A new study says that toy drones are more dangerous than birds to airplanes – although researchers are still looking for an actual engine on which to test their theory, and there have been no reports so far of any damage caused by a drone to an airplane.
Aero Kinetics, an Aerospace and Defense firm founded by W. Hulsey Smith in 2003, has released a study about the safety impact and risks of toy drones in U.S. airspace. “The Real Consequences of Flying Toy Drones in the National Airspace System,” explores the potential of toy drones to damage airplanes, and concludes that toy drones are a significant threat to the safety of our national airspace.
Hulsey Smith touts the study with zeal and hyperbole: “Most people don’t understand how threatening a toy drone can be. Toy drones are not unmanned aircraft,” he says. “Make no mistake lives are at stake. This study is meant to bring the risk into perspective, and inform consumers of the dangers that exist.”
While designed to demonstrate what would happen if a toy drone was flown directly into the engine of an airplane, the study did not actually test the results with real drones and real engines, as do similar studies on bird damage. Instead, they based their conclusion of a “catastrophic threat” by using a modeling tool to compare how forceful a bird strike might be to how forceful a toy drone “strike” might be.
Through a scientific impact analysis, we were able to determine the damage a Drone Strike would cause to a manned aircraft by comparing the kinetic energy of Bird Strikes into manned aircraft with the relative kinetic energy of a Drone Strike.
Results showed that a Drone Strike to the windshield and engine ingestion of a commercial airliner would cause damage and economic losses, while a head-on rotorcraft Drone Strike would cause significant damage and be non-survivable. Toy Drones pose a catastrophic threat to manned rotorcraft, posing a risk to the pilots, passengers, and bystanders on the ground if the aircraft were to crash.
Calling enthusiastically for more regulation of toy drones, Hulsey Smith cited the “huge risk” for collisions. “The toy drone industry is not regulated in the same manner unmanned aircraft are in the aerospace industry,” he said in a company statement. “…We believe the solution is multi-fold, including educating the public, doing additional testing, creating dedicated operating areas, monitoring air-traffic to separate flight space, and understanding and implementing effective standards for certification.”
Aero Kinetics hopes to build a consortium of companies to research the potential impact of toy drones, saying that the research could be responsible for “saving millions of dollars and many lives.”
The full study can be read here.
Miriam McNabb is the Editor-in-Chief of DRONELIFE and CEO of JobForDrones, a professional drone services marketplace, and a fascinated observer of the emerging drone industry and the regulatory environment for drones. Miriam has a degree from the University of Chicago and over 20 years of experience in high tech sales and marketing for new technologies.
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