Researchers at the University of Dayton in Ohio have crashed a small quadcopter into a section of aircraft wing at speeds consistent with a midair collision, with alarming results.
The University of Dayton Research Institute presented the results of the test at the fourth annual Unmanned Systems Academic Summit, held in Ohio in August.
Designed to compare the effects of a bird strike and a drone strike, the researchers fired a DJI Phantom 2 quadcopter at the wing of a Mooney M20 aircraft at around 380 kilometres per hour.
“While the quadcopter broke apart, its energy and mass hung together to create significant damage to the wing,” said Kevin Poormon, group leader for impact physics at UDRI.
“We’ve performed bird-strike testing for 40 years, and we’ve seen the kind of damage birds can do. Drones are similar in weight to some birds, and so we’ve watched with growing concern as reports of near collisions have increased,” he said.
Poormon’s research team worked with the Sinclair College National UAS Training and Certification Centre to create a realistic physical collision test with a UAV, rather than a modelled simulation, as previous tests have been.
“We knew the only way to really study and understand the problem was to create an actual collision, and we’re fully equipped to do that,” Poormon said.
“We’re experts on bird strikes, but Sinclair’s team provided valuable insight on how these systems are being used and helped us determine the best models for testing.”
Following calibration of the test environment, the researchers fired a successful shot at the wing, followed by a similarly weighted gel ‘bird’ at different sections of the wing.
“The bird did more apparent damage to the leading edge of the wing, but the Phantom penetrated deeper into the wing and damaged the main spar, which the bird did not do,” Poormon said.
“It’s not practical to regulate manned air vehicles to try to avoid collisions with a quickly growing population of drones, but it is practical to regulate UAV operation,” he said, adding that other factors could help improve safety, such as building drones to be more frangible—meaning they’ll shatter more easily on impact—or keeping them under a certain weight limit.
“The shipping industry is already investigating ways to use drones for package delivery. That would require larger and heavier drones which, when combined with the weight of a package, could easily outweigh a Canada goose, known to do significant damage to aircraft,” he said.
Australia’s Civil Aviation Safety Authority (CASA) is currently seeking input on proposed new drone regulations in Australia, including proposed changes to extended visual line of sight operations, until November 18.
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