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Any responsible drone enthusiast knows that flying a drone near an airplane is something you should never, ever do. Even if you live in one of the few countries where flying near an airport is still legal, doing so puts the lives of pilots and passengers in danger – and will almost certainly destroy your expensive drone, too. Even as debate about drone regulation rages on, we at Dronethusiast hope we can all agree that this sort of reckless piloting is pointlessly dangerous.

Having said that, it’s human nature to be curious. We’ve all wondered at some point what would happen if such a collision did occur. And now we know, thanks to a simulation created by researchers from the University of Dayton. The video below explains everything you need to know about the project, as well as showing the crash footage we know you all want to see:

To date, there hasn’t been a major collision incident between a recreational drone and an aircraft. But researchers have spent years studying several different forms of theoretical collisions. What happens if a drone crashes into an airplane’s nose? Or gets sucked into an engine?

Most of these studies have been theoretical or are achieved using computer simulations and 3D modeling. But the test shown above was conducted in the real world by loading a DJI Phantom 2 into a cannon at a speed of 238 miles per hour, which would be the approximate speed of the impact if it happened in a real sky. This is the same setup that has been used to test bird impacts for many years (using a gelatin mold with the proper consistency instead of a real animal, naturally.)

The result? As described by Kevin Poormon, Distinguished Research Engineer and Group Leader for Impact Physics at the university: “It [the drone] completely penetrated, and it was buried inside the wing. You see a hole in the leading edge…the main spar is dented, there are several fasteners that are pulled from the bar [in] the wing skin, there’s some stringers that were bent, there’s also some tubing inside that was also bent. So, uh, there was a substantial amount of damage to the wing.”

Poormon then goes on to say that this airplane probably could have survived this impact, but that a plane traveling faster would have experienced even more serious wing damage and may have been forced to crash. Unsurprisingly, the drone itself was completely destroyed.

The DJI Phantom 2 was chosen, according to the video, because “it’s a very popular recreational drone.” Now, we all know that the Phantom 2 hasn’t been a hugely popular model for a few years, outclassed by the Phantom 3 and the most recent Phantom 4. However, it makes sense for this experiment – the researchers can use something that’s the same approximate size and shape as the most popular drone of 2018 without paying the Phantom 4’s 1,200 dollar asking price.
One of the most significant findings of this experiment was that the drone dealt much more damage than a (fake) bird of the same weight and size. The bird only caused damage to the exterior, while the drone buried itself in the wing and took out some internal supports. This is because bird flesh separates on impact and acts as several small projectiles, while the Phantom 2 held together enough to impact the wing as a single heavy object. Think about the difference between throwing a handful of gravel and throwing a brick.

Poorman’s suggestion at the end of the video is that recreational drones should be made in such a way that they seperate on impact like the birds do. This would be the best-case scenario for airplanes, but it might cause problems for drone enthusiasts like us. One of the most important things to consider when buying a drone is how durable it is – we want to purchase a vehicle that will last for a long time and which can take a few crashes without shattering into a dozen pieces.

The clash between safety and recreational drone use is an ongoing conversation – and one that we think is important to have. What do you think? Should we be building drones that self-destruct on impact, or is the threat to airplanes a non-issue? Were you surprised by the crash shown in the video? Let us know in the comments and be sure to weigh in!

There are 4 comments:

  • MARK J JONES at 9:12 pm

    I appreciate that it is difficult to do a real-world test of a Phantom hitting the leading edge of a wing. However, this test isn’t even close to what would actually happen when a plane, moving at 238 MPH, approaches a slow moving drone. The flow of air over the wing would alter the impact significantly, as the the drone would move with the air over or under the wing creating a glancing blow. I submit that a direct hit at the leading edge would be very unlikely in the real world. That said, nobody should be flying around airports in the flight path of the jets. But this test should not be used to influence whether and to what extent drones should break apart on impact.

  • ronald kenney at 11:40 pm

    I’ve been a pilot and an Airplane owner for 35 years.I don’t believe the small drones would bring down any plane that’s under 250 knots..though if one were to land into a jet engine it would be problematic…If one was hit Jett engine the other jet engine should make enough power to continue on a safe flight…and if the Drone hit a prop engine the proper more than likely is chew grown up and spit it out…pattern altitudes in most airports are 1500 AGLit is also for a private plane to fly lower than a thousand feet AGL above a crowded city is illegal…I also have two drones that I fly for personal use…first time a drone brings down a private plane and kill somebody the FAA will require drones to have transponders…..that will kill a lot of fun for drone people must be very expensive….I haven’t bought a transponder in years but I think that there around 3 to $4,000 in a plane….and no one in a private plane can fly over a City without a transponder the FAA will follow you and take you to jail…’m sure that someday that the drones will have to have transponders in them and they will probably cost $10,000

  • Miguel Ribeiro at 11:07 am

    we know that drones are dangerous, but the facts are different. Just do a google search on images “bird strikes” and you can see without a dough that birds “in real world” could in fact damage also the interior of an airplane.
    Also, this is the very worst situation. And It’s not the same a drone crashes into an airplane’s or a airplane crash into a drone. You will have forces that probably wont make a direct hit from the drone to the plane.
    See https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9othRA_CoRM

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