In this corner we’ve got the lightweight newcomer drone weighing in at just eight pounds. In the other corner we’ve got heavyweight champion, the 747 aircraft weighing in at 735,000 pounds. This match looks like an easy knockout for 747, but don’t go counting your winnings yet. The drone might just have some nasty tricks up its sleeves.
Researchers at Virginia Tech’s College of Engineering are sharing new simulations showing that an eight-pound drone could cause an airplane jet engine to fail should the two ever come into contact. Professors Javid Bayandor and Walter O’Brien, who head the project, are urging commercial aircraft manufacturers to consider changes in how engines are designed in order to account for this new threat to air safety.
Computer simulations show that a drone could cause massive damage, possibly leading to engine failure, if it was sucked into a nine-foot turbo fan engine. The drone could cause fan blades to break off, kicking off a snowball effect resulting in a critically damaged engine. Turbo fan engines rotate at about 2000 rpm, which is why the damage would be so swift and catastrophic.
In an ideal world we would never have to worry about drones coming into contact with jet engines. FAA (Federal Aviation Administration) regulations state that small, unmanned aircraft are not permitted to fly above 400 feet or within 5 miles of an airport. These rules should keep drones well away from any commercial aircraft. Although, as we pointed out in our recent blog about drone accidents and regulation, those rules are actually for model aircraft, and drones are not specifically addressed. The general consensus, though, is that drone operators should follow the same rules.
Unfortunately, not everyone follows the rules. The FAA has reported over 650 drone sightings by pilots this year alone. Recently, a Cessna pilot spotted a drone while flying at 8,000 feet. You don’t have to be a mathematician to know that’s well above the 400-foot limit.
Pilots are urging the FAA to take action regarding improper drone usage, and they’re not the only ones. In fact, the FAA is quite preoccupied with issues involving drones lately. They are assembling a group of experts to make recommendations and are expected to roll out new registration requirements for drones and drone operators soon – perhaps before the end of the year.
Like so many technological advancements, interest in and use of drones is increasing much faster than notoriously slow government regulatory agencies can keep up with. This holiday season, drones are on the must-have list for the techie or hobbyist in your life.
With so many new operators, there are likely plenty of people who don’t know – or, perhaps, care – what the FAA regulations are. In fact, it probably wouldn’t occur to many owners that a government agency would have anything to say about what they view as a harmless toy. And of course, as with any new technology, you have the troublesome minority who use it to purposefully cause mischief and mayhem.
One thing is certain: drones pose a danger to our safety, both for aircraft and for innocent bystanders on the ground. We will be eager to see what new rules the FAA may issue in the coming months to protect American citizens from this danger.
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