Did an Explosive Drone Mistakenly Make It Onto a Delta Flight?

May 17, 2018

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A former employee has accused drone manufacturer AeroVironment of transporting an explosives-laden drone onboard a commercial flight.

Mark Anderson, a former security chief at AeroVironment, alleged that in late April 2015, at least one AeroVironment employee carried one of the company’s “Switchblade” military drones containing live explosives onboard a Delta flight from Salt Lake City (SLC) to Los Angeles (LAX). The employee had the drone in carry-on luggage, “risking the lives of approximately 230 passengers and innumerable civilians had the drone caused the plane to crash over a densely populated area.” The Switchblade is a small drone that can fit in a backpack and can be used to survey enemy positions and attack them by diving onto them and exploding.

An AeroVironment rendering of the Switchblade drone. Image courtesy of AeroVironment.

 

In a lawsuit filed with the California Superior Court on April 18 of this year, Anderson alleged that AeroVironment fired him after he discovered the incident and reported it to the US Department of Defense in May 2015. Anderson says that the company reprimanded him, stripped him of his responsibilities, and ultimately fired him without offering severance. Anderson also stated that every other employee involved in the incident was eventually fired or forced out as well, “in an apparent effort at damage control.”

Furthermore, the president and CEO, Wahid Nawabi, “pressured employees to mislead the government about ongoing security violations and mishandling of top-secret information,” according to research company Aurelius Value. Aurelius Value’s independent research estimated that more than 50 senior executives and employees have left AeroVironment since the alleged cover-up. 

According to the lawsuit, Anderson was a “highly commended employee of Aerovironment, and at one point managed security for all of the company’s top-secret government programs, including the ‘Switchblade’ drone program — an explosive-bearing model that was significantly smaller than most other unmanned weaponized aircraft in use.”

Image courtesy of AeroVironment.
A simulated image of the Switchblade drone in action. Image courtesy of AeroVironment.

 

Anderson’s lawsuit lists AeroVironment and Nawabi as the defendants, as well as “Does 1–20 inclusive” – presumably the other employees involved in his firing, whose names Anderson does not know. The complaint asks the court for a jury trial to evaluate damages from whistleblower discrimination; race discrimination; and wrongful termination.

Aurelius Value evaluated the lawsuit on May 17, stating that Anderson’s allegations against AeroVironment could disrupt the company’s partnerships with various government agencies, which comprise around 55% of the defense contractor’s revenue

TPG has reached out to both AeroVironment as well as Delta Air Lines for comment.

Featured image courtesy of AeroVironment.

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