Drones Might Not Be Dangerous For Planes After All

Illustration for article titled Drones Might Not Be Dangerous For Planes After All

Drones getting sucked into the engines of aircraft is the defining nightmare scenario that has airports buying countermeasures, and the FAA deploying an app. But what if a drone encountering a 747 wouldn’t be as bad as everyone thinks?


A new study uses data from bird strikes to try and model the frequency and severity of crashes we can expect from small quadcopters. Based on collisions with wildlife, the paper estimates we should see one damaging collision for every 1.87 million hours of UAV flight time. Incidents that cause injury or death are far less frequent than that.

Yes, drones are not birds, and a lot of the figures on the frequency of drone strikes in particular relies on some educated guesses. But ignoring everything else, a 5-pound drone like a DJI Phantom getting sucked into the engine of an airliner (something that has not yet happened!) only results in injury 0.2 percent of the time.

Based on those numbers, the FAA would be well advised to ignore the bogeyman of drone-to-aircraft strikes, and instead focus on the legitimate dangers involved with drones: hitting babies, cutting pop stars, or causing idiots with shotguns to go hunting in a residential area.

[Mercatus via CIO]


Birds normally get out of the way of airplanes. Drones piloted by idiots tend to fly towards airplanes.

We do bird strike testing at work. For rotorcrafts, a 2.2 lb bird at about 210 mph is pretty violent. Our barrel is pretty much level, it sends that bird about 100 yards out. For transport airplane like a 747, the test is a 4 lb bird at about 490 mph.

Birds strike don’t always occur in the engines. Often times it hits the cockpit. While the windscreens are typically bird strike rated, they can still fracture to the point you can’t see out of it. They often don’t test for bird strikes on the fuselage so it can miss the windscreen and end up going into the cockpit and incapacitating the pilot.