A video produced by the University of Dayton Research Institute shows in alarming detail what happens when a drone collides with a plane.
The test, which mimicked a midair collision at 238 mph, launched a 2.1-pound DJI Phantom 2 quadcopter into the wing of a Mooney M20 aircraft. Experts from UDRI’s Impact Physics group note that the drone did not shatter on impact, but tore open the wing’s leading edge, damaging its main spar.
“While the quadcopter broke apart, its energy and mass hung together to create significant damage to the wing,” explained Kevin Poormon, group leader for impact physics at UDRI, in a statement.
“We’ve performed bird-strike testing for 40 years, and we’ve seen the kind of damage birds can do,” Poormon added. “Drones are similar in weight to some birds, and so we’ve watched with growing concern as reports of near collisions have increased.”
Poormon also cited a collision between a hobby drone and an Army Blackhawk helicopter last year. The incident near Hoffman Island, just off Staten Island, New York, was the first confirmed mid-air collision in the U.S. between a drone and a manned aircraft.
The helicopter suffered minor damage while the DJI Phantom 4 drone was destroyed, according to a report by the National Transportation Safety Board.
Drones are also called Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs) and Unmanned Aerial Systems (UAS).
The first confirmed drone collision with a commercial aircraft in North America took place in Quebec City, Canada, in October 2017. The small drone crashed into a twin-propeller Beech 100 King Air with six passengers and two crew members aboard as the plane was descending to land. No one was injured, and the plane landed safely with only minor damage.
Last year, the FAA and the Alliance for System Safety of UAS through Research Excellence (ASSURE) released the results of a major air-to-air collision study. Researchers found that the areas of manned aircraft most likely to be impacted are the leading edges of wings, vertical and horizontal stabilizers, and windscreens.