After this holiday shopping season, there will be more drones in the hands of consumers than ever before. Governments and aviation authorities around the world are concerned that the increase in the number of amateur drone pilots will lead to more drone incidents, such as drone sightings close to airports, near-misses and potentially more actual drone and airplane collisions. This raises the question, how much damage a drone would cause to an airplane in case of a collision? Scientists have used computer simulations to try and answer this question.

The Chinese aviation authorities went one step further and created an actual cockpit mockup, mounted it to a rocket and launched it at a drone at the usual airplane speed.

DJI Mavic Pro

What happens when a drone and airplane collide?

The real-life test was commissioned by the Civil Aviation Administration of China (CAAC) at the Xiangbei Experimental Base of Aviation Industry. During the experiment, a mockup airliner cockpit was launched at high speed towards a stationary DJI Phantom drone. The test was completed twice. The first time the drone hit the middle of the windshield. The second time the drone collided with the side of the windshield.

The test results showed that the drone shattered the layered safety glass but did not go entirely through the windshield or penetrate the cockpit as many aviation professionals had feared. Even the heavy and compact battery did not make it through the safety glass. It disintegrated upon impact.

The results of the Chinese experiment seem to support the conclusions of recent American tests that were based on computer simulations. These simulations, performed by scientists from the research company Assure UAS, showed that it was unlikely for a Phantom type drone to cause critical damage to a commercial airliner. Even though a drone would cause more damage to an airplane’s cockpit or wings than a bird would strike an airplane.

Preventative measures

Many aviation authorities and governments around the world remain very concerned about the rising popularity of drones and potential consequences in case of an unmanned aerial vehicle colliding with an airplane. As a result, governments are introducing stricter drone rules, new drone safety tests, and mandatory drone registration for both commercial and hobbyist drone pilots. Other preventative measures include improved geo-fencing and maximum flight height restrictions. However, these software restrictions are easily avoided when the drone software is hacked. Recently we reported on a drone pilot who was able to fly his drone to an elevation of 8,200 feet after hacking his drone. Furthermore, it remains to be seen if the other preventative measures such as mandatory registration and drone detection systems like DJI’s Aeroscope will reduce the number of drone incidents.

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