Plane Mysteriously Takes Off Without Pilot, Flies Over a Mile Before Crashing

An unmanned plane in Nebraska flew for around a mile and a half—traveling as high as 200 feet in the air—before crashing into a cornfield in Merrick County.

The vintage aircraft—reported to be a 1941 Piper model, according to Nebraska's Lincoln Journal Star—mysteriously took off with apparently no one aboard from the runway of the Central City airport at around 7:30 p.m. local time on Tuesday while it was undergoing maintenance, the Merrick County Sheriff's Office said.

The plane flew out of control while a technician went to check his work during the maintenance, according to Merrick County Sgt. Jake Bauer.

There were no injuries reported from the crash. The scene was cleared by the Federal Aviation Administration and the National Transportation Safety Board, according to the sheriff's office, which posted images of the damaged 80-year-old plane.

Bauer explained the plane is a simple aircraft with no automatic starter or key ignition. It needs to be propped by hand to get started. The engine could easily rev up to a level that would not allow the pilot to catch the aircraft, he added.

The Piper J-3 plane was first built in 1937 and "remains one of the most recognized designs in aviation," according to the Smithsonian's National Air and Space Museum.

"The Piper J-3 earned fame as a trainer and sport plane. Its success made the name 'Cub' a generic term for light airplanes.

"The little yellow tail dragger remains one of the most recognized designs in aviation. J-3 Cubs and subsequent models are still found at fields around the world," the museum explains.

Back in 2019, an unmanned aircraft controlled by a remote pilot crashed during a demonstration flight at the Goodwood Aerodrome of the West Sussex county in the U.K.

The Alauda Airspeeder Mk II aircraft climbed to around 8,000 feet, "entering controlled airspace at a holding point for flights arriving at Gatwick Airport," before crashing into a field of crops after the pilot lost control of it, according to a report by the U.K.'s Air Accidents Investigation Branch (AAIB).

The aircraft's safety "kill switch" was operated but had no effect and the aircraft crashed after its battery had depleted.

The audience of 200 guests were instructed to "take cover" at the time of the incident, which saw no injuries.

The AAIB report found that "the Alauda Airspeeder Mk II was not designed, built or tested to any recognisable standards and that its design and build quality were of a poor standard."

The report warned: "There have been many other similar events where control of an unmanned aircraft has been lost, resulting in either it falling to the ground or flying away. Even a small unmanned aircraft falling from a few metres could cause a fatal injury if it struck a person."

Piper PA28 aircraft France 2006
A Piper PA28 aircraft seen flying over a freeway in Nailloux, France in November 2006. On Tuesday, a pilotless Piper J aircraft in Nebraska flew for around a mile and a half before crashing into a cornfield in Merrick County. Lionel Bonaventure/AFP via Getty Images