For those nervous fliers among us, when the plane begins to make its final descent, we tend to relax a little and believe that nothing could possibly go wrong at this stage. However, with more and more drones being flown recreationally (and sometimes to cause intentional disruption, allegedly), there is always the possibility that one of these tiny but potentially hazardous flying objects can hit a plane and disrupt its descent.
While there have been no reports of such an event occurring, the risks are increasingly present, and for those involved in the aviation industry, they want to know just how much damage an aircraft can be expected to sustain if it collided with a drone.
Simulated collision between aircraft and drone:
Scientists simulated a collision between a drone and an airplane by launching a small quadcopter from a cannon at 283 mph straight into the wing of a small aircraft. What they saw happen, shocked them. The drone was smashed into a few pieces, but its energy and mass stayed together to cause damage to the wing that could only be described as ‘significant’.
When you watch the video back, you can clearly see the tiny 2 lb drone be absorbed into the wing, yet still cause the leading edge of the wing to be ripped open, and on its trajectory inward, it damages the spar of the wing. Now this spar is a vital structural element of the wing that helps to keep it stable, and when the scientific team conducted a similar experiment using a fake bird, while the hole it created in the wings leading edge was larger than that cause by the drone, the crucial spar was left unharmed.
Just how important are the spars on a planes wing?
Pretty important, is the short answer! The entire weight of an aircraft is suspended on the wing spars, and if one of them became significantly damaged, there is little chance that the aircraft would be able to maintain its flight trajectory, causing it to crash.
While the experiments carried out by the scientific team were on a small aircraft that seats four people, the thickness and structure of its wings are not dissimilar to those on a larger passenger jet.
What is the risk of a plane being struck by a drone?
With the increased popularity of drones, and a rise in the number of incidents in which drones have been spotted and recorded flying in restricted areas, the risk of an airplane colliding with one is very real. The FAA (Federal Aviation Administration) recently reported that pilots came within a short distance of unmanned aerial vehicles, no fewer than 800 times, with some of the sightings resulting in close calls that could have had devastating consequences.
While some drones may be flown in restricted areas for erroneous purposes, most incidents occur when the pilot isn’t aware that they’re breaking FAA rules and regulations. An increase in UAV regulations could help reduce these incidents, along with drones that are designed to shatter upon impact.