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Study: Drones Present Minimal Threat To Aircraft (cio.com) 176

itwbennett writes: A study from George Mason University, which estimates danger from consumer drones, suggests that rules around private drone use could be relaxed without endangering general aviation. [Researcher] Eli Dourado [coupled] data on bird strikes with aircraft, with an estimate of the number of birds in airspace and the average weight per species of bird, and concluded that "a two-kilogram drone would cause an injury once every 187 million years of continuous operation."
Dourado admits there are some limitations to his estimate. While drones are crafted with plastic and metal, birds are generally softer and more likely to get squished on impact with an aircraft. However, birds are likely to be flying in flocks, where the danger of having several sucked into the engines is greater. US Airways flight 1549 was a prime example of this as the aircraft encountered numerous bird strikes which took out its engines, causing it to land in New York's Hudson River. In addition, the research doesn't include the possibility of someone maliciously trying to hit an aircraft.
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Study: Drones Present Minimal Threat To Aircraft

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  • by turkeydance ( 1266624 ) on Tuesday March 15, 2016 @08:33PM (#51704851)
    expect a heat-seeker drone. then expect a swarm of them.
    • by rossdee ( 243626 )

      a heat seeking anti air missile locks on to the hot exhaust of a jet engine. It needs to fly faster than the target since its coming from behind. A small drone isn't going to be fast enough, even if the plane is landing or taking off.

      • by vtcodger ( 957785 ) on Wednesday March 16, 2016 @12:04AM (#51705737)

        I don't think a drone could fly into the rear of a jet engine. Lots of air moving real fast coming out of there. The front of the engine, however ...

        I would expect that there are a number of folks in the Middle East devoting some of their spare time to working out how to do that. My guess is that in a contest between a $1000 drone and a $60,000,000 jet aircraft, both lose.

        Then there's the broader problem of remotely controlled Molotov cocktails.

      • None of those things are true anymore. Modern passive IR-guided missiles have what are effectively very sensitive IR cameras connected to a computer vision system. They don't need to lock on the jet engine exhaust because as they come closer, they can spatially distinguish (and go for) other parts of the airframe, such as the cockpit.
      • a heat seeking anti air missile locks on to the hot exhaust of a jet engine.

        The exhaust plume is visible from the front until you are right in front of the aircraft, at which point the goal has already been accomplished. If you can just get altitude quickly enough, it might be feasible. If you used model rocket motors to gain the altitude and then used normal drone propulsion to handle positioning it might be feasible to intentionally take out a plane with a drone. Surely our military is already working on such things?

        • I should think that the easiest time to attack a jet aircraft is while it is sitting on the taxiway awaiting clearance to position itself and take off. As all airline passengers know all too well, that aircraft likely isn't going anywhere for a while. At least not very far or fast.

          • I should think that the easiest time to attack a jet aircraft is while it is sitting on the taxiway awaiting clearance to position itself and take off. As all airline passengers know all too well, that aircraft likely isn't going anywhere for a while. At least not very far or fast.

            Yes, but the most useful time to attack a jet aircraft is... well, I guess that depends on your situation. But it's not necessarily before takeoff. For many purposes, that's either infeasible or undesirable. Remember, terror attacks based on air travel have long been possible if you have people willing to die for your cause; just fill up a suitcase with explosives, walk into the air terminal at a peak time, wait in line until you're in the middle of a large mass of people, and blow them up. TSA-style securi

          • It's the easiest time to do negligible damage. So if you're intent on causing negligible damage, feel free to do that.
          • "I should think that the easiest time to attack a jet aircraft is"

            Given the lax state of USA security procedures, the easiest way for any terrorist to cause maximum damage is to send a suicide bomber up to the TSA checkpoints during a busy period.

            Perhaps then they might consider that the security theatre increases risk, rather than decreasing it.

      • a heat seeking anti air missile locks on to the hot exhaust of a jet engine. It needs to fly faster than the target since its coming from behind.

        Back in the 1950's, sure. But it's not the 1950's anymore, and IR sensors have evolved a long way... Modern IR AAM's are 'all aspect' - they can lock onto the aircraft's skin (which is heated by friction).

    • by MouseR ( 3264 )

      Exactly. Most drones could carry a 1kg block of steel and that would do way more damage to a plane engine than a frozen turkey could. Some drones have been researched to fly in swarm formation. Imagine a swarm of cheap drones carrying enough blocks to take out all engines (or even just half) at takeoff and you have something really dangerous.

