A drone also referred to as (UAV) unmanned aerial vehicle is simply an aircraft without a human pilot on board. Drones are remotely operated by a human operator with various degrees of autonomy. Compared to manned aircraft, drones were initially used by the military in missions that were too dull, dangerous or dirty. Such as reconnaissance, target, and decoy or even combat (missile and weapon-equipped drones). Nowadays, drones are used for logistics, agriculture, research and development, aerial photography and data collection or even drone racing. Currently, the number of civilian-owned drones has escalated over the years from over 1 million drones sold in 2015 to nearly 4 million by 2017. There has been further research to develop better, more flying and efficient drones to meet the demand for drones in the market.
It is without a doubt that with this current trend, air traffic is soon going to be a matter of concern. Drones are a new 21st-century threat to commercial airlines all over the world. There have been several reported cases of drone-airplane collisions. So what really happens when a drone collides with an aircraft? This question has been asked by several airline experts, and countries like the UK have invested millions of dollars in solving this issue.
When the skies get crowded, and the air traffic becomes imminent, a plane is bound to collide with a drone. Globally, from 2015 to 2016, the number of near misses was reported to be nearly 650. In the quest for solving this life-threatening problem, the UK has recreated these scenarios through computer simulations and practical aids to study the possible outcomes and finally bring this matter to rest and prevent a potential disaster.
Airplane Collision with Birds are Not Problem
Birds, more than frequently collide with planes but their impact cannot be compared to that of drones. Javid Bayandor, a director, and professor of the Crashworthiness for Aerospace Structures and Hybrids (CRASH) is an expert on airplane crashes and has delved deeply into this issue. Through his simulations, it indicates that an aircraft’s rotor blade engines would simply just slice up small drones like a knife through butter. But apparently, the same fate does not hold when bigger drones pass through the engine. The simulations indicate that birds are liquefied by the spinning blades proving why planes don’t crash to bird collisions. However, when large drones hit an airplane’s engines, the blades could be broken, deformed or completely fragmented. The momentum of a massive drone to an aircraft’s engine can also cause it to be unbalanced, and the blades may hit the motor’s casing which could be catastrophic. When it comes to other parts of a plane, the windshield is more likely not to be destroyed, but the radome isn’t so lucky. If at all the point of impact is the plane’s tail, disaster can be unleashed, and the plane may swirl down to ground impact. Nonetheless, this kind of impact is rare.
Drone Collision with Airplane May Be Catastrophic
Several incidences of drone-airplane collisions have been reported. For example, a drone crashed into a Boeing 737 jet plane on 6th January 2017 when landing at Mozambique airport. The incident occurred when the jet plane was approaching the capital Tete with 80 passengers on board. Fortunately, the plane was landed safely, and a clear view of the aircraft indicates that the damage was caused only to the nose of the plane. In a similar event that occurred on 14th November 2016, crew members were injured as an Airliner with 54 passengers on board avoided near collision with a drone. The Canadian Airliner pilots were forced to perform an evasive maneuver to avoid the unmanned aerial device.
Drone technology has not yet reached its perfection, and incidences of drone crashes are more likely to occur. Recently, a drone nearly crashed on, Marcel Hirscher, a defending world cup champion skier. The incidence happened at Madonna di Campiglio in Italy to the 26-year old skier on his second run in a world cup slalom race. An unmanned aerial device crashed several inches behind him. Similarly, a drone crashed on top of Seattle’s iconic Space Needle. The owner could be charged with misdemeanor reckless engagement.
It is without a doubt that drone-airplane crashes are just the beginning. Drones are basically just here to say! Therefore, to counter this inevitability many measures must be implemented, such as flight regulations, traffic controls, restrictions on drone ownership and flight and eventually a Sense-and-Avoid computer system to ensure air safety.