DroneDJ has spoken with the journalist who reported that a drone came in close proximity with Air Force One earlier in August. He told us what he saw, why he believes it was a drone — and what has happened since then.
The incident happened August 16, as Air Force One was returning Donald Trump to Washington. The specially modified aircraft is bristling with special security features designed to keep the aircraft safer than a standard passenger jet. In addition to Trump and key staff (including Secret Service agents), members of the press corps are often on the plane to report on Trump’s day-to-day activities. That was the case on Sunday, August 16. One of those on board was a reporter with AFP, Sebastian Smith. While the jet was on its approach for landing, Smith saw what he firmly believes was a drone.
He broke the news right after the flight landed.
There wasn’t much more information available about the incident. Another reporter, Bloomberg‘s Jennifer Jacobs, also Tweeted about the incident:
What did Sebastian Smith see?
The next news was that the Air Force was going to investigate the incident. But we thought it would be worthwhile to loop back to Smith and ask him some questions about what happened late that Sunday afternoon. We submitted a series of questions. The first was where Smith was sitting: He had a window seat near the tail.
What did you see?
First I just saw a yellow object. I thought my eyes were playing tricks. I looked harder and it was still there. It had a kind of X shape. I know part was yellow. I have no reference point to say the size other than that at the speed we were going [the smaller Air Force One in descend mode], I could see it quite clearly, so it was not bird size; but neither was it anything massive.Sebastian Smith, AFP
How close do you estimate this was?
I have no reference point other than to say that I could see it well. It seemed really quite close. I have only ever seen other planes from airplanes and they are huge objects that seem quite far away. This was presumably quite small and yet seemed close.
Did it appear to be close to colliding?
No, it was below and slightly to the right of the plane, so more parallel than in line.
Why do you believe it was a drone?
It wasn’t a distant plane; it wasn’t a bird; the X shape stood out.
How many others saw this? Any names you can provide?
I only know that the person by the window in front of me, a Secret Service agent, turned around and said ‘did you see that’? He also said he thought his eyes had been playing tricks, which was amusing.
As mentioned, Smith noted the color scheme:
Yellow isn’t the most common colour for a drone. But it’s not the most uncommon color either. Here’s what a quick Google Image search turned up:
Plus, of course, many third parties offer skins that can change the look of a stock drone:
A day after the incident, word came that the Air Force would be investigating. Specifically, some Air Force people who are responsible for the strip near Washington where Air Force One lands.
Conducting an investigation into an alleged drone sighting beginning a day or two after the incident isn’t an easy task. You can’t use a product like a DJI Aeroscope, for example, after the fact. It can only identify DJI products (and the location of the drone and pilot) while the drone is in the air. You can access radar imagery after the fact, but drones are often too small to show up. Even if investigators found a radar image, it will tell them only the location and trajectory of that drone — not what it was and who was operating it.
So you’d think interviewing witnesses would be the first step for any investigation, right?
We asked Smith if anyone from the Air Force or other official agency had contacted him to ask about what he saw.
We’re contacting the US Air Force today to see where the investigation stands. When we know, you’ll know.