    • by dougmc ( 70836 )

      An autonomous car could deliver a large bomb to a destination.

      Better ban autonomous cars. Hell, better ban motor vehicles entirely ... after all, motor vehicles already been (ab)used like this! [wikipedia.org]

      Or ... we could consider that bombing things is already illegal, as is shooting down any sort of aircraft in any manner, and for the most part ... people don't break these laws very often. And yet the already existing laws didn't stop McVeigh ...

      Banning or heavily restricting model aircraft wouldn't stop them from b

  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday March 15, 2016 @08:39PM (#51704877)

    that users (or should I say morons) have repeatedly been shown to fly their toys near airports, even in the flight path, where there is a higher likelihood of a strike occurring.

    • by Robotbeat ( 461248 ) on Tuesday March 15, 2016 @09:23PM (#51705107) Journal

      Shouldn't the "obvious" thing be that in spite of people losing their minds over drone "near misses," no drones have been hit by aircraft, yet EVERY SINGLE DAY bird strikes occur?

      If we diverted aircraft for bird sightings like we do for drone sightings, we'd never be able to fly anywhere.

      Heck, more turtles have been hit than drones!
      http://mashable.com/2015/12/18... [mashable.com]

      • by Registered Coward v2 ( 447531 ) on Wednesday March 16, 2016 @01:20AM (#51705903)
        While actual impacts may be zero, the real issue is the effect of a near miss on the pilot. I would not want to be on final and all of a sudden have a drone come into view. A pilot is busy enough without getting distracted by a dreone and having to make a split second decision on what to do to avoid a collision. Reasonable regulations to limit such occurrences is good, te problem is defining reasonable.
        • I would not want to be on final and all of a sudden have a drone come into view.

          Drones are already restricted near airports. That doesn't mean they need to be similarly restricted everywhere else!

      • by Toshito ( 452851 )

        The obvious is that birds have limited intelligence and can't understand why it's a bad idea to fly near a landing strip.

        Drone operators should be smart enough to understand that...

    • by sjames ( 1099 )

      Just like birds. So it was accounted for.

    • I've always been skeptical of pilot reports of Drones in the pattern.

      When you are in the pattern or on approach, you are crazy busy. Check lists, settings, instruments, etc. Also, your typical airliner, on approach or in the pattern, is doing 150-200 mph. Given the small windows, the speed, and their already hectic routine, it seems unlikely that anyone could spot a less than 1 meter in diameter drone (Phantom size).

      Sure, you may have some asshat with a 2-3 meter monstrosity they built up there, but that is

    • that users (or should I say morons) have repeatedly been shown to fly their toys near airports, even in the flight path, where there is a higher likelihood of a strike occurring.

      Well, sort of. The study didn't ignore the obvious... that the vast majority of reported "near my airplane" cases weren't near the airplane. Most of the cases weren't in violation of existing FCC flight regulations. So what we've been mislead or misinformed, or both, as to the frequency of this threat. In most cases, objects observed by pilots were either legally-operated drones, or unidentified objects (which pretty much suggests they weren't very close). It is understandably a pilot's job to be paran

  • by Anonymous Coward

    but they WILL BE. best to reign them in now and set significant limits and restrictions on them while there's still a chance. once they''re ''out there'' is massive numbers, at will be a harder thing to do.

    further, and ffs, it's NOT just about the dangers to real airplanes... its about keeping them from flying over private property. i surely don't want some nutjob flying over my farm or hunting grounds with a 'drone' .. and i'm sure the neighbor feels the same about his farm and his swimming pool. i wouldnt

    • by Anonymous Coward

      So you want to mandate what non-intrusive behavior should be in public property and airspace? You're an idiot.

    • semi/non line of site operation

      The article only suggests relaxing the mass limit.

      The line of site, elevation and other requirements would remain. And, while it's been many years since I last flew an RC plane, I recall similar line of site and elevation restrictions on RC planes.

    • by sjames ( 1099 )

      Thius, exactly. Manbearpig is out there and he's going to eat the children. I;m SUPER SERIAL!

    • R/C planes (very short range line of sight single purpose 'airplanes' and 'helicopters') are one thing.

