Drones Might Not Be Dangerous For Planes After All

Drones Might Not Be Dangerous For Planes After All

Drones getting sucked into the engines of aircraft is the defining nightmare scenario that has airports buying countermeasures, and the US FAA deploying an app. But what if a drone encountering a 747 wouldn't be as bad as everyone thinks? A new study uses data from bird strikes to try and model the frequency and severity of crashes we can expect from small quadcopters. Based on collisions with wildlife, the paper estimates we should see one damaging collision for every 1.87 million hours of UAV flight time. Incidents that cause injury or death are far less frequent than that.

Yes, drones are not birds, and a lot of the figures on the frequency of drone strikes in particular relies on some educated guesses. But ignoring everything else, a 2kg drone like a DJI Phantom getting sucked into the engine of an airliner (something that has not yet happened!) only results in injury 0.2 per cent of the time.

Based on those numbers, the FAA would be well advised to ignore the bogeyman of drone-to-aircraft strikes, and instead focus on the legitimate dangers involved with drones: hitting babies, cutting pop stars or causing idiots with shotguns to go hunting in a residential area.

[Mercatus via CIO]



    Ummm... pretty sure Wildlife dont have lithium ion battery packs that explode / errupt on piercing, hitting a large metal object going at flight speeds, or the speed of a propeller.

      Yeah, birds are often squishier than drones.

      Having wrecked more than my fair share of LiPo batteries in model aircraft, I can assure you that they don't explode or erupt when pierced. They generally just leak nasty fluid and release smelly gas. The only way I know of to make a LiPo battery explode is to over-charge it with too much current.

      Also, quadcopters are generally made of low-density materials like thin aluminium, carbon fiber and plastic, which would be relatively easily munched up by propellers and the like.

        I can assure you that you're wrong and I can assure you they easily catch fire quite dramatically when pierced, tried it myself a few years ago with a model plane battery pack and a nail. There are a zillion youtube videos showing this, here's just one https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gisdMQbtJqk
        You are 100% wrong.

          That video is not even close to replicating the conditions of what would happen during an aircraft strike, and isn't really relevant.

          In the video, they used a conductive 'spear' that's left in place after impact, and the resulting 'short' between cells inside the battery is what allowed heat to accumulate and eventually the chemicals caught fire. Doing this is a deliberate attempt to cause a fire.

          In that video, it took about 45 seconds for fire to occur - before that it was just sizzling and smoke...and you will note that it NEVER exploded. Not exactly volatile and highly dangerous - I wouldn't want it happening inside my house though.

          If you'd just hit the battery with a hammer or axe a couple times to pierce the cells, THAT would be a true simulation of an aircraft strike. And the result would be entirely different - the battery cells would be pierced by impact, the chemicals would quickly escape, some heat would be generated and the resulting debris would fall away from the aircraft. No explosion, and quite likely no fire either.

            I have witnessed lipos catching fire instantly on crashes from rc helicopters several times. Definitely not an explosion though and these batteries are typical a lot larger and higher voltage than on quads. Either way I agree that the lipo hitting an aircraft of the engine isn't going to be a problem, it's more the impact from mass at the high relative speed.

            Actually Klaw, to accurately simulate it you'd have to bas it with an axe and then chuck it into a couple thousand degrees of burning Jet Fuel, because that's where it's likely to end up, you know, through the blades, smashed up and then being further ingested into the combustion chamber!

      A battery exploding on a test bench may appear very dramatic. But, if you compare that to the amount of jet fuel exploding inside a jet engine every second, it is a minor pop. Any damage is more likely to be mechanical.

    most quads don't fly in the same areas/paths that birds do, so the likely hood of an accident would be far less than birds. I understand that you will have a few idiots that will fly their quads where they should not but birds have no idea that they are flying into a no fly zone.

    Considering that engine certification testing requires that an engine survives bird strikes by Simulating an engine flying into a flock of birds... And that simulation is actually frozen chickens, ducks and geese fired from an air canon.. I wouldn't be at all surprised if when a drone is flown into an engine in a similar simulated test stand qualification, there would be negligible difference to a frozen bird.

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