This post is also available in: heעברית (Hebrew)

The integration of drones and manned aircraft in a common airspace has been one of the major security challenges worrying flight authorities. A new research has revealed how much damage an accidental direct drone strike would do to an airplane’s wing.

Scientists at the University of Dayton Research Institute have published results of impact tests that they say “prove large aircraft won’t always win in collision with small drones.” The scientists said they 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

Scientists launched a 2.1-pound DJI Phantom 2 quadcopter at the wing of a Mooney M20 airplane. The test was designed to mimic a midair collision between an airplane and a drone at 238 miles per hour.


According to petapixel.com, the results show that the drone tears a gaping hole into the leading edge of the wing that damages its main spar (the primary structural member of the wing).

Aviation International News reported that research leader Kevin Poormon said “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, and we’re fully equipped to do that.”

The scientists also did simulations of bird strikes, which caused similar damage. While the birds did more apparent damage, the drone actually penetrated deeper and did more damage to the internal structure.

Poornmon called on the government to improve safety by requiring drones to be built more frangible (i.e. shatter more easily on impact) and for weight limits to be imposed.