Drone Hits Plane, Pilot Claims

A pilot claims a drone hit his British Airways Airbus A320 passenger plane as it approached London's Heathrow Airport on Sunday. There were 132 passengers and five crew on board. No injuries have been reported, and the plane was cleared for its next flight.

Photo Caption: British Airways planes at Heathrow Airport in Londo. (Photo Credit: Steve Parsons/PA)

“On average, only 3 percent of reported small-bird strikes ever result in damage, compared to 39 percent of large-bird strikes,” Eli Dourado and Samuel Hammond said in their report.

Considering that there are some 27,000 daily commercial aircraft flights in the US, in 25 years there have been only 37 incidents of wildlife strikes causing injuries or death.

“In 2014, there were 13,414 reported collisions with birds and flying mammals, counting incidents in which flocks of birds hit an aircraft as a single collision,” the researchers noted. “As there are on the order of 10 billion birds in US airspace, this means that plausibly one bird in 1 million collides with an aircraft every year.”

The George Mason study did acknowledge that there’s a lack of data on exactly what kind of damage a small drone can inflict on an airplane because turbines are only tested to see how they’ll handle bird strikes. However, a recent study conducted by Virginia Tech’s College of Engineering says 8-pound drones would have “devastating” effects if sucked into the turbofan engines of commercial aircrafts.

Computer-simulated tests showed an 8-pound drone would rip apart the fan blades of a 9-foot diameter turbofan engine during take-off in less than 1/200th of a second. Furthermore, the tests discovered that drone debris thrashing about inside the engine could reach speeds 715 miles per hour and could lead to catastrophic engine failure.

Chesley “Sully” Sullenberger, who safely landed a plane on the Hudson River in 2009, says a drone will cause a plane accident.  “We’ve seen what a six-pound or an eight-pound bird can do to bring down an airplane,” Sullenberger said on “Face the Nation,” referencing the cause of the Miracle on the Hudson. “Imagine what a device containing hard parts like batteries and motors can do that might weigh 25 or possibly up to 55 pounds to bring down an airplane. It’s not a matter of if it will happen. It’s a matter of when it will happen.”

He also says that because drones continue to fall in price and are easy to get, people will “do stupid, reckless, dangerous things with abandon.”

“I’m heartened that the aviation and the legal authorities have raised the penalties for doing these things. Unfortunately, the essential element that’s still missing is the certainty of prosecution because it’s been difficult to catch them in the act. This must stop,” he says.

About the Author

Steve Crowe · Steve Crowe is managing editor of Robotics Trends. Steve has been writing about technology since 2008. He lives in Belchertown, MA with his wife and daughter.
Contact Steve Crowe: scrowe@ehpub.com  ·  View More by Steve Crowe.


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