As drones continue to explode in popularity, there have been more and more stories of operators flying way too close to airplanes. Now new research is revealing just how much damage a direct drone strike would do to an airplane’s wing.
The test was designed to mimic a midair collision between an airplane and a drone at 238 miles per hour. Scientists launched a 2.1-pound DJI Phantom 2 quadcopter at the wing of a Mooney M20, a small piston-powered, propeller-driven airplane.
What the scientists found, and what the video shows above, is that the drone doesn’t shatter on impact. Instead, it tears a gaping hole into the leading edge of the wing that damages its main spar (the primary structural member of the wing).
Here’s a longer report on the research by Aviation International News:
“We wanted to help the aviation community and the drone industry understand the dangers that even recreational drones can pose to manned aircraft before a significant event occurs,” says research leader Kevin Poormon. “But there is little to no data about the type of damage UAVs can do, and the information that is available has come only from modeling and simulations. We knew the only way to really study and understand the problem was to create an actual collision, and we’re fully equipped to do that.”
The scientists also did simulations of bird strikes, which caused similar damage. While the birds did more apparent damage, the drone actually penetrated deeper and did more damage to the internal structure.
As larger and heavier drones are getting ready to take to the sky en masse (e.g. for drone package delivery), Poormon says that the government could improve safety by doing things such as requiring drones to be built more frangible (i.e. shatter more easily on impact) and for weight limits to be imposed.
Update on 10/23/18: DJI is calling for UDRI to withdraw the article and video, calling it “misleading.”