Understanding the Damage Small Drones Can Cause to Airplanes

Source: ainonline.com

One example of how technology continues to improve can be seen in the development of drones.  Whether they are being utilized for military, business or entertainment, improvements have occurred over time in how they are manufactured, their size, speed, distance and more.  However, these marvels of technology can put airplanes and others at risk, which is why it is important to understand how a small drone can cause damage to airplanes.

Source: scientificamerican.com

Size is not as Important when it Comes to Aircraft Collisions

The norm has always been that size does matter when applied to various topics. One would think this would also apply to collisions with aircraft as the bigger an object is, the more damage it can cause while the opposite would occur the smaller an object is.  When it comes to aircraft collisions, size isn’t as important as one might think.

This was the focus in a recent article by Aisha Hassan on the Quartz website, in which smaller drones can cause more damage to an aircraft than one might presume.  According to impact tests performed by the University of Dayton Research Institute, even drones that are small can tear open the wing of a large airplane.

Supporting their research, they directed a 2.1-pound DJI Phantom 2 quad-copter drone in the flight path of a civil aviation aircraft.  The Mooney M2O was traveling at a speed of two-hundred-and-thirty-eight-miles-per-hour as the drone impacted its wing; this mimics a genuine mid-air collision.  Although many would speculate that the small drone would have shattered on impact, it damaged the spar (known as the main structural framework needed to support the wing) and bore a hole within the wing.

Earlier this year, both the video evidence and the results were originally shown at the Unmanned Systems Academic Summit.  Kevin Poormon, the group leader for impact physics at the University of Dayton Research Institute said in a press release that though the quad-copter had eventually broken apart, its energy and mass hung together to create significant damage to the wing.      

Reports of Drones Striking Aircrafts Prompted the Research

Some would scoff at the research by saying the likelihood of a drone striking an aircraft today is remote as well as not cause significant damage.  Nevertheless, it was reported last October that a commercial airplane in Canada had a drone hitting its’ wing.  Another report mentions that in December, the same incident occurred in New York but with a US Army Blackhawk helicopter; both the airplane and helicopter safely landed. 

Finally, there was a helicopter crash that occurred this past February in South Carolina is suspected as being the first drone-related crash within the United States.  The combination of these reports is what prompted the test to be conducted by the University of Dayton Research Institute.

Source: petapixel.com

Poormon stated that they’ve performed bird-strike testing for 40 years, and we’ve seen the kind of damage birds can do. Drones are similar in weight to some birds, and so we’ve watched with growing concern as reports of near collisions have increased, and even more so after the collision last year between an Army Blackhawk helicopter and a hobby drone that the operator flew beyond his line of site.