So here’s what’s happening. The airport is at a standstill. Hundreds of flights are canceled. Thousands of anxious passengers are crowding near their gates. Some are pacing nervously, others try to calm down crying babies.
Airlines are losing thousands of dollars for every hour of the delay. So, who or what’s to blame for all this havoc? Drones! In January 2009, US Airways Flight 1549 went down shortly after it took off from La Guardia airport in New York City.
You might’ve seen this story in the movie “Sully: Miracle on the Hudson.
” The passengers of that infamous flight were lucky to have Chesley Sullenberger as their captain. He managed to land the passenger jet on the river with all 155 people on board surviving the accident! But the cause of the crash was a seemingly innocent flock of Canada geese which collided with the plane mid-air. It destroyed both of the airplane’s engines and led to the aircraft emergency landing. But think about this: an adult Canada goose weighs between 4 and 13 pounds.
But a professional drone equipped with a camera is often much heavier. No wonder a stray drone can cause a lot of damage to a plane. Even worse, a quadcopter can cause a plane crash if it gets into the aircraft’s engine! Surely, a collision between a plane and a drone may not necessarily end badly for the aircraft (although I can’t say the same about the poor drone).
For example, in Canada, in October 2017, a passenger jet had an unlucky mid-air encounter with a drone.
The smaller machine crashed into the plane’s wing and shattered into pieces. But it didn’t harm the aircraft too much, and it landed safely. But then, it might’ve just been a lucky day for the airliner and its passengers. Because tests run by an American university have proved that a 2-pound quadcopter can cause severe damage to an airliner that’s traveling at a speed of 380 miles per hour. For one thing, drones are powered by lithium-ion batteries.
And imagine what would happen if such a battery wasn’t broken into pieces during a crash, but got lodged in the airframe! In this case, the risk of fire would become terrifyingly real. Plus, if a drone gets drawn into the turbine of a plane, it’ll most likely cause the engine to shut down, which will sure complicate things for anyone on board.
What’s more, a quadcopter weighing more than 4 pounds can break or seriously damage the cockpit windshield of smaller airplanes. Specialists explain that although a drone may look fragile and unthreatening, it has a bulky battery.
That’s why, in comparison with a bird, a quadcopter can be much more dangerous to a plane if it hits the fuselage or gets into the engine. But it’s not only about the risk of physical damage drones can do to airplanes! They can also cause radio frequency interference. And in the worst-case scenario, it may lead to pilots losing control of the aircraft and crashing it. Besides, quadcopters can be extremely difficult to spot in the sky.
For example, researchers at Oklahoma State University studied how fast pilots of small planes could notice drones if they were searching for them on purpose. It turned out that the pilots saw quadcopters only when they were already one-tenth of a mile away from their planes.
Besides, these days, pilots of big commercial airplanes can use automated systems that let them communicate with each other and inform them about potential dangers. Using only eyesight to control a plane has become outdated. Plus, pilots certainly don’t have time to waste, trying to locate small flying objects approaching their aircraft.
You might’ve noticed that nowadays, the air is literally swarming with drones. The FAA (which stands for the Federal Aviation Administration) has already registered around 1.3 million of them. But just several years ago, in 2016, this number was only 470,000! Some of these drones, which are used for commercial purposes, are controlled by remote pilots who have FAA certification.
But most quadcopters are flown for fun by people like you and me. Of course, such hobbyist pilots have to follow particular safety rules. For example, they have to keep their drones in sight at all times, can’t raise them higher than 400 ft in the air, and aren’t allowed to fly them in the airspace used by passenger jets. And still, things happen. See for yourself: this accident took place in December 2018, in London.
Two illegal drones appeared on the runway of Gatwick airport in the morning, and hundreds of flights had to be canceled, delayed, or even grounded to avoid the risk of collision. That time, airlines lost tens of thousands of dollars, and 2,000 passengers, stranded at the airport, were offered to rebook their flights or get refunds. Several weeks later, drones were noticed at Heathrow Airport, and some flights were grounded again. And even though, luckily, no airplane has ever been seriously damaged or taken down by a drone, there’ve been loads of near misses.
For example, in September 2015, one of the scariest near misses happened in the US.
American Airlines Flight 475 left Atlanta, Georgia, and was heading for Charlotte, North Carolina. But when the passenger jet was climbing to 3,500 feet after the take-off, the pilots noticed a drone that suddenly appeared dangerously close to their plane. The plane had to swerve to avoid a collision. Another collision could’ve happened in November 2015. A helicopter was leaving a children’s hospital in Missouri when a drone almost crashed into it at a height of 1,400 feet.
The air ambulance pilot later reported that if he hadn’t made a steep banking turn, this encounter could’ve ended in a disaster. Fortunately, there were no patients on board the helicopter, and the machine avoided any damage. And in December 2015, in California, a drone flew a mere 5 feet away from a helicopter. When it happened, the chopper was at an altitude of 1,000 feet! And such near accidents between airplanes and drones aren’t rare in many regions of the world.
For example, these days in the UK, three times more airplane – quadcopter encounters happen than in 2015. And while in 2015, 29 drones almost crashed into passenger jets, in 2016, this number was already 71. And in 2017, there were 92 near misses. But then, the question is, “How can authorities protect airports?” I used to think that it should be an easy task: after all, all airports have radars, and they spot any flying object, right?
It turns out, though, that the issue is a bit more complicated.
The drones that cause the most problems don’t usually rise higher than 3,500 feet. But that’s way lower than traditional air traffic control radars look! That’s why airports need radars that have faster update speed and lower gaze. If you’ve ever seen a working air radar, either in real life or on TV, you probably remember tiny blips indicating planes on the screen.
Several seconds between these blips work just fine for commercial planes that move along particular routes. But for nimble and unpredictable quadcopters, there has to be less time between the blips. Theoretically, airports could apply a special signal-jamming system to confuse drones and make them avoid approaching the prohibited territory.
But it would be too risky to do close to airports since it could disrupt vital air communications. Authorities have tried other methods, such as throwing nets to bring rogue drones down, or even using specially trained eagles to tackle the machines.
But on the whole, the problem remains unsolved. But at the same time, quadcopters can’t boast particular stamina. Your average drone with a rechargeable battery can fly for no longer than 30 minutes. It’s difficult for producers to increase this time because more powerful batteries add unnecessary weight to the device. Plus, most quadcopters can’t fly too far away.
They’re connected with their controllers through Wi-Fi or Bluetooth, and if they fly more than 1,000 feet away, the signal will be lost. Although, that doesn’t mean that more advanced and expensive drones can’t fly way further and spend much more time in the air. Oh boy. Hey thanks for letting me drone on about drones today. So, if you learned something new today, then give the video a like and share it with a friend!
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Read More: 10 Strangest Drones Which Actually Exist