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Museum Displays ScanEagle Drone Used in “Captain Phillips” Rescue

Small aircraft big hero in 2009 rescue of Maersk Alabama captain

SEATTLE – An historic ScanEagle drone aircraft used in a widely publicized hostage rescue mission – and the subject of the major motion picture, “Captain Phillips” – is now on permanent exhibit at The Museum of Flight. The 44-lb. aircraft is displayed with a collection of other historic “unmanned aerial vehicles” in the Museum’s Great Gallery. The Museum also has possession of the three shell casings from the Navy sniper bullets used to kill Capt. Richard Phillips’ captors. The casings will be placed on public display in November.

ScanEagle being launched from ship. Photo U.S. Navy.
ScanEagle being launched from ship. Photo U.S. Navy.
The Museum’s ScanEagle aircraft – Number 678 – was used by the U.S. Navy during its renowned 2009 rescue of Capt. Richard Phillips, who was held hostage by Somali pirates after the hijacking of his ship, Maersk Alabama. It was one of several ScanEagles that provided real-time intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance imagery that contributed to the Phillips’ rescue.

“ScanEagle fills a special place in the Museum’s collection of reconnaissance aircraft,” said The Museum of Flight Chief Curator, Dan Hagedorn. “The fact that this particular aircraft is a veteran of a significant, recent mission is especially valuable. It will help Museum visitors relate to the headlines of today, and with the plane’s location in the Museum’s Great Gallery, one will see in a glance how aerial surveillance has progressed from the massive Blackbird of the 1960s to the diminutive ScanEagle of today.”

Rescue from Pirates
On April 8, 2009, pirates boarded the American container ship MV Maersk Alabama off the coast of Somalia. Though the crew of the Alabama prevented them from gaining control of the ship, the would-be hijackers managed to abduct the ship’s captain, Richard Phillips.

The guided missile destroyer USS Bainbridge arrived on April 9 to assist the Alabama and its crew. The Bainbridge discovered that the pirates were holding Captain Phillips hostage as they attempted to reach the coast in one of the Alabama’s lifeboats.

Shortly after arriving on scene, the Bainbridge deployed this ScanEagle UAV to help provide valuable reconnaissance and gather data on the situation aboard the lifeboat. The four-day standoff that followed involved action by two more naval vessels and a team of Navy SEALS. The Alabama’s captain was eventually rescued after a team of three SEAL snipers killed the pirates holding Phillips hostage.

Insitu ScanEagle Information
The ScanEagle is an unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV), sometimes known as a “drone.” It was created by the Bingen, Washington-based company, Insitu, Inc., working in partnership with The Boeing Company. The compact aircraft is used primarily for military intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance (ISR) missions. Its special launch and recovery systems allow it to operate from remote, unfinished locations, making it ideal for use aboard ships and by military units in the field.

The first ScanEagles deployed to Iraq with the United States Marine Corps in 2004 and with the United States Navy the following year. There, they flew more than 50,000 combat hours by 2009. Today, ScanEagles also deploy with the United States Army and with several allied militaries. The Museum’s ScanEagle – Number 678 – deployed from the USS Bainbridge during the 2009 mission to rescue the captain of the MV Maersk Alabama after an attempted hijacking by pirates off the coast of Somalia.

Span: 10.2 ft. (3.1 m)
Length: 4.5 ft. (1.4 m)
Height: 1.7 ft. (0.5 m)
Weight, Loaded: 44 lbs. (19.9 kg)
Weight, Empty: 28.8 lbs. (13.1 kg)
Power Plant: One 1.9 hp (1.4 kw) 2-stroke engine

Top Speed: 80 knots (92 mph, 148 km/h)
Cruise Speed: 48 knots (52 mph, 84 km/h)
Ceiling: 19,500 ft. (5,900 m )
Endurance: 24+ hours

The Museum of Flight is located at 9404 E. Marginal Way S., Seattle, Exit 158 off Interstate 5 on Boeing Field half-way between downtown Seattle and Sea-Tac Airport. The Museum is open daily from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Admission is $18 for adults, $15 for seniors 65 and older, $15 for active military, $10 for youth 5 to 17, and free for children under 5. Group rates are available. Admission on the first Thursday of the month is free from 5 to 9 p.m. courtesy of Wells Fargo. McCormick & Schmick’s Wings Café is on site. For general Museum information, please call 206-764-5720 or visit