Collision Study: Drones Do More Damage Than Birds

 - November 2, 2018, 8:00 AM

Impacts from small drones can be more damaging to manned aircraft than bird strikes. That’s the conclusion of researchers from the University of Dayton Research Institute’s (UDRI) Impact Physics group who evaluated the damage a 2.1-pound DJI Phantom 2 quadcopter could level on the leading edge of a Mooney M20 wing compared to an identically weighted gel bird.

The tests simulated the impact of both the drone and the gel bird on the Mooney wing at an impact speed of 238 mph. According to UDRI, “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.”

“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,” said Kevin Poormon, group leader for impact physics at UDRI. Poormon’s group routinely performs sponsored bird-strike testing of aircraft structures. “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. We knew the only way to really study and understand the problem was to create an actual collision.”

After calibration work to ensure they could control the speed, orientation, and trajectory of a drone, researchers fired a successful (drone) shot at the Mooney wing. The researchers then fired a similarly weighted gel “bird” into a different part of the wing to compare results. Poormon said his team is not aware of any other lab in the country performing controlled drone strikes on structures for research or data generation.

UDRI’s impact physics laboratory operates 12 gun ranges capable of propelling objects at velocities ranging from tens of feet per second to more than 33,000 feet per second. The laboratory is used for foreign object damage, light armor design and evaluation, penetration mechanics, hypervelocity impact testing and analysis, and dynamic behavior of materials.UDRI researchers collaborated with Sinclair College’s National UAS Training and Certification Center on the drone impact tests.