Battle of the skies: the Drone Army

Battle of the Skies: The Drone Army


The development of drones has great potential to be one of the key developments of the 21st century; Zipline in Rwanda have begun using drones to deliver urgent blood supplies to hospitals and Wing in Australia have begun a drone delivery service.

However, drones do have their dangers, specifically if they fall into the wrong hands. Last December the use of a drown saw one of the largest shut downs of an airport since the eruption of Eyjafjallajökull in 2010. London’s Gatwick airport was forced to shut down for 3 days, effecting over 140,000 passengers and 1,000 flights, as a drone was spotted in the vicinity of the airspace. Gatwick Airport, Britain’s second largest airport was shut down originally on the 19th December after reported sightings of a drone or drones in the area.

The majority of drone use is harmless and is for hobby usage. In the United States alone there are 1.3 million registered drones with hundreds of thousands unregistered. The number of mis-used drones as a percentage of drones is miniscule. However, mi-use and disturbances are on the rise. The incidents that began on the 19th December 2018 seemed to have a domino effect of likeminded disruptive anarchists seeking to get there 10 minutes of internet fame by halting flights in and out of several airports – with drone sightings occurring at Heathrow, Newark, Dubai and Dublin – all of which proceeded that of Gatwick.

How are drones a threat to aircraft?

Just as bird strikes can stall and damage an aircraft’s engines, so to can a drone. However, drones have the ability to cause more damage and can be used to target engines. The potential damage that such impacts can cause depends on several variables:

  • The weight of the object;
  • Mass of the object;
  • Material make-up of the object;
  • Angle of the impact; and
  • How easily the object is boken up.

Commercial aircrafts are currently designed to withstand impacts from airborne hazards such as birds. However, such aircraft are not equipped to deal with impact of drones, which are largely made up of metal and hard plastics. Now that is not to say that these engines cannot ‘brush off’ an impact of some of the smaller drones in the same way they can deal with an impact with a bird weighing 4/5 pounds, but the larger drones that can be bought by your average consumer can weigh upwards of 50 pounds. And that is where the danger lies.

Studies undertaken by Virginia Tech has shown that the concentrated mass of drones as opposed to birds is also a major issue, as an impact with a drone could be far more damaging than that of a bird. However, this is not something anyone wants to find out, it is best that all such are avoided where possible. However, with the increased numbers of drones in our skies this might be something that is easier said than done.

If an aircraft was to come into contact with one of the heavier metal drones either on take of or in assent, the engine would arguably be unable to be in full working condition following such and could result in a real danger to passengers, aircraft personnel and persons on the ground.

How do we defend against this threat?

As we good see from the Gatwick shut down last December, it is hard to defend against such a threat. It is like trying to shoot a fly out of the sky. The inability of the airport, police and RAF to disable the drone within a matter of hours caused serious disruptions. Disruptions that airports are now spending millions in an attempt to avoid such a risk occurring in the future. See how airports and governments are defending against this threat here.

Whether you are for or against the use of drones. They do have immense possibilities to be one of the biggest advancements of the 21st century, provided they are regulated and are not used inappropriately. It would be a great shame to see the back of the drones and the advantageous they could bring, due to the misuse by several individuals seeking to disrupt the lives of 1000’s for their 2 minutes in the light.