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Are Drone Strikes A Real Threat?

Wikipedia

Have you ever hit a bird while you're flying? If you have, you know it can get your attention in a hurry. But what about drone strikes? There's been a lot of talk about drones being the most hazardous thing in the sky, but is that really the case? We took a look at the statistics, and here's what we found.

The First Bird Strike In History

The first recorded bird strike happened less than two years after the first powered flight, on September 7th, 1905. And who was pilot that hit the bird? None other than Wilbur Wright.

Wikipedia

Wilber was doing some low-level flying, and he was doing what every curious pilot did in 1905 at low altitude: chase a flock of birds. He of course hit one, and according to his diary, it "fell on top of the upper surface and then fell off when swinging a sharp curve." It was innocent enough, but real problems started happening shortly after.

The First Fatal Bird Strike

In 1912, the first fatal bird strike happened. Pilot Calbraith Perry Rodgers hit a flock of seagulls in his Wright Model B, and the results weren't good. The birds broke the engine loose, striking Rodgers in the back of his head and breaking his neck. He plunged into the ocean, becoming the first victim of a bird strike.

Wikipedia

Bird Populations Skyrocket

Bird populations are going up in a big way, and it's causing major problems for airports and pilots. Current estimates put the Canada Goose population at 2.8 million, and the snow goose population at 6.6 million birds. That's nearly 10 million birds that could hit your plane. And they aren't small either, the average Canada Goose weighs 8.6 pounds (3.9 kg), and the average snow goose weighs 6.7 pounds (3 kg). Hit one, and it's like flying into a bowling ball. And the results aren't pretty.

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The Damage

The FAA started tracking wildlife strikes in 1988. Since then, they've killed over 255 people, and destroyed more than 243 aircraft.

Wikipedia
Wikipedia

And it's not just large birds that are causing problems. Take the Red Tailed Hawk, for example. The hawk weighs, on average, 1.5-3.2 pounds (.7-1.5 kg). And it's caused a ton of damage to airplanes. Since 1990, 282 hawk strikes have caused damage to aircraft, with a total of 13,110 hours of downtime, at a cost of $16,573,990. And that stat is limited to Red Tailed Hawks alone.

What's Being Done To Prevent Bird Strikes?

The truth is, birds are pretty hard to control. And to make matters worse, there's usually a lot of food around an airport, in the form of grass. Grass provides the benefit of controlling erosion and absorbing jet wash around airports, but it also provides a tasty snack for birds.

Wikipedia

There are plenty of tactics to keep birds from airports, like visual and auditory repellents. And The FAA has even tested Avian Radar systems (that's right, bird radar). But regardless of the prevention or detection method, it's still virtually impossible to know when birds are going to fly through your flight path.

Are Drones Just As Dangerous?

So how about drones? Do they pose the same, or worse, threat to aircraft? The short answer is no. To date, there has never been a reported incident of a drone and airplane colliding in the US. And it's not because there's a shortage of unmanned aircraft. Last year alone, over 2 million drones were shipped to consumers. That's a lot of aircraft.

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A large percentage of those 2 million drones come with geofencing software, preventing them from flying near airports. And, most drone operators have enough sense to keep their aircraft away from airports and airplanes.

What Do The Experts Think?

We talked to three industry experts about what they thought of the drone industry, and they all agreed: drones are here to stay, and with the right technology, they can be flown safely. You can check out what they had to say in this week's Direct To Podcast.

Birds Are The Real Problem...For Now

No matter what the news agencies say, birds are the real problem, at least for now. With the advancement of geofencing technology, drones will continue to stay clear of aircraft, and out of the news headlines.

Colin Cutler

Colin is a Boldmethod co-founder, pilot and graphic artist. He's been a flight instructor at the University of North Dakota, an airline pilot on the CRJ-200, and has directed development of numerous commercial and military training systems. You can reach him at colin@boldmethod.com.

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