A system to ward off illegally flying drones has been successfully tested at Hamburg Airport. A defense drone captured another drone over the airport with a net and brought it to a safe place on the ground, explained project manager Prof. Gerd Scholl on Thursday at the presentation of the system. The “Falke” project, which started at the end of 2019, is funded by the Federal Ministry of Transport with 2.1 million euros.
Once the development has been completed, the system should be usable at all German airports. “The Falke project, which we are funding, effectively protects airports from illegally operating drones. The first field test has impressively proven this,” said Transport Minister Andreas Scheuer (CSU).
Captured with nets
The Falke drone, which can reach speeds of up to 120 kilometers per hour, can detect objects in flight with radar and sensor technology and record them with a camera. Using a radio direction finder, it can also determine the approximate location of the operator of the illegally intruded drone. The data is merged with the help of artificial intelligence. If the chief of operations at the federal police gives the order to intercept, a net shoots out of the aircraft that surrounds the illegal drone. The captured object then hangs on a thin rope on the interceptor drone.
“Shooting” as in the military sector is out of the question because the area of operation is in a civil and mostly inhabited area. Trapping with the net prevents parts from falling onto the runway. In addition, the captured drone should remain intact in order to be used as evidence in criminal proceedings. The Falke device is equipped with two nets and can transport catches weighing up to eight kilograms.
Mostly toy drones
Between 2018 and March 2021, 27 cases were known in which drones entered the airspace of German airports without permission. Because of the dangers to safety, flight operations must be interrupted in such cases. In such cases, however, the probability is high that it is a toy drone and not a terrorist attack, said Scholl.
In addition to the Hamburg Federal Armed Forces University, the companies Frequentis Comsoft and Hensoldt Avionics as well as Hensoldt Sensors are also involved in the project. Also on board are the federal police, German air traffic control and Lufthansa, as well as the anti-terrorism coordinator in the Ministry of Justice and Security in the Netherlands.
Not tested in all weather
Of the dozen or so attempts to intercept over the northern end of the airport area, half worked on Tuesday and Wednesday, said Scholl. Further attempts on Thursday had to be canceled. Because of the windy weather, the authorities responsible for flight safety did not want to take any risks.
The name of the project, Falke, stands for “Ability to intercept small aircraft entering restricted airspace by civilian means”. A similar project is being developed in the United States, said Scholl. The German system is the most advanced in the world.