Drones can cause major damage to aircraft, study finds

Even at the same weight and speed as a bird, a drone that collides with an aircraft will cause more damage, a study by Alliance for System Safety of UAS through Research Excellence (ASSURE) found.

© Shutterstock

ASSURE, led by Mississippi State University, used computer models to test a 2.7-lb. quadcopter and 4 lb. quadcopter and a 4-lb. and 8-lb. fixed wing drone colliding with a business jet and a single-aisle commercial transport jet. The researchers studied the vertical and horizontal stabilizers, the wing leading edge, and the windshield.

Windshields suffered the least damage while the horizontal stabilizers suffered the most damage. Damage ranged from nothing to penetration of the drone into the aircraft.

ASSURE recommends drone manufacturers install “geo-fencing” or “detect and avoid” capabilities on their drones to avoid collisions.

Researchers also began a preliminary study into the damage that would occur if a drone were sucked into an aircraft engine, including what would happen to the nosecone, the nacelle, and the fan blades.

In the future, ASSURE will study the damage with engine manufacturers and also will conduct studies of drone collision with general aircraft and helicopters.

The Federal Aviation Administration will use ASSURE’s study to develop operational and collision risk requirements for drones.