Mystery as £20k 'spy' helicopter goes under cover in city

IT has patrolled war zones, dodging bullets as it gathers valuable intelligence for the US military.

But the first outing of the highly sophisticated Draganflyer X6 "spy" helicopter in the centre of Edinburgh has proved slightly more troublesome – because it has gone missing.

A search is now under way for the 20,000 state-of-the-art craft which disappeared after taking off from Princes Street Gardens – in the middle of the afternoon – at the weekend.

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Owner John Wallbank – who was one of the first in the UK to get his hands on the new kit and planned to use it to set up an aerial video and photography company – has launched an urgent appeal for information to secure its safe return, with a reward of 500 up for grabs.

Mr Wallbank, who lives in Marchmont, lost track of the satellite-guided helicopter, which is battery-powered and operated by a custom controller, while trying it out at around 3:30pm on Saturday.

Without the custom controller the Draganflyer X6 is useless to anyone who finds it, because the signal on the controller is encrypted.

The 37-year-old, who owns photocopying and design company, Copycat, on Edinburgh's Brougham Place, said: "The Draganflyer X6 locks on to 16 satellites, but because I was fairly inexperienced I put it into the sky before it had time to lock on to the satellites and it fell out of its flight path and was lost out of sight. There was also a malfunction with the GPS system.

"When it runs out of electricity it goes into a controlled descent and it would have been seen as it came down as each of its three corners has very bright lights – red, green and white."

He added: "It was declassified a year ago by the US military who devised the product and used it for five to six years for reconnaissance missions. This allowed the manufacturer, Canadian company Draganfly Innovations, to sell the product to police and private individuals like myself."

Mr Wallbank said the Draganflyer X6, which is fitted with a variety of cameras including low light and infrared, was perfect for aerial photography.

He said: "It's a brand new product – it only became available in the UK four months ago – and I wanted to approach wedding companies, roofing companies and golf courses to offer aerial photographs.

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"It has everything on it as far as gadgets and gizmos go. Where a full-size helicopter would only be able to fly up to 500 metres above the highest building, this thing goes up to 7km before it loses communications with the ground. It's very versatile and easy to manoeuvre in small spaces."

The Draganflyer X6 is used by the emergency services in America to take aerial photographs of crime sites or accident sites.

Mr Wallbank has reported the six-rotor aerial vehicle missing to Lothian and Borders Police, but as yet no-one has come forward with information.

"I thought it came down near the castle but it wasn't there, then I realised it actually came down at the west side of Charlotte Square," said Mr Wallbank.

Mr Wallbank purchased the black carbon fibre Draganflyer X6 from Air2Air in London, which is now licensed to sell the product in Europe. It was the only Draganflyer X6 in Scotland and one of two in the whole of the UK.

He added: "It's quite possible that someone has lifted it. There is also the distinct possibility that it could have come down on a rooftop. It's really down to the general public in Edinburgh. Hopefully the cash incentive being offered will be sufficient enough for them to do the right thing."

Anyone with information should e-mail Mr Wallbank on [email protected]

Parliament's in a flap as hawk disappears

THEY were called in as the Scottish Parliament's latest weapon in the battle against the pigeons which have plagued the building for years.

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But six months after recruiting birds of prey to patrol the skies above Holyrood, parliament bosses have announced: "One of our hawks is missing."

A six-month-old Harris hawk called Tweed disappeared earlier this week.

A parliament spokeswoman stressed there was no danger to the public, but she said: "If anyone sees this hawk, it would be great if they could let us know."

Officials initially feared the hawk might be dead, but yesterday there were reports of a possible sighting on Arthur's Seat.

Pigeons have been a persistent problem at the 414m Scottish Parliament building since it opened in 2005. MSPs complained about the birds nesting outside their windows and even getting into the building, as well as the unsightly build-up of pigeon droppings.

Thousands of pounds were spent fitting wires, spikes and nets to various parts of the complex in a bid to keep the birds away.

Parliament bosses at first rejected calls to bring in birds of prey to try to stop the pigeons colonising the building. But just over a year ago they changed their minds and negotiated a 44,000 three-year contract with NBC Bird and Pest Solutions to use hawks and falcons.