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Updated: It Was a Matter of Time: Drone Strikes Plane at Heathrow Airport in London

Updated: It Was a Matter of Time: Drone Strikes Plane at Heathrow Airport in London

When will people learn? It's usually the minority that ruin the fun for the masses, and it looks like we have that situation across the pond at Heathrow Airport in London, England. An incident has been reported to police this afternoon at 12:50 pm about a drone colliding with a plane. This would be one of, if not the first reports of a drone actually striking an aircraft. 

A British Airways pilot has reported that his aircraft collided with a drone while approaching Heathrow Airport in the nation's capitol. The report was made to police officials today from a British Airways flight from Geneva. Although the flight did land safely, it has been determined that a drone likely struck the front of the aircraft.

No arrests have been made, but of course, the matter will be further investigated.

British Airways has issued a statement:

Our aircraft landed safely, was fully examined by our engineers, and it was cleared to operate its next flight. 

Safety and security are always our first priority, and we will give the police every assistance with their investigation.

This news came after a recent situation in Los Angeles, when a drone nearly collided with the largest passenger plane in the world.

Drone laws from the CAA (United Kingdom) are similar to the United States' FAA laws; Small Unmanned Aircraft Article 166 #3 states as follows:

The person in charge of a small unmanned aircraft must maintain direct, unaided visual contact with the aircraft sufficient to monitor its flight path in relation to other aircraft, persons, vehicles, vessels, and structures for the purpose of avoiding collisions. 

  • Make sure you can see your drone at all times, and don't fly higher than 400 feet.
  • Always keep your drone away from aircraft, helicopters, airports, and airfields. 

Update: According to reports, transport minister Robert Goodwill has not confirmed whether or not it was a actually a drone in the reported collision, see update here.

[via Sky News]

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Nick Pecori is a Florida-based advertising photographer who has shot for clients Acer, Bealls, Shoe Carnival, the Florida Lottery, etc.

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If only Mythbusters were still around, to see how badly a drone could damage a plane!

After watching this video I highly doubt a small drone could do any damage to a plane.


That video show them shooting stuff at the blades which blows the debris right out the back through the bypass air. If it were to be shot into the compressor then that would be a different story.

A plane went down in NYC after a birdstrike shortly after a takeoff from LGA. Captain ended-up ditching it in the Hudson River. You might have heard about it.

Sorry, I usually don't get vocal like this, but you're an idiot.

To my understanding, jet engines are currently built to withstand 1 (that's one) bird impact.
"Withstand" meaning suffering heavilly but continue functioning. Several impact may very well result in engine failure.
What happens when a flock of birds encounter an airplane, may be watched in Cpt. Sullenberger's heroic ditch into the Hudson River due to double (!) engine failure.
But food for thought, you know how much maintainance and repair costs? Even without failure? A fair guess would be both our yearly income combined.

after watching this video i doubt you are serius

Birds have taken down big jumbo jets. An ingested drone could do major damage

Are you referring to US Airways Flight 1549? That plane was not a Jumbo but an A320. It was a single isle passenger jet. It flew into a flock of geese which typically weigh 8-12lbs each. The pilot described it as his windshield view was filled by large dark brown birds. Both engines were taken out in that case.

What other "big jumbo" jets were taken out by birds?

We cannot control birds, but we can control drones. Drones add unnecessary risk. If they won't be controlled now, in few years plane will go through cloud of drones before it will land.
In all of that I see new job position. Drone spotter on every airport.

I believe a DJI Drone won't let you fly near an airport until you register a credit card/address with DJI. Makes for great accountability!

That's corect, the DJI consumer level drone (Phantom, Inspire) have something called geofencing based on GPS location. It's been mandatory early 2015 after the white house drone incident.
With the geofence system, the drone refuses to take off in the vicinity of an airport. Heathrow being the largest airport in UK, such a drone can't be flown around this airport (or above 1500 feet). Take a look on DJI's no fly zone map http://www.dji.com/fly-safe/category-mc?www=v1
That's being said, many old models (Phantom 2) and DIY drones do not have that type of system.