      Yeah, they're one thing that you can use to take pictures of other people's property, just like you're worried about from quads. People do it every day. Get some perspective.

  • by Anonymous Coward

    It appears there is nothing in the study accounting for the fact that the battery of a 'drone' is much denser than any bird. Last time I looked at a DJI the battery was 0.9 lbs. That is more than enough to destroy a propeller which strikes it. Remember, the prop tips are doing over 400 mph.

  • by QuietLagoon ( 813062 ) on Tuesday March 15, 2016 @09:11PM (#51705019)
    ... drones not so much.
    • by sjames ( 1099 )

      So you figure people will spend a couple hundred to a thousand on a drone and faced with it's eminent destruction they'll say "Meh, fuckit".

  • While I'm sure they exist... all the ones that I've ever seen wouldn't have the range to fly above even the minimum "navigable airspace" altitude except in areas very close to an airport.
    • I built a $120 SK450 and it could get into navigable airspace in a hot second. You can buy $100 drones off the shelf that can do the same. $50 drones don't generally have the radio range, nor are they massive enough to even be a real issue.

    • Hobby grade racing drones, even under $400, can have 10:1 thrust to weight ratios. That means they can reach 400' in seconds and have 3-6 minutes of flight time.
  • " estimated the drone passed about 5 meters/15 feet underneath their left hand wing."

    I call BS! Jetblast would be much too strong for a small UAV to come anywhere close to 5 meters behind a jet.

    • " estimated the drone passed about 5 meters/15 feet underneath their left hand wing."

      I call BS! Jetblast would be much too strong for a small UAV to come anywhere close to 5 meters behind a jet.

      I call reading comprehension failure. If they overtook it, or met it head-on, this is a perfectly good description.

  • by Frosty Piss ( 770223 ) * on Tuesday March 15, 2016 @09:20PM (#51705085)

    I work directly with commercial and military pilots. Drones scare the shit out of them. Most of these guys have advanced degrees in an assortment of engineering areas.

    A goose or a drone hitting the fuselage is not much of an issue for a big slow moving jet, but as we know, ingesting geese can bring a jet down. As well, a smaller, faster moving jet will experience much higher structural damage. I have myself seen, as an Air Force fire fighter, fighters come back with huge parts of their leading edge wing missing, and taking the cable because of hydrolic systems loss. On one occasion, many years ago, we lost a jet due to ingestion, though the pilot "punched out".

    Drones *are* a serious issue to aviators.

    A bigger question might be why to morons fly drones in the approach path of airports?

    • by Anonymous Coward

      Drones *are* a serious issue to aviators.

      Please cite a specific incident involving a drone impact on an aircraft. I'm not saying that it can't or won't happen - I'm sure that if it did there's a possibility of it being significant. I'm just interested in a specific example that demonstrates why this is a serious issue.

    • by khallow ( 566160 )

      Drones *are* a serious issue to aviators.

      You know what is really a serious issue for aviators? Flying. People actually die from flying. I would take these serious issues seriously, if the aviators in question had an understanding of risk.

    • by tlhIngan ( 30335 )

      A bigger question might be why to morons fly drones in the approach path of airports?

      The sad reason is, to get cool video of planes landing.

      It's all for the shot - to get that cool video that you post on YouTube and hope goes viral and maybe even make some cash from YouTube's content creation policy.

      So, in the end, it's all about money - get the cool video, get lots of money from YouTube (make original content, and YouTube will split ad revenue).

    • I work directly with commercial and military pilots. Drones scare the shit out of them. Most of these guys have advanced degrees in an assortment of engineering areas.

      Perhaps your pilot friends are geniuses, but there are plenty of not-so-genius pilots around:

      • - AF447 - co-pilot pulled up from level flight at 35k ft into a deep stall and kept pulling up until they hit the water.
      • - Transasia 235 - shut down good engine after failure of other engine during climb out. Stalled during ditching.
      • - AirAsia 8501 - just made up procedure to reboot part of flight control system while at cruise.
      • - Asiana 214 - in perfect flying conditions with a perfectly functioning 777, smacked into
    • by thegarbz ( 1787294 ) on Wednesday March 16, 2016 @05:50AM (#51706433)

      I work directly with commercial and military pilots. Drones scare the shit out of them.

      That's because people most closely involved in any type of activity are some of the worst placed to judge the risk of an activity. They are able to get a good picture of the consequence but they almost universally hugely over-estimate the likelihood of any scenario. That is something that goes well beyond aviation.

