Safety Statistics of UAS in USAF

By Kyle Culpepper posted 27-01-2014 18:20

There has been recent discussion on the safety of UAS versus manned systems. The United States Air Force publishes safety data on all of their major airframes, both manned and unmanned. To understand relative safety, lets look at two pieces of data. First, looking at C4ISR platforms before and after the introduction of RQ-1 (Predator), C4ISR is a much safer mission, with only one lost life in the past 15 years.

Deaths From C4ISR Vehicle Accidents

Manned* Pre RQ-1


Manned* Since RQ-1



RQ-1, RQ-4, Q-9




* Includes U-2, E-3, E-4

Second, a good way to understand crash rates is to view the number of Class A mishaps ($1M+ cost, fatal or permanent total disability, or destruction of aircraft) against cumulative flight hours. Finally, we add in the U-2, a manned ISR airframe with similar total flight hours, and the F-16, another manned aircraft with a large number of flight hours. Data for other manned platforms exist, but most do not have equivalent number of flight hours.

Note that manned and unmanned aircraft are all trending downward similarly, showing the results of experience and continuous improvements. The Q-1 (Predator) lags behind other airframes, both manned and unmanned. This is not surprising given the Q-1 is the first mass used large unmanned airframe. Additionally, the Q-1 may be used in situations and environments that may be more dangerous than manned aircraft, leading to more mishaps. The more modern Q-4 and Q-9 are on par with manned airframes, showing that unmanned airframes can have accident rates similar to or better than manned airframes without the risk to crewmen.

All data derived from US Air Force Safety Center:




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