That's a great preventative measure. Good for DJI.

"Takes a lickin' but keeps on tickin'".
But a major overhaul would be in order, some rotor blades would need replacing. At $10K apiece. Give or take a little.

As a jet engine mechanic in the Air Force for the past 8 years I can say yes a drone can and will damage a engine. The engines on airliners have a small opening for the compressor. Most of the time you can't see it by looking head on at the engine do to the angle of the blades. If something is sucked in there then the engine is more than likely doomed.

wouldn't a bird be more likely to fly into it than a drone?

Both are possible. I've seen a moose get sucked halfway in on takeoff at our base. A bird would be more likely since there are more of them. The real damage comes from getting sucked in the core of the engine.

In this case it's said that the "drone" hit the front of the plane. Did they find the drone? Possible not. Could it have been a bird? Yes. Then you have to ask, where are the guts of the bird if it smacked into the plane.

I certainly don't want drones hitting planes but I was under the impression that planes hit birds all the time and are usually fine. It's usually flocks of giant birds that do real damage to large planes. It doesn't seem like a DJI phantom would do too much damage but a larger drone certainly could.

Most of drone's weight is made-up of lithium ion polymer batteries which are quite explosive. It's as likely to get sucked into an engine as anything.

Lithium Polymer (Li-Po) batteries will burn when they delaminate and are exposed to air. They don't _explode_.

Listen, idiot. If a Tesla can catch fire because its battery was punctured from road debris, a drone battery can certainly do the same. Stop arguing for the sake of arguing, and I'll stop calling you an idiot.

Read the post again. I said they will burn. Yes, LiPo batteries will catch fire. Flammable (small word: burn) is not the same as "quite explosive" (small word: boom). In other words, the fuel that goes into the jet's combustion chamber is also flammable and keeps the plane in the air without the engine going boom. Get it?

While we're at it, the batteries are Lithium Polymer. There are Lithium Ion batteries which are not typically used in UAS/Drones. You seem to be mixing and combing the two up.

An A-320 hits a drone but is cleared for its next flight ? So far the facts are very vague (no damage ? no remains of the drone ? found a drone pilot ?). I think the use of conditional such as "may have struck a plane" in your headline would have been more appropriate to say the least. Looks click-bait now... Let's wait a little bit to get more information.

You're absolutely right but so far all the media have very little information to share on this event. Everybody write the same article based on a brief official statement. I just found the tittle of this article very bold considering that the conclusions are yet to be determined.

I had the same thought, Oliver KMIA. The only "fact" provided in this story is that a pilot believes a drone hit his plane. People have been mistaken in the past, even pilots. So we don't even know if a drone was flying anywhere near the plane.

I take your point Pete Miller that it would probably be very difficult to find the debris, or even certainty about the cause of any damage. I wonder what the cameras around the plane spotted? If the pilot thought he could see an object that looked like it might be a drone, maybe the object was recorded on camera?

And that's not to take away from anyone's point that drones should stay away from airports. Whether drones are likely to cause planes to crash or "just" damage them is moot for mine - drones and airports should not mix.

you "deniers" are scary. Whether this particular episode was a drone hit or bird is not even relevant. People are flying these things recklessly without regard for potential consequences and eventually a collision will occur (if this wasn't one). The fact that many of you are trying to minimize the possible dangers (without any engineering knowledge) or saying it was just, "probably a bird" makes me think that you are probably the same morons flying these in dangerous ways. You of all people should be out there demanding people be flying these machines intelligently. I doubt any of you deniers would volunteer your family members to board a plane and then ram a "small" drone into it. I really expect more critical thinking skills from the fstoppers crew but continue to be disappointed.

"Deniers" "Morons" "without any engineering" "expect more critical thinking". Here are the big words already. No one is trying to denies or minimize anything here but just calling for more reserve until the facts are fully established one way or the other. But please, enlighten us if you have first hand information or extra technical knowledge to share on this specific case. Try without insults, it goes a long way for credibility.

