Amazon delivery drone malfunctions, sparks 25-acre fire

Occurred: June 2021

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An Amazon Prime Air delivery drone on a test flight crashed into a field in eastern Oregon in June 2021, setting on fire 25 acres of wheat and dealing a blow to the company's already stuttering drone programme.

According to a report by the US Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), the drone's motor shut off as it moved from an upward flight path to a level one, with two safety features failing - one that is meant to land a MK27 drone during an incident, and another that stabilises it

The drone flipped upside down and tumbled 'in uncontrolled free fall until it contacted the ground.' This was followed by an 'intense lithium battery fire quickly [that] consumed the aircraft' and resulted in a 25-acre bushfire.

According to Bloomberg, Amazon Prime Air drones crashed five times in four months in 2021 at the company’s testing site in Pendleton, Oregon. These included a crash in which a drone had lost its propeller, which the FAA was unable to investigate as Amazon had reportedly cleaned up the wreckage before the regulator arrived on the scene.

And a March 2023 Insider report claimed Amazon tried to put off federal investigations into its drone crashes by claiming that it had the authority to investigate its own crashes, according to federal documents obtained through an FOI request. The FAA responded by saying the agency is able to investigate aircraft crashes when it decides it is necessary to do so. 

Amazon responded to the Oregon field fire crash by saying that it's drone test flights have never injured or harmed anyone. 

Operator: Amazon/Prime Air
Developer: Amazon/Prime Air
Country: USA
Sector: Transport/logistics
Purpose: Deliver products
Technology: Drone
Issue: Accuracy/reliability; Robustness; Safety; Environment
Transparency: Governance; Marketing

Page info
Type: Incident
Published: May 2023
Last updated; December 2023