Watch the Serious Damage a Drone Can Do to an Aircraft’s Wing

Oct 18, 2018

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Drones have been posing issues for commercial and recreational aircraft ever since their inception. Last year the Federal Aviation Administration released a report stating that drone strikes can cause more damage to aircraft than bird strikes.

Now, the University of Dayton Research Institute has provided more evidence of the serious harm these small plastic devices can do to a plane’s exterior.

A team of researchers at the school shot a 2.1 pound DJI Phantom 2 drone (a popular pick among hobby flyers) out of a cannon at a Mooney M20 prop aircraft’s wing. The drone was propelled at 238 mph — speeds that are consistent with a mid-air collision when an aircraft would be landing.

Video shows the drone ripping through the wing’s shell and bursting into pieces:

Wired spoke to Kevin Poormon who headed up the project, starting it because he was worried that as more drones take the sky, they’ll have a higher probability of hitting manned aircraft.

“It punctures a hole right through the leading edge,” Poorman said. “All the weight of the aircraft is suspended on the spars… If you damage the spar enough on that side, you would not, um, survive. The aircraft would crash.”

While a Mooney M20 is just a tiny four seater aircraft and not up to the safety standards of large commercial airliner like a Boeing 737 or Airbus A330, Poorman says the M20’s “structure and thickness of its wings resemble those of what you’d find on a bigger passenger plane.”

Poorman also shot a simulated bird composed of gelatin at the aircraft’s wing. And while it made a big impact, the fake bird didn’t create as deep of a hole or cause any internal damage.

“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,” said Poorman in a blog post. “But there is little to no data about the type of damage UAVs [unmanned aerial vehicles] can do, and the information that is available has come only from modeling and simulations.”

Commercial aircraft have had multiple collisions and many more near accidents with drones over the last few years. The FAA recently implemented a new way for drone fliers to notify air traffic controllers if they’re flying nearby airports.

Featured image courtesy of University of Dayton / YouTube.

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