Gang use drone to traffic drugs into Spain

Spanish authorities say the drone is a Chinese product, although they have not named its manufacturer.

It is a really large Vertical Take Off and Landing (VTOL) autonomous aircraft, with a wingspan of 4.5 meters, a payload capacity of 150 kilogrammes; and a flight altitude of up to 2,000 metres.

Over and above that, the drone can fly for a maximum of seven hours on a single battery charge, at speeds of 170 km/hour.

You could fall in love just looking at it, this perfect cargo drone to solve many a healthcare logistics problem in rural Africa.

Which is why it is too bad that this drone has come to light in such unflattering circumstances – it was seized by the Spanish police as part of a drug bust in Malaga province in the country’s Andalusia region.

According to police sources, the drone was being used to traffic drugs for an organisation of French dealers looking to establish their empire on the Costa del Sol. The gang would transport the narcotics from Morocco into the small town of Almáchar, whose isolated location might have attracted the interest of the dealers, as they could operate unnoticed.

But the gang’s luck ran out last week, as its members were caught in a sting operation, which led to the seizure of the drone as evidence. The operation began last month when the region’s Drugs and Organised Crime Unit (UDYCO) detected the French gang, who were also being tracked by police in their home country.

Four people were arrested in the operation – three in France and a fourth in Almáchar. In total, 30 kilograms of marijuana and 55 of hashish were found during the operations in Spain and France.

With its combined capacity for long range flights and a staggering carrying capacity, the drone’s potential to smuggle illegal drugs is huge, according to Antonio Rodríguez Puertas, the chief inspector in charge of UDYCO in Málaga.

“We’ve never seen a drone this big used for this purpose,” Pedro Luis Bardón, from the National Police’s airborne resources unit, told Spanish media. “There were some precedents, but not like this. This is the biggest one ever found in Spain.”

And the aircraft was not even made for this; the €150,000 bird had all the electromagnetic communications software and hardware to make sure that it would be detected and tracked on radar, which was why the police finally caught it red handed.

When the police found it, the drone had been dismantled and was being kept in a house doubling as storage for the siphoned drugs.

At first glance, it looks like Fly Dragon’s Fly 380 drone, which is normally fitted with industrial-grade aerial survey and inspection ground station software.

(Well, it is not a Fly 380, as we reported earlier. Our apologies to Fly Dragon for that. It just looks like a Fly 380. But actually, the drone is a Mugin 4450 which, according to its manufacturer, is a much larger, heavy-duty drone that runs on gas power.

An improved version of the same model, the new 4450 now has VTOL capacity and an enlarged wingspan (from 4500mm to 4620mm). 

“We have also changed the main material from balsa wood to fiberglass and carbon fiber,” the manufacturer says. “The fuselage and booms are made of carbon fiber. Much stronger and more durable.

“The Mugin 4450 is an exceptionally large aircraft designed for professional use and can be equipped with a full system of advanced control electronics to run in sync with the most advanced ground stations. With a 27L fuel tank, its payload can be up to 25kg. This plane can get most anywhere, and preform most any job related task you may require.”

You can bet that when they added that last statement, the Mugin people had no idea their product would be used to smuggle narcotics some day.

The built-in equipment ensures that the drone can fly autonomously. While in the autonomous flight mode, which also enables autonomous cruise and autonomous landing, it also supports automatic route planning for 1000 waypoints and emergency standby plan for 100 waypoints.

El Pais reported that the drug gang was flying the drone using an electronic system that relayed the exact take-off and landing points, and used waypoints – places during the flight where it had to change course. It could also be flown using remote control.

“Technology makes our lives easier, but it also ends up in the hands of the bad guys,” said the Málaga police chief, Roberto Rodríguez Velasco. “They innovate and we have to do so too.”

Given that the police were convinced that the gang had no professional training to use this type of aircraft, they posed considerable danger to other air traffic, even passenger planes.


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