If you have ever wondered what the UK Ministry of Defence (MOD) gets up to behind closed doors, it basically sounds like a Top Gear spin-off.
A new study by MOD – in collaboration with the UK Department of Transport, Civil Aviation Authority, and private aerospace company Qinetiq – is reportedly crashing drones into airplanes to assess how much damage they can cause.
Of course, there is a serious point to the research. Drones are quickly moving from the hands of military generals into the world of mainstream commercial ventures. The US Federal Aviation Administration has estimated there will be more than 7,500 small commercial drones in the skies above the US within the next two years.
With this new level of air traffic set to flood the skies very shortly, fears about safety are coming in thick and fast. Just this year, there have been a handful of reports (here, here, and here) of “near-misses” between aerial drones and commercial airplanes in the UK.
The main focus of this study will be to examine the extent of damage to the plane’s windows and fuselage. Other than that, it’s unclear yet how the experiments will take form.
According to The Daily Mail, Dr Peter Downer from the MOD said they are carrying out “mid-air collision studies”. However, The Verge reported that the UK's Civil Aviation Authority, who are also working on the project, said the tests won’t be carried out in mid-air and won’t be on passenger airplanes – instead, military aircraft will be used.
The findings are expected to be published in a report at some point near the end of the year.
The European Aviation Safety Agency has recently carried out a report (PDF) on drones and air safety. They estimated that there were 2.2 incidents each year per 1 million inhabitants. Although that likelihood seems pretty slim, they added “that the risk was real and that a small number of events could have a dramatic impact on the future of the entire unmanned aviation business.”