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Transportation Technology

U.S. Passenger Jet Nearly Collided With Drone In March 151

SonicSpike sends word of an FAA report that a small, remote-controlled aircraft was nearly struck by an American Airlines passenger jet as the jet was preparing to land. The pilot saw it briefly as he flew by — it was close enough that he was sure it stuck the plane, but no damage was found upon inspection. Jim Williams, head of the FAA's drone office, said the incident highlights the risk of ubiquitous, unregulated drone use. He said, "The risk for a small UAS to be ingested into a passenger airline engine is very real. The results could be catastrophic." The article notes that the FAA "currently bans the commercial use of drones in the United States and is under growing pressure to set rules that would permit their broader use. Hobby and many law-enforcement uses are permitted. Last year, the agency began establishing test sites where businesses can try out commercial uses."
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U.S. Passenger Jet Nearly Collided With Drone In March

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  • Drone? (Score:5, Informative)

    by Pumpkin Tuna ( 1033058 ) on Saturday May 10, 2014 @11:26PM (#46970341)

    If you read the stories on this carefully, you find out that it was a model of an F4 Phantom, not a copter type "drone" that we think of now.

    Why is it that everything that flies now and doesn't have a pilot is called a drone and is a major new concern, even if it's been around for decades?

  • Re:Drone? (Score:5, Informative)

    by tysonedwards ( 969693 ) on Saturday May 10, 2014 @11:55PM (#46970463)
    Because thanks to the Terminator movies and the US Air Force's use of the term "drone", the populous now emotionally associates a drone as a fucking scary autonomous killing machine; a Model Airplane... not so much. A UAV, still nothing... So, the thought of some anonymous twenty-something kid going around and flying their own "drones" and nearly killing hundreds of people will resonate emotionally with people and help to create the state of fear that is being fostered by those in power to control the masses.

    It doesn't matter that this act is no different than those over the past forty years, nor that it is no different than what damage that can be caused by a bird.

    Plus, if said kid's name was even vaguely ethnic or could be made to sound ethnic, do you think that it would still be kept "confidential" or would it be trotted out in the court of public opinion as a "Towel-Headed, 'Murica Hatin' Muslim Terr'rist!"?
  • by raymorris ( 2726007 ) on Sunday May 11, 2014 @12:04AM (#46970505) Journal

    To me at least, the primary distinctions between a model aircraft and a drone are a) autopilot of some type (or very good telemetry for remote piloting) and b) range / flight time.

    Model aircraft are flown by watching them from the ground. Drones are flown POV through on-board cameras and generally some autopilot capabilities.
      Model aircraft typically have the capacity to fly for 10 minutes or so. Drones, an hour or more.

    Drones, here defined as remotely piloted or preprogrammed aircraft with a flight time longer than twelve minutes, have not been widely available for decades.

    In this particular case, the actual object has not been identified. We only have the report of the jet pilot who saw it. That report does say it was at 2,300 feet from the ground. That means nobody was looking up at it and flying it, in all probability. That altitude strongly suggests it was either following a preprogrammed flight path or was being flown from an onboard video feed.

    Since an RC operator wouldn't be looking straight up at it, but would need be looking up at less than a 45 degree angle, someone flying it by remote control would have been a mile away. You can't look at a model a mile away and see whether the wings are level, or what the pitch attitude is. Therefore, it's rather unlikely that this was an RC model.

  • by TubeSteak ( 669689 ) on Sunday May 11, 2014 @12:11AM (#46970535) Journal

    If the sudden loss of a single engine from what should be an accidental interaction with a drone is all it takes to cause something "catastrophic" from happen, maybe the airplane needs to be designed better.

    "Catastrophic" refers to the failure mode of the engine, not necessarily to the consequences for the airplane.
    More specifically, it refers to any type of failure which prevents the engine from running or being restarted.

  • by tompaulco ( 629533 ) on Sunday May 11, 2014 @12:44AM (#46970607) Homepage Journal

    Why do commercial airliners have implicit ownership of the airspace?

    They don't. In the U.S., the people own the air and the FAA makes sure that it is used safely.

  • Re:Drone? (Score:4, Informative)

    by thegarbz ( 1787294 ) on Sunday May 11, 2014 @01:20AM (#46970693)

    Why is it that everything that flies now and doesn't have a pilot is called a drone and is a major new concern, even if it's been around for decades?

    a) Because things that fly remote control that don't have a pilot ARE "drones" according to both the Oxford and Cambridge dictionaries

    b) Because they have been around for decades in the hands of dedicated enthusiasts, and not in the hands of every idiot with a spare $200 that can't think it may not be a good idea to fly this right next to an airport.

  • by mpe ( 36238 ) on Sunday May 11, 2014 @12:00PM (#46973009)
    Large birds crunch up quite well when hit with a sharp blade. Bird strikes are quite common and there's a few good videos on youtube showing bird ingestion tests on turbines with partially frozen birds, so something quite a bit harder than a typical pigeon. Throwing a piece of aluminium with a few weighted magnets into an engine on the other hand is quite a different problem to deal with.

    The size of the "bird" is not always the important factor in how much damage can be done to a jet engine. Trying to run with an unbalanced fan and ingesting broken pieces of fan blades can often be what actually destroys the engine. Note that minced bird is just as incompressable as metal fragments if gets into the compressor stage.
    Even birds much smaller than pigeons can be a serious problem. Especially since birds, especially small ones, tend to occur in flocks. A flock bigger than aircraft means the potential loss of all engines.

    Secondly you seem to be under the assumption that bird strikes are just shrugged off, the reality is airports employ a lot of resources to do wildlife control in like training predators (dogs, cats, falcons etc), or using sirens, or knocking down nests, etc to reduce the number of potential bird-strikes around airports

    They can't do much outside the airport though. Also predators need to be trained/handled not to become a problem themselves. (Even some humans appear to have problems with "Don't stand in front of a jet engine when big flashing lights are on,)

    and it really only is a problem close to the ground as birds don't fly at 30000ft.

    The highest recorded bird strike was at FL379. Migrating birds have also been found at quite high altitudes. The rule is that bird strikes can happen at any altitude.

    Thirdly "catastrophic" does not mean loss of plane. An emergency landing and a passenger jet out of action due to a downed engine is considered "catastrophic" failure. It doesn't need to kill someone.

    Most recent would be N828AW this Friday. Even N106US, same airline, same departure airport, similar aircraft, disn't kill anyone.

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