapping drone high above Lake Michigan, his fourth flight of the day. When the drone’s cell signal faltered King decided to cut the flight short rather than risk a crash. The drone’s demise, however, would not come from a signal error…
Eagle pictured unrelated to this story; the eagle in question is on the run and could not be reached for comment.
It was July 21st, 2020. Department of Environment, Great Lakes, and Energy employee, Hunter King, was standing on the shore of Lake Michigan near the city of Escanaba in the Upper Peninsula. He was not there to sightsee, at least not from ground level. King was busy piloting a mapping drone high above Lake Michigan, his fourth flight of the day. About seven minutes into this mission, however, the drone’s cell signal faltered and rather than risk a crash King decided to cut the flight short. He hit the “Return Home” button and the drone began flying back to the landing site and safety. Unfortunately for King, however, the drone’s demise would not come from a signal error.
King was idly watching the feed from the drone, now on autopilot, when something struck it from above with incredible force. Nobody actually knows exactly what happened over the next 3.5 seconds but the incomplete black box recordings sent to King over the course of that final landing provide some clues. First, the video feed began spinning wildly as the drone lost navigation and started veering randomly. Then its speed dropped as the excessively polite AI pilot calmly reported “excessive spinning”. The AI then reported another 26 errors, including what we can only imagine as a rather stressed note to self that one of its propellers had been removed.
The attack happened so fast that King barely had time to register what was happening before his drone had already been swallowed up by the hungry waters of Lake Michigan. In shock, he looked up to see a Bald Eagle flying away from the scene. It is still unclear exactly what the Department of Environment, Great Lakes, and Energy drone did to anger its biological relative. Perhaps the eagle thought it had found its afternoon snack. Perhaps it was convinced it was defending its territory from a rival eagle, or maybe the bird was a passionate Scrabble player irritated by the use of an acronym.
Whatever the eagle’s motivation, King’s drone was lost to a watery grave. Despite having precise telemetry data indicating where it went down, government officials could not locate the wreck. Unable to save their fallen colleague, E.G.L.E. officials opted for the next best thing: they contacted the Department of Natural Resources to request that the offending eagle be officially reprimanded for its misconduct. The DNR responded that, unfortunately, only the legislature has the power to discipline individual critters, winged or otherwise, and that even if the legislature were to take action the eagle would still have the right to defend itself in court. In the meantime, hobbyist drone pilots will have to keep an eye out for this delinquent, and probably very smug, Michigan eagle.