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Aviation: At war with drones

Orville Wright wrote: "When my brother and I built and flew the first man-carrying flying machine, we thought we were introducing into the world an invention which would make further wars practically impossible." He believed that aircraft would enable opposing sides preparing for conflict to monitor each other, removing the possibility of a surprise attack and rendering wars pointless. How naive that view appears now.

Since then another seemingly innocuous piece of airborne technology has been developed - the drone. They might be seen as rather benign too, and indeed they became very popular with surveyors, photographers and enthusiasts. But the technology was adopted by the military and as the devices became more capable they were used to conduct reconnaissance and mount autonomous combat strikes. Drones were used in a war today - at Gatwick. It doesn't matter whether the protagonist was anti-aircraft noise, a supporter of radical measures to reduce climate change, or just wanted to create chaos and cause economic damage. It was a war against air travel.

War against aviation

After staff saw drones in the airspace above and around Gatwick on Wednesday evening, London's second busiest airport was shut down for more than 24 hours on a peak travel day just before Christmas. By 20:45 on Thursday reports claimed there had been more than 50 sightings. By that time 657 flights had been cancelled and the festive travel plans of thousands had been ruined. The armed forces have been brought in and are using a "unique military capability" to help resolve the situation. Once the skies are finally cleared of the aerial menace, it will take days to clear the backlog of passengers.

Unauthorised drones caused the complete closure of the airspace around London's second busiest airport on December 20.

The devices have been used selectively, maybe even strategically - they appeared, the authorities attempted to counter the threat, then they disappeared again. Then once things calmed down, more popped up along the perimeter fence or hovered over the runway. It suggests those involved could see what was happening on the airfield, and might have been working with operators concealed further away. This smacks of a planned and coordinated strike designed to cause as much disruption as possible for as long as possible.

Have larger, commercial-style drones, been used in the Gatwick attacks?