Minneapolis was a lab rat for a radar system to detect drones/quadcopters at last year’s All-Star Game, the New York Times has revealed today.
The revelation of the operation by the Department of Homeland Security reveals how seriously the U.S. considers the threat from the small consumer quadcopters, as evidenced also by this week’s quadcopter foray onto the White House lawn by a drunken aviator.
“Operation Foul Ball,” the Minneapolis secret program was called. And it identified several quadcopters flown around Target Field during the game.
There was just one problem. It cost too much to operate the system and there was no way to stop the quadcopters even if the radar system spotted them.
But the drone detection system, which was considered one of the most advanced in the country and cost several hundred thousand dollars to operate for just that night, had no way of actually stopping drones from flying into the stadium. There was even confusion about whether one of the drones belonged to ESPN.
Confronted with the system’s cost and limitations, baseball officials decided not to use it for the postseason. But those officials had no warning before a drone hovered over at least one playoff game.
The National Football League will not say what type of system, if any, it will have in place at the Super Bowl in Glendale, Ariz., on Sunday, though the Federal Aviation Administration issued a warning this week that anyone flying drones over an N.F.L. game could be “intercepted, detained and interviewed.”
Late last year, the Federal Aviation Administration began including quadcopters in so-called Temporary Flight Restrictions — TFRs — during games where the stadiums have capacity of 30,000 or more. Aircraft are prohibited from flying lower than 3,000 feet within 3 miles of stadiums from an hour before games to an hour after.
But quadcopter operators often ignore the rules if they know them at all.
The problem with the system that was used at the All-Star Game last summer was that even after a drone was spotted on radar, security officials had to find its operator on the ground before the drone was maneuvered over the stadium.
Jeffrey B. Miller, the chief of security for the N.F.L., said that the league was increasingly finding drones at stadiums and that it had banned them from team properties before the season. In the past year, though, 12 drones have landed around stadiums on game days, he said.
Mr. Miller said the league had adopted protocols for what to do if a drone landed on the field during a game. He said that play would be stopped and law enforcement officers who specialize in explosives would be called to determine whether it posed a threat.
“It’s always been hobbyists or enthusiasts,” he said, “never anyone looking to do harm.”