Send in the drones

dronesA UFO flying in the evenings over Sellafield has been baffling – and slightly annoying – residents.

Is it a bird, is it a plane, is it… Well, yes it is a plane. And thanks to the detective work of one of E2D’s board members we can reveal what’s been going on.

E2D treasurer Alan Francis called on the website Flightradar24 which enables you to monitor planes flying overhead and find out a bit more about them.

He said: “Over several nights I was able pick it up repeatedly setting off from the Liverpool area around 8pm , heading straight north up the coast towards us. It was identified as a Cessna 2098 Grand Caravan (!) flying at low altitude. It has a north American registration N682 AC.

“The pilot flies past the Sellafield site at about 3000 feet then turns left to complete a circuit of the site, before going round and round in big circles about a mile or two outside the works (which is a restricted airspace). I counted 20 circuits before I got bored.  Then at the weekend I was able to track it as it completed the last turn of the night and headed south. It eventually disappeared from the app as it was heading for Liverpool’s John Lennon airport just after midnight.”

His curiosity raised, he brought up the mystery when he visited the Moorside project stage 2 exhibition in Cleator Moor. One of the engineers meeting the people happened to live in the Wirral, so Alan showed him the photo and he ‘knew’ the explanation. He described a joint US UK investigation into security at vulnerable sites from light aircraft and drones.

He said they were keen to detect possible threats after dark. He told me to check out the Sellafield web site.

But Alan had occasion to later show the photo to another engineer who, it also turned out, ‘knew’ the explanation.

He said the plane would be taking air samples. Alan wasn’t going to give up that easily and checked the Sellafield website which, in its usually obscure and unhelpful language said: “An instrument testing exercise is currently under way involving aircraft passing over the Sellafield site.

“The exercise, which also includes ground monitoring work, is part of a joint UK/US development programme to test new monitoring techniques and covers the Sellafield site and its environs.”

Which of course reveals nothing – something Sellafield is quite good at.

So is it a test against drones, a test of air samples? Take your pick.

But probably both.