Russian Billionaire Abramovich Intercepted Drone From Droneworks Studios Co-Founder

Justin Oakes flew his drone toward Abramovich’s ‘Eclipse’ superyacht, finding it unresponsive before unidentified passengers attempted a confiscation.

byMarco Margaritoff| UPDATED Mar 20, 2018 10:25 AM

If you haven’t heard of Roman Abramovich, he’s a Russian billionaire who owns the Chelsea Football Club and is the primary owner of private investment company Millhouse LLC. If you have heard of him, chances are you’re well-aware of his Bond-villain image, complemented by the fact that he owns the second largest luxury yacht in the world. Well, last week, the co-founder of Droneworks Studios, Justin Oakes, reportedly had a close encounter with Abramovich’s private counter-drone system used to protect the yacht which Abramovich named "Eclipse." 

According to the DroneDJ blog, Oakes spotted the billionaire’s yacht while vacationing in the Caribbean and decided to pilot his DJI Phantom drone toward it. Suddenly, Oakes lost complete control of the UAV for several minutes, with his controller’s screen shutting off and the drone continuing to fly, whether on its own or according to a nearby anti-drone system’s commands. For someone as high-value of a person as Abramovich in the financial, political, and public sectors of the world, it’s fairly likely that these unexpected events were the result of a counter-drone system surely protecting the superyacht from unwelcome aerial intruders.

While it’s unconfirmed whether Oakes’ UAV was commandeered by someone else or had an odd malfunctioning of sorts, he attempted to regain control by shutting the controller off and back on, which resulted in a split-second signal recognition from the drone before vanishing again. According to Oakes, he then saw a figure on the Eclipse’s bow with an anti-drone device, and two others attempting to confiscate it. While Oakes still wasn’t receiving a visual signal from the UAV, he was once again able to steer it and quickly used the drone’s ‘Sport’ mode to fly it back home. 

Oakes posted a video explaining this bizarre event, with YouTube persona Casey Neistat who reportedly experienced the incident alongside Oakes, sharing the video via Twitter. 

We currently live in an era where the recreational drone industry is growing at a steady, hefty pace, with the counter-drone field making similar leaps. Whether or not Abramovich has a counter-UAS system that serves as part of his yacht’s security ecosystem is unclear - but it only makes sense. The billionaire is surely adamant about privacy like anyone else, but with much more to protect. The idea that billionaires would forego the protection of their airspace from the increasingly ubiquitous hobby (or surveillance) drone seems unlikely. It looks like Oakes did, indeed, unexpectedly experience a counter-drone system that left him unable to control his device.