The possibility of a drone strike on an aircraft is a foreseeable reality anticipated by security experts and drone technologists the world over. It isn’t a question of ‘if’ but ‘when’ say experts, what with hundreds of thousands of personal UAVs currently in public hands.
Researchers at the University of Dayton Research Institute are no strangers to airframe impact testing and they recently partnered with Sinclair college national UAS training and certification center to conducting tests in order to assess the kind of damage a drone hit in midair can cause to a general aviation aircraft.
To demonstrate the hazards or potential risks caused by a drone strike on an aircraft, researchers conducted a test was using the popular DJI phantom 2 drone that struck the leading edge of an airplane wing. It was loaded into the university’s impact physics labs compressed air cannon which fired the drone at the wing of a Mooney M 20 at a speed of 238 miles per hour a speed that approximates the closing speed.
Between the two aircraft, the drone did not just shatter apart but it also completely penetrated and became buried inside leaving a gaping hole in the leading edge denting the main spar pulling several fasteners from the wing skin and lead to some stringers being bent as also some tubing inside resulting substantial amount of damage to the wing.
While Kevin Poormon distinguished research engineer and group leader for impact Physics, at the University of Dayton Research Institute believes that for a faster aircraft the results could have been worse,”yeah if this was a business jet that was traveling twice as fast as what we tested there would have been substantially more damage to the spar or could have penetrated a fuel cell because the energy is goes up with a square of the velocity.” said Poormon who has conducted simulated bird strike testing for nearly 30 years now. He performed an experiment to analyse what damage a similar sized bird might cause under the same conditions and compared the impact of the drone strike to an actual bird strike.
“We did a simulated bird using a gelatine projectile that had the same weight and is approximately the same speed the bird actually just crushed the leading edge and didn’t do any internal damage as the drone population increases the likelihood of these kinds of events is going to also increase in my opinion what we need to do is look at more how the drones are instructed and perhaps make them more frangible and act more like birds do when they impact and they break apart and I think that’s the key for minimizing the risks for these kinds of incidents.”
Poormon cautions hobbyists and stresses that they must understand the potential for hazardous impacts and be more aware of the risks when they take to the sky.