The University of Dayton Research Institute recently conducted experiments to determine what might happen if a drone impacted an aircraft. The research institute developed a test they set up to simulate a midair collision at 238 mph. They launched a DJI Phantom 2 quadcopter drone directly aimed at the wing of a Mooney M20 aircraft. According to a blog on the UDRI website, “The drone did not shatter on impact, but tore open the leading edge of the wing as it bore into the structure, damaging its main spar. ‘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.”
UDRI has been doing bird-strike testing for 40 years and had an understanding of the damage caused by those occurrences. The group said they became interested in conducting studies with drone impacts after they heard about the Army Blackhawk helicopter that impacted a hobbiest’s drone last year. In that instance, the helicopter only sustained minor damage.
“We wanted to help the aviation community and the drone industry understand the dangers that even recreational drones can pose to manned aircraft before a significant event occurs. But there is little to no data about the type of damage UAVs can do, and the information that is available has come only from modeling and simulations,” said Poormon, whose group has fired individual drone batteries, cameras and motors at metal panels. “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.”
They simultaneously launched a simulated gel “bird” to compare the two impacts. “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.”