Drones Remain a Threat to Aircraft

Drone operators who claim their small machines represent no threat to manned aircraft are just plain wrong according to research recently released by the University of Dayton.

In a test designed to mimic a midair collision at 238 miles per hour, researchers in UDRI’s Impact Physics group launched a 2.1-pound DJI Phantom 2 quadcopter at the wing of a Mooney M20 aircraft.

Watch the test video

The drone did not shatter on impact, but rather tore open the leading edge of the wing as it bore into the structure, damaging its main spar. “While the quadcopter broke apart, its energy and mass hung together to create significant damage to the wing,” said Kevin Poormon, group leader for impact physics at UDRI.

“We wanted to help the aviation community and the drone industry understand the dangers that even recreational drones can pose to manned aircraft before a significant event occurs. But there is little to no data about the type of damage UAVs can do, and the information that is available has come only from modeling and simulations,” said Poormon, whose group has fired individual drone batteries, cameras and motors at metal panels. “We knew the only way to really study and understand the problem was to create an actual collision, and we’re fully equipped to do that.”

As the number of hobby drones in the air dramatically increases, so does the risk of a catastrophic event, Poormon said. “We’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.

Poormon said additional tests using similar and larger drones on other aerospace structures, such as windscreens and engines, would provide critical information about how catastrophic a collision would be. He and his team are hoping even this first test result will help bring awareness to the manned and unmanned aviation communities about the importance of regulations related to safe drone operating.

Comments 2

  1. Any drone operator who says a drone can’t be a threat to an aircraft is ignorant. I welcome the testing that has been and will be done.

    However, please keep in mind that there are responsible drone operators who would never fly their drone in an irresponsible matter. I have my Part 107 FAA Certification and fly responsibly.

    Please don’t paint all drone users with a broad brush and use the irresponsible comments and actions of some to pass onerous restrictions on all. The person who wrote this article responsibly qualified and limited their comments to address ‘those drone operators that claim’.

    There are now seven UTM (Unmanned Traffic Management) testing programs to integrate drones into the national airspace using a miniaturized form of ADS-B.

    There will always be those that do not use common sense and break laws. Let’s pass reasonable regulatory legislation and throw the book at those that violate those laws.

    However, in the process let’s not pass laws and regulations that restrict certified and responsible drone users from starting small businesses that contribute to search and rescue, law enforcement, agriculture, surveying, delivering emergency medical supplies, and those that provide other innovative services.

    Testing programs as described will help provide objective, peer reviewed data to guide legislatures as well as those in the manned and unmanned aircraft industries. Well done.

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    Author

    I absolutely agree Gordon. This entire debate reminds me of the laser-pointer problem. In the hands of the right people they are tiny, capable tools. In the wrong hands, especially those motivated by silliness, or pure stupidity, they can become lethal. I don’t understand why drones are sold with little or no written guidance to purchasers about the need to avoid manned airplanes.

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