msnbc.com
updated 8/25/2010 10:00:02 PM ET 2010-08-26T02:00:02

An out-of-control Navy drone entered into restricted airspace around the U.S. capital earlier this month, according to media and government reports.

An unmanned Fire Scout helicopter — about 31 feet long and 10 feet high — was on a test flight when the incident occurred on Aug. 2, the Navy Times reported.

Some 75 minutes into the routine flight, Navy operations in Maryland lost control of the aircraft and it eventually wandered 23 miles on a north-by-northwest course into the restricted airspace surrounding Washington, D.C.

Operators were able to shift to another ground control station, get the helicopter under control, and return it to Webster Field in southern Maryland, according to a Navy statement. There were no injuries or damage to the aircraft.

After the incident, all six of the Navy’s Fire Scouts were grounded and an inquiry was started into what went wrong. The Navy called the problem a "software issue," The New York Times reported.

“When they lose contact with the Fire Scout, there’s a program that’s supposed to have it immediately return to the airfield to land safely. That did not happen as planned,” Cmdr. Danny Hernandez, a Navy spokesman, said.

The Fire Scout is designed as a surveillance aircraft that can take off from Navy warships. It has been used in the past for drug busts in Central America.

Incursions into the protected airspace around the nation's capital are not uncommon, according to the General Accounting Office, but most involve civilian aircraft.

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