SANDF help recover crashed UN UAV in the DRC

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The South African National Defence Force (SANDF) has helped recover a crashed Falco Evo unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) operated by the United Nations Stabilisation Mission in the Democratic Republic of Congo (Monusco).

The aircraft (UN897) came down in Virunga National Park on 4 November but thanks to the deployment of a ballistic parachute, landed with minimal damage.

South African National Defence Force (SANDF) soldiers deployed with Monusco helped recover the aircraft, which was subsequently loaded into a net and transported by a South African Air Force (SAAF) Oryx helicopter back to Beni.

Lieutenant General Marcos de Sá Affonso da Costa, Monusco Force Commander, said on his official Twitter account that he was grateful to the military unit that facilitated the recovery of the aircraft.

“The drone was on a reconnaissance air mission when it developed a mechanical problem,” he stated.

This is not the first time Monusco has lost a Falco – on 20 October 2014, one of the aircraft crashed shortly after takeoff from Goma airport. Another was damaged in mid-January 2014 after it ‘slipped off the runway’.

The United Nations deployed five Falcos to Goma in December 2013 in the organisation’s first UAV deployment. After their first year of operations, they were described as proving themselves useful, giving Monusco a responsive, controlled, and timely source of information, particularly in terms of supplementing the force’s intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance efforts against the illegal activities of armed groups.

Thick forests, rugged terrain and the scarcity of roads on Congo’s eastern border with Rwanda and Uganda have complicated efforts by Monusco to control the area, and the addition of the UAVs means the UN can better monitor remote areas of the DRC and target rebel groups like the M23.

The UAVs have also saved lives – in May 2014, a Falco picked up images of people in danger after a boat capsized in Lake Kivu near Goma. Thanks to the alert, UN peacekeepers were able to intervene and 14 people were rescued, although at least one died.

The Falco is an unarmed, medium-altitude, medium-endurance UAV able to operate from semi-prepared airstrips. The aircraft has a range of 250 km which can be extended via optional upgrades.

The UAV has a 490 kg maximum take-off weight, including a 70 kg payload, and an operating endurance of up to 14 hours.

The larger Falco Evo, which first flew in 2018, has a payload capacity of up to 100 kg and an extended endurance of up to 18 hours. The Falco Evo replaced the smaller Falco in the DRC in 2019. Since 2018, the Evo has also been flying in Europe, supporting maritime surveillance, beginning with the European Frontex mission. Over 60 Falco UAVs are in operation around the world, according to manufacturer Leonardo (previously Selex).