      • So you say. Any studies? Or are you talking out of your ass?

        • Studies? Not sure, this was covered in team selection for risk analysis, general industry processes which were born out of mistakes, experience, and sometimes studies (none of which were ever cited to me). But there's a very good reason for a very specific set of teams to be generated when doing hazard and operability studies and why they are involved in each steps. Common practice in many industries is to exclude front line people from likelihood analysis deferring to them only for a list of ways that some

    • A bigger question might be why to morons fly drones in the approach path of airports?

      My vote goes to the fact that the general public (i.e. majority of drone operators) has dick all idea of the structure of airspace. Shit, most of them think that airliners are always talking to "The Tower". Unless somebody's a pilot or a serious flight simulation enthusiast, they often have literally no idea about how air travel actually works (nor should they really have to).

  • Forget about the liklihood of damage, look at the difference in behaviour.

    Birds don't fly high, most of the time. They stay near food, near home, and near safety. Drones go as high as possible for the best vantage point.

    Birds would, on their own, attempt to stay away from large noisy planes. Drones won't.

    They are not comparable at all.

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      Anyone who actually uses a drone for any sort of photography (instead of "Here's how fast I can lose my $800 toy by standing on the UP button") knows the only decent pictures are taken from 200 feet. We have GoogleMaps to look at our neighborhoods with - but most of the interesting views are barely over the treetops or the power lines.
      • by delt0r ( 999393 )
        We use one at our rocket club. You get pretty awesome footage. But it is a *lot* more expensive than $800, closer to $2000. It is pretty shiny. But we only need one for a club of a few 100 people.
  • " the research doesn't include the possibility of someone maliciously trying to hit an aircraft."

    Herein lies the crux of the issue.

    People generally are willing to accept act of "god" type incidents (bird strike, bad weather etc.) at levels of risk much higher than act of man type incidents (acts of terrorism etc.).

  • Most Birds don't have lithium batteries, which are likely to combust if they become embedded in the aircraft
  • Just wait until people start kitting out their drones with high powered lasers (so they can be seen from the ground), and having a laser light show from a few drones flying in formation at night. I'm sure the aviation authorities would love that.

  • If one drone means one accident in 187 million years of continuous operation what happens when we have 187 million drones out there up in the air at any given time? It's like 640k. People will perceive a need for more leading to hundreds of millions of drones some of which will be operating at any given time. Somehow one accident a year does not sound appetizing to me even if that's a world wide accident rate.

    {^_^}

  • by infodragon ( 38608 ) on Wednesday March 16, 2016 @07:27AM (#51706609)

    " In addition, the research doesn't include the possibility of someone maliciously trying to hit an aircraft."

    Why are we continuously discussing rules and regulations that will have zero impact on a malicious actor. If it's available to the general population but "regulated" only those bent on malicious actions will break those rules.

    I'm all for reasonable rules; "don't fly your drones around an airport; don't discharge a firearm within city limits; drive on the proper side of the road; ..."

    Will any of those rules stop someone from attempting to down an aircraft using a drone? Someone attempting to plow through a crowd using their car?

    It would seem the things that give us the most freedom, aka liberty, are those things that are most regulated. A drone gives us a huge amount of freedom to do so many different things, including observe authority. It would seem those making the rules have a conflict of interest here...

    • Will any of those rules stop someone from attempting to down an aircraft using a drone? Someone attempting to plow through a crowd using their car?

      It actually is possible for cars to prevent people from plowing through crowds, if we give them enough self-driving technology. And it actually is possible for a sufficiently intelligent drone to avoid obstacles, and it is not a stretch to assume that high-end drones (though not hobbyist-built ones, especially intended as a weapon) will sooner or later avoid aircraft.

      • It is possible for cars to prevent people from plowing through crowds, however rules/regulation will not do that!

  • Minimal *accidental* threat.
  • A buddy of mine uses a drone to tape his football team practices to better see the plays and I have a few friends in the real estate market that use drones for beautiful property photos. The drones were grounded during football games because of the risk to the crowd during the game? What? Worried about a light weight drone bumping into a crowd but not about a drone crashing into a plane. "Threat" is a scary word... minimal is nice but when I am in a plane flying across the country i would prefer zero threat
  • The FAA already got their $5 out of me.

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