Photo courtesy of The Pennsylvania State University
The FAA should “expedite its work” in developing data on the actual risks posed by midair collisions of manned aircraft with small unmanned ones, all 26 members of a U.S. task force urged the agency, according to their Nov. 21 report on small drone registration. As those members wrestled with the question of the lower weight limit that should trigger registration requirements, representatives of “manned aircraft organizations expressed specific concerns that data on UAS-aircraft collisions, engine ingestion, propeller, and rotor impacts” by small drones “was not available.” That provoked the unanimous call for expeditious FAA work.
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Researchers at Virginia Tech and Penn State already are working to close the data gap.
Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University, as the former is known, includes the Crashworthiness for Aerospace Structures and Hybrids (CRASH) Laboratory, and a team there is using computer models to predict damage that would occur as a result of a midair collision between a helicopter and a small drone, according to Javid Bayandor, an associate professor and the lab's founder. The lab recently made headlines by simulating how an 8-lb quadcopter flying into an airline turbofan engine could cause the engine to fail catastrophically. Now the lab is developing a model to predict the danger to helicopters. Bayandor said a helicopter simulation might be ready within weeks.
At The Pennsylvania State University, researchers recently dropped a DJI Phantom II into a 10-ft diameter rotor in a test stand designed primarily for icing studies. Though spinning blades smashed the drone’s airframe to pieces, its battery was hard enough to cause one rotor blade to separate from the hub. “The concentration of mass is what causes damage,” said Jose Palacios, an assistant professor of aerospace engineering at the school. Penn State is seeking funding to do more complex tests. Palacios said manufacturers might consider redesigning drone batteries with smaller components to minimize their damage potential.