US Air Force C-32A (80001), captured by Kentaro Iemoto and used under CC BY-SA 2.0

On Sunday night passengers aboard Air Force One (AF1) spotted a small object, resembling a drone, flying in close proximity to the right of the plane as it was making its final descent. President Trump, First Lady Melania, and their son Barron were all on board. The modified Boeing 757 landed without incident at Joint Base Andrews in Maryland but White House military officials have opened an investigation into the sighting.

Described by witnesses as yellow and black, and shaped like a cross, the unmanned aerial vehicle nearly collided with AF1 as it was making its final descent. The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), which receives thousands of reports, annually, regarding drones operating in restricted areas and close to manned aircraft, referred questions on this particular incident to the U.S. Air Force. Its 89th Airlift Wing along with the White House Military Office stated they were 'aware of the report' and the 'matter was under review,' according to Bloomberg.

Most civilian drones weigh only a few pounds and aren't capable of taking down an airliner. However, government research reveals that a similarly-sized bird is could potentially destroy a jet airliner's engine or shatter its windshield. The FAA does not permit flight above 400 feet (120m) unless a remote pilot has obtained their Part 107 certification (in the U.S., similar laws apply in most other countries) or has acquired a special waiver.

As we reported back in December 2019, over 1.5 million drones have been registered in the U.S. and 8,700 incidents of unmanned aircraft flying too close to planes have been reported to the FAA. Of those reports, two collisions between a drone with a helicopter and a hot air balloon have been confirmed by the National Transportation Safety Board. Remote ID, the concept that all drones need a digital license plate, took comments from the public through March of this year.

'Remote ID technologies will enhance safety and security by allowing the FAA, law enforcement, and federal security agencies to identify drones flying in their jurisdiction,' said U.S. Transportation Secretary Elaine L. Chao. The rulemaking is currently in development and is expected to be finalized by the end of this year.

Update (August 18, 2020 at 5 PM ET): The original version of this article incorrectly had the modified 747 as the header image when it was in fact the modified 757 plane that was involved in this incident.