Drones are happening whether the public wants it or not. Cheap, reliable aerial delivery and reconnaissance is a fiscal no-brainer, so the proliferation of drones is just something that we’re going to have to adapt to. However, this raises a very poignant question. We’ve got robots in the air, but we’ve got people in the air too. What happens when the two collide?
This is a question that officials in the UK are taking very seriously. On the surface, it seems like a pretty fluffy issue. After all, how could a tiny quadcopter possibly damage a massive passenger plane?
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Well, that remains to be determined. At least one pilot is pretty concerned about the issue. Steve Landells of British Airways warned in March that drones could have a potentially catastrophic effect on passenger airliners if they collided in mid-air, given disadvantageous enough circumstances. In particular, he pointed out the danger of a quadcopter’s lithium battery coming into contact with an airliner’s engine intake.
Landells painted a troubling scene involving “very high-velocity bits of metal going anywhere … through fuel tanks, through hydraulic lines and even into the cabin.” He elaborated, saying “Losing the engine is not going to cause an aircraft to crash because they are designed to fly with one engine down… But an uncontained engine failure is going to be different every time. That could be very serious indeed.”
To meet these concerns, the UK is currently running a bevvy of experiments, mostly involving military jets deliberately colliding with commercial-tier drone hardware at high velocity. Although sources like the Daily Mail are suggesting that these experiments are being run on passenger aircraft in flight, no evidence exists of such trials.
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The Civil Aviation Authority, which is the UK’s equivalent of the US FAA, is currently overseeing these studies and working to implement any necessary strictures that may prevent potentially catastrophic interactions between drones and planes.
What are your thoughts regarding the ongoing research involving drone-plane collision? Is Landells’ prediction overblown, or is this a worthwhile point of interest? Let us know your take in the comments below!