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There has been much concern expressed over what is being termed “malicious drone use” lately. Earlier this month Congress passed a bill allowing the government to shoot down any drone it deems a “credible threat.” Likewise, AT&T has been working with a drone detection startup called Dedrone to detect and combat malicious drones near military bases, venues, and businesses.
Some of the concern is undoubtedly based on aircraft with cameras being somewhere that cameras are not permitted — a military base is a good example. However, there is also some concern over drones flying too close to larger manned aircraft, which could endanger lives.
The University of Dayton's Impact Physics group recently performed an experiment to see what would happen if a small drone were to strike a plane’s wing at cruising speeds. The test was prompted by reports of a collision between a helicopter and a quadcopter. The drone was of course destroyed, but more interestingly the helicopter sustained very little damage and was able to continue flying.
Researchers were curious if a collision with a faster-moving aircraft would have a similar outcome. As you can see from the video of the experiment above, the plane did not fair as well as the helicopter.
Instead of shattering on impact as the researchers expected, the drone tore through the wing like a bullet. In fact, the collision happens so fast that it indeed looks like they shot the Mooney M20 with a gun — until the footage is slowed down.
Instead of firing a bullet the experimenters launched a drone at 238mph to simulate the M20’s cruising speed.
“While the quadcopter broke apart, its energy and mass hung together to create significant damage to the wing,” said Kevin Poormon, lead researcher for Impact Physics at Dayton.
The experiment proves that drone/aircraft collisions are a severe threat. If a drone could plow through a wing like that, think of what would have happened were it to have impacted the cockpit.
While the government’s virtual carte blanche authority to shoot down drones without due process will remain a controversial issue, there are still reasonable safety concerns over drones sharing the skies in certain areas.