This is one calamity you wouldn’t wish befalls even the bitterest of your adversaries. Low-flying drones pose great threats to transportation in general and the aviation industry in particular. Talk about the commercial jetliners threat!
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One may reason that pilots already faced such problematic scenarios with bird-strike, which, if you’re aware of the “Miracle on the Hudson” emergency landing in the New York area in 2009, you would be pardoned for thinking that it wouldn’t be exactly doomsday should a drone get sucked into the engine. But to put in the words of the aviation director for Ansys, Robert Harwood, “Except obviously, with a drone it’s probably metallic or plastic, so it’s going to be more substantial than something fleshy.”
Several concentric rings of high- speed fan blades simultaneously push air backward and compress it for combustion in a jet engine. So when an object such as a drone enters the intake, it will dislodge the blades from their ring, bend, or break them altogether, thereby stopping their rotation. This scenario results in a situation known as catastrophic engine failure.
An associate professor of mechanical engineering at Virginia Tech, Javid Bayandor, affirmed, “Because the damage is spread to a large section of the engine, it is unlikely that it will be able to maintain thrust.”
Recent jet engines are built with the capacity for holding turbofan blades from losing strength within the engine room. Engine specifications nowadays are such that they help ensure that explosions and debris from a drone collision would be contained—on paper at least.
Bayandor continued, “Because of the unprecedented damage a small or even micro unmanned aircraft systems can inflict on a passenger aircraft, pilots cannot risk flying in the same airspace where there are drones. While strict regulations are already in place to isolate drones from operations in controlled airspace, their enforcement has proven challenging due to the anonymity of drone users.”
Even though regulations require that aircraft be built to withstand soft airborne objects like birds and bats, the aviation industry has not yet accounted for the destructive tendencies of drones. The inaction has Virginia Tech researchers concerned.
Professor of mechanical engineering at Virginia Tech, Walter O’Brien, was the first to make reference, stating, “As of yet, there are no specific certification requirements to account for procedures to be executed by pilots to remedy such a situation. Drones create a new dimension in aircraft foreign object impact challenges that we need to address.”
To further worsen an already bad situation, it has been predicted that pilots will face even increasing drone threats in the near future. It has also been predicted by the Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International that drone sales in the United States could rise to 31.6 billion US dollars by the year 2019 and up to 82.1 billion dollars by 2025. That will be a lot for the pilots to handle on top of an already full plate.
Not to imply that the future looks bleak for the aviation industry, but things don’t look exactly bright as far as drones go.
Let’s hope that a solution is found soon enough. Considering the pace at which technology has been improving in recent times, it isn’t ruled out that a solution could be in the offing.
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