Five Questions About… the Gatwick Drone Conspiracy Theorists

One Droney Boi.

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22 February 2019, 10:50am

Photo: Gabriel Garcia Marengo, via Flickr / CC By 2.0

Now we are far enough away from it – from the carnage, the chaos, the heightened atmospheric fear of Terror, the ruined Christmases, the frantic interviews with frayed travellers, hair bent and flattened from catching a rough sort of sleep on the laminate sofa-chair of the airport lounge – now we are far away from the immediacy of it, I think we’re allowed to say that the Gatwick Drone Incident (G.D.I.) was extremely, extremely funny. Like: I know thousands of people were inconvenienced. Millions of pounds were lost. A lot of people had to subsist on airport sandwiches while they queued interminably for a re-booked flight. But. Fucking hell. That was funny.

With hindsight comes mania. It has been 64 days since a drone briefly hovered and buzzed above Gatwick Airport. In the time since, we as a nation have: actually blamed the wrong couple for the incident via a number of newspaper front pages; raided the same couple in the early hours of the morning with the full might of the police force; quietly apologised to that couple about the newspaper thing and the raid thing; realised that not a single photo or video of the drone hovering above Gatwick exists, leading police to declare they were exploring the idea that there was never even a drone in the first place; put a 50-officer task force on finding out what happened to the drone (on the proviso that it even existed) two months ago; not really found anything out. And now, as The Times reported yesterday, we are into the conspiracy era: sources inside Whitehall have suggested that the G.D.I. was an "inside job" and certain tics and movements of the drone (should it have ever existed in the first place) suggest it was piloted by someone with intimate knowledge of Gatwick Airport. To whit: a disgruntled current or ex-employee.

I should announce this now: I am a Gatwick Drone Incident Ultra. I am simply in love with the fact that someone fucked Gatwick up with basically the same Christmas present your brother has already got bored of, and that hundreds of hours of police time have been poured into investigating whether it even happened at all. I will never not be delighted by this. Never! I will never not love the Gatwick Drone Incident! I think we should recreate it for Christmas every year, like a tradition! They tried to shoot it out of the air with snipers and they fundamentally failed! With snipers!

Anyway: now the conspiracy has burst forth, now the dust has settled, now we have some distance from it, I simply have: some questions—

IS THIS THE MOST BRITISH CRIME EVER?

I would posit that the G.D.I. – which, to recap, was the time a drone gently floated around Gatwick Airport for a bit, was witnessed by 90-odd people but not a single one of them took a photo of it, and as a result the entire airport was shut down and thrown into chaos for a number of days, because again a drone floated quite mildly through it – was arguably in the same vein as classic old school British crimes like apple scrumping and Agatha Christie train-murders. British crime always has a certain element of quaintness about it – like those old lads who drilled into the jewellery safe, or those ones who used a digger and a nailgun to try to steal some diamonds from the Millennium Dome – compared to, say, our American cousins, whose crimes always involve a firearm and someone bleeding out of the neck. If an American wanted to fuck with an airport it’d still be on fire by now. Instead, ours shut down because, essentially, "someone was irritated by a quiet buzzing". Raiding the wrong couple – one of whom barely even knew what a drone was, but was still somehow fingered for the crime like a sophisticated drone-centric mob boss – was just the Union Flag-print cherry on the whole British sundae.

WE NEVER REALLY TALKED ABOUT HOW GOOD IT IS THAT YOU CAN SHUT DOWN AN ENTIRE AIRPORT WITH WHAT IS ESSENTIALLY A CHILD'S TOY

It is still extremely excellent that someone shut down Britain’s second-largest airport by flying what is essentially a child’s toy through it, a little bit like evacuating St Pancras by honking too hard on one of those plastic trumpets, or threatening Old Trafford with an electric train. Yesterday, Dublin Airport was shut down in a similar drone-related non-attack – like, I do viably see how a drone might be considered a major security threat, especially if it might be equipped with a camera that could be used for intelligence collection or spying – but also, come the fuck on. Drones are essentially just pigeons with propellers on them. A jet engine would chew one of those up in a second. How on earth do we keep shutting down airports with them?

HOW DO YOU INVESTIGATE A DRONE?

I am mildly delirious at the idea of a 50-strong intel force putting on rain coats and robust boots and stomping around on the runways of Gatwick in the drizzle and just squinting up at a small void area a few feet up from the ground and being told: "Yeah, it was sort of… there." The drone was there, allegedly, and then it wasn’t, and now over two months later people are still scratching their heads about it. I mean, it’s not like a drone leaves DNA, is it? It’s not like someone left a shopping list on the outskirts of the Gatwick fencing, reading "BUY: DRONE BATTERIES, DRONE, BALACLAVA, MAP OF GATWICK AIRPORT". Unless historic radio signals leave ghostly little patterns and outlines on heat-sensitive satellite maps, and I’m pretty sure they don’t, there’s not really a lot to look at, is there? Just post a police officer up in the middle of the Toblerone section of Duty Free with a clipboard asking everyone, "Did you see a drone?" Pathetic.

DID THE DRONE ACTUALLY EXIST LADS OR WHAT

I am at the point now where the only acceptable answer to The Riddle Of The Gatwick Drone is that the police have to make a grave podiumed announcement that no, the drone never existed, and sorry, to everyone who was upset by the drone. The longer and closer I look at this, the more I think someone imagined a drone – a drone out of the corner of their eye, maybe, a flap of an animal that might have moved in something close to a drone-shape, some strange pack-mentality hallucination that made everyone in a departure lounge think they saw a drone – and that this whole, long, wild, expensive ride has been because someone forgot to put their long-distance glasses on and got confused by the movement of a bat. Until someone who allegedly saw the drone goes on Newsnight or something and gives a solemn witness account, I will simply not believe the drone ever existed. The drone is a fantasy, a psychological quirk something akin to the Mandela Effect. We all misremembered a drone being there when there wasn’t one.

CONSIDERING THE APPLICATION OF LOW-LEVEL DRONE WARFARE IN NORMAL LIFE

All I could think about when news of the G.D.I. broke was: what carnage could I, a moron, cause with a similarly-sized drone? I could fly it around and scare neighbourhood cats, sure, but what else could I do: terrorise a branch of Pret by flying my drone in from a distance and using a rudimentary clipper device affixed to the bottom of it to grab and steal breakfast egg baguettes? Fly it into a nightclub and use it to tip bottles of champagne over into the crotches of those banker lads who always book tables? Maybe I could use a drone to float ominously around a mid-to-low level British celebrity – Peter Andre, for example – until he gets really angry and tries to down it with a rock? Drop a single human turd on Downing Street? Interrupt the final at Wimbledon?

Remember that Gatwick Airport – one of the tightest civilian security zones in the entire country – couldn’t really deal with a drone flying about it a bit, and that includes after they recruited snipers to down it. There is nowhere else in Britain you cannot render chaotic by flying a drone vaguely near it. We need to weaponise this. I want to make it so Britain is constantly on high alert for pesky drone terror. Make every business in the country regret not investing in a big stick-on-a-net.

@joelgolby has a book out