CASE STUDY: What happens when a Drone Strikes an Airplane?


SUMMARY: The number of near-miss events between manned and unmanned aircraft is escalating at an alarming rate. Expert believe it is only a matter of time before a serious mishap occurs.

PROBLEM: Near-misses between drones and airplanes are accelerating at an alarming rate. According to the FAA, 650 cases have been documented as of August 2016. The problem is global. An airliner narrowly avoided hitting a drone last month in London. The Dubai airport has been repeatedly shut down due to unregulated drone activity near it's flight paths. Experts believe it is just a matter of time before the first accident occurs.

SOLUTION: Researchers in the U.S. and the U.K. are scrambling for a solution to this growing problem. The first step in the process is understanding what is likely to occur if these two aircraft collide. Computer simulations and physical tests are helping to shed light on what could happen.Several studies are showing a potentially catastrophic impact, with drones taking on the form of "mechanical geese from hell when it comes to commercial and low-altitude helicopters." "Impacts from drones are not the same as impact of birds," says Javid Bayandor, associate professor and director of the Crashworthiness for Aerospace Structures and Hybrids (CRASH) Lab at Virginia Tech. "Birds can disintegrate relatively easily...you get something like a very viscous bulk of fluid on the other side" says Bayandor. "A drone can be like a rock going through the engine."

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