Britain’s Next Air Disaster? Drones review – the threat is terrifyingly real

In the wake of an assassination attempt and the three-day drone calamity at Gatwick, action man Aldo Kane explores the latest anxiety to add to our ever expanding list

There is a programme on the Discovery Channel called MythBusters whose presenters and producers, I have long thought, must be among the happiest people on Earth. Their raison d’être is taking things people reckon are true and examining whether they are.

Can a handgun held incorrectly – MythBusters is an American production – really blow off a man’s thumb? Let’s construct man‑hands out of chicken parts and wire and see … Boom! Yes, it can! Can gaffer tape be used to mend a boat leak? Well, not only can it fix a leak, my friends, but you can construct an entire boat out of the stuff and put it successfully to sea. When testing whether a stick of dynamite tossed in a cement mixer is the best way to get rid of the layer of building-glue therein, why not set off 390kg (850lb) of military-grade explosives inside a 15-metre-thick layer of concrete, too? Again, in slow motion, for the cheap seats!

For a flagship science documentary series, Horizon’s latest instalment – Britain’s Next Air Disaster? Drones (BBC Two) – hath drunk surprisingly deeply from the MythBusters well. The presenter, Aldo Kane (a former Royal Marines commando and sniper, now an all-round action man and high-risk adviser to the kinds of people and companies who need to be advised on high-risk things – and sporter of a beard so vigorous it should have had separate billing), has all kinds of fun. He gets to see gelatine packages (mimicking birds) fired into aeroplane wings; smash up a drone – or “unmanned aerial vehicle” (UAV), if you are so minded – and fire its parts at another one; shoot a rifle all over the Lake District; and get to grips with something called Leonardo’s Falcon Shield, a name that shall be writ on a lake of testosterone and fire by a pen made of testicles.

This is all to investigate how much danger this new technology poses, in the wake of Gatwick’s three-day drone incident, during which 140,000 passengers on 1,000 diverted or cancelled flights were royally spragged after reports of the unmanned little buggers being seen near runways. What can we do about the people who would rather use these ever faster, ever cheaper devices not for delivering urgent medical supplies, going into disaster areas too unsafe for people to enter, dropping off new hardbacks and kitchen appliances at people’s homes or otherwise adding to the sum of human happiness and progress, but for frustrating the pursuit of the peace and safety in which we had once hoped to live?

Kane does his due diligence, duly and diligently. Drone pilots show him how far, fast and accurately a UAV can be sent anywhere, while experts testify that it can be done by operators hidden 1,000 miles away. The sharp metal drone parts he smashes up and fires off do far more damage to a plane than bird mush does – and there were 125 near-misses in 2018. Drone manufacturers’ pledges to install new collision warnings won’t – believe it or not – stop the drone operators for whom colliding with planes is the whole point. Ditto planned legislation for users of drones weighing more than 250g to be registered with the Civil Aviation Authority.

Meanwhile, we watch footage from August 2018 of an attempted assassination by drone of Nicolás Maduro, the embattled Venezuelan president, which shows how easily geofencing – which is used to keep drones operating within a certain perimeter – can be hacked, and why shooting tiny things out of busy skies with bullets that can still kill people on their way down is sub-optimal.

For all the boys-with-toys overlay, the programme’s underlying message is sober and devoid of histrionics. The problem is that it all adds up to less than the sum of its parts. Yes, there is this threat and that threat, and these possibilities, and these loopholes in current defences against them. But despite Kane’s assertions that various things are “terrifying”, there is too much distance between the evidence and the threat to induce much emotion.

Whether this is the fault of the show or the fact that most of us are maxed-out, terror-wise, by clearer and more present dangers to factor in a new one is hard to say. Personally, I am at a point where worrying about drone strikes feels like a luxury my mental health can’t afford. But it is on my list now. As soon as a space opens up, I will start. Thank you, Aldo; thank you, Horizon – I think.


Lucy Mangan

The GuardianTramp

Related Content

Article image
Equator review – a big new beast in the nature TV world
It may lack the opulence of David Attenborough’s output, but the first part of Sky’s new series about the marvels of the natural world is hugely informative – and very fun

Stuart Jeffries

09, Aug, 2020 @8:00 PM

Article image
The Truth About Alcohol review – it’s still not especially good for you, shockingly
A genial A&E doctor experiments on himself and others to tell us things we already know. Plus: The Catch, an insubstantial but addictive thriller

Sam Wollaston

27, May, 2016 @6:20 AM

Article image
The World According to Putin review – sex, lies and state-approved videotape
This surreal look at Russian TV showed a foreigner-bashing propaganda machine in full swing – just the thing to distract from a nation in chaos

Stuart Jeffries

30, Oct, 2019 @11:00 PM

Article image
Is Uni Racist? review – disturbing accounts of discrimination on campus
Linda Adey’s documentary considers the piecemeal response of higher education providers to race-related incidents, and explains why some students are afraid to speak up

Lucy Mangan

28, Apr, 2021 @10:25 PM

Article image
Louis Theroux: Life on the Edge review – 25 years of oddball odysseys
This new four-part series sees the documentary maker revisit the highlights of his long and varied career, from cornering hucksters to run-ins with neo-Nazis

Lucy Mangan

06, Sep, 2020 @9:00 PM

Article image
63 Up review – documentary marvel makes all other reality TV look trivial
Michael Apted’s groundbreaking seven-yearly series returns, seeming more dreamlike than ever as it follows its subjects into retirement and beyond

Lucy Mangan

04, Jun, 2019 @9:00 PM

Article image
Wednesday’s best TV: Britain’s Lost Waterlands, Versailles; Boy Meets Girl
Jolly boating weather round the Lakes, the Broads, and Suffolk; King Louis’s palace construction is stopped by the mob; Leo gets a job offer in London. Plus: the final episode of Power Monkeys

Graeme Virtue, Andrew Mueller, Hannah Verdier, Jack Seale, Phil Harrisonand David Stubbs

06, Jul, 2016 @5:20 AM

Article image
Richard Hammond Builds a Planet; No Fire Zone – TV review
Sam Wollaston: The Top Gear-ification of everything on TV continues, with lots of pointless footage of our titular hero firing machine guns and zooming around in helicopters

Sam Wollaston

04, Nov, 2013 @7:01 AM

Article image
Hotel India review – an insight into the terrifying levels of ennui among the rich
BBC2's tour of daily life at Mumbai's luxury hotel promised a glimpse of a unique world – but just served as PR puff for a place where the guests come across as people you would want to avoid at breakfast

John Crace

28, Aug, 2014 @6:00 AM

Article image
Growing Up Gifted review – some hope amid the classism and cruelty
In the first of a second series, we witnessed six above-averagely intelligent teenagers continuing to battle the effects of poverty and nonconformity

Lucy Mangan

18, Feb, 2019 @10:00 PM