Sorry that you missed my point. It is insignificant as to whether this incident was a drone strike or not and whether you or I have any "extra technical knowledge about this case". It is not about this case There have been several documented cases of drones near airports and airplanes and it is only a matter of time before something horrible happens. Last evening there were some comments about turtles and video's that seemed to imply this is not a big deal. I am most concerned, however, about Lee's comment that seems to be dismissive of the story and risk to such behavior. Maybe it is misguided but I hold him to a higher standard. He is a professional photographer and has an opportunity to really inform the photographic community about the responsibility that goes with owning a drone. I felt his comment stating, "wouldn't a bird be more likely..." minimized the situation. I had hoped after his 2014 article which he later pulled the video from he would take a more proactive stance. Drones may be light weight and slow speed but if you combine that with a 100mph plus airplane or even 30mph plus motorcycle you have a serious potential problem. You are correct about my use of the term morons. I should have said moronic actions (which we all do). I stand by the rest.

No problems Jeff. All reasonable people would agree that a bird/drone/turtle/objects striking an airplane will do serious damage, especially to the engine. That's basic kinetic energy.
I just wish this article would be more careful in its statement. There's enough frenzy about drones and airplanes and I believed that FStopper should stick to facts which are slim at the moment.
For instance the FAA report stating "700 close calls" leaked by the Washington Post last year only reveals a few dozens verified close calls. But of course the headline wouldn't be has catchy this way.
I also see today that the Baltic Air Charter Association has issued a call for immediate action on the use of UAVs....
Drone present opportunities and challenges. They must be assessed and addressed in calmly manners based on facts and hard evidence. Not fueled by fear mongering media and corporation interests (on both sides: drone or airline industry).
I regret that this article falls on the fear mongering and unverified facts category.

Licensing should be required to fly a drone, as well as appropriate training and airspace restrictions mandated. There should be private and commercial licensing with appropriate training mandatory as there are for regular aircraft. The drones themselves all need to be registered. It's that plain, it's that simple. All other aircraft, cars, trucks and boats are regulated, drones need to be regulated too. Drone manufacturers are fighting hard against this because they're making lots of money off these products. They'll probably get their way, at least until a major catastrophe occurs, possibly even after that.

Well yeah, except you think, well, it's such little thing, what damage can it possibly do? Hmmm...

Furthermore, it will be the kind of drone in the hands of kids because, after all, what damage can it possibly do? You know, kids that have even less common sense than the older schmucks flying drones around Heathrow?

Let's assume for a moment this micro drone can't damage a large aircraft. How 'bout a Cessna or a Piper? How 'bout a composite plastic plane? How bout an ultralight? I guess if some clueless kid takes out 1-4 people, then it's not so bad. Hey, at least it's not an airliner filled with over 100 people, right?

I think ALL drones should have transponders on them allowing them to be identified anywhere they may be, maybe even emitting serial number and name of registered owner.

For comments based on emotions and ignorance, you seem to agree with the majority of it. ;-)

I simply look at the worst case scenario(s). Shít happens.

Well OK, I guess just an ignorant emo, thinking these micro drones are a potential threat and need legislation like the rest of the drone fleet.

But being as you're so sure they're not, I want you allay my fears of these tiny drones. So here's what I propose. I say you hop on an ultralight and go take it for a spin, and while you're doing that, I'll take one of those micro drones and crash it right into the ultralight you're flying, so you can prove to me once and for all how foolish I've been about all this.

As you've mentioned, they don't go up too high, so I guess I'll have to crash it into the ultralight somewhere along downwind, base, or final. This way you can prove your point, and I can see for myself how silly I've been about all this.

What do you think?...

Fair enough.

Actually UK already has a strict regulation on drone and the current mandatory registration in USA doesn't prevent idiots to fly on short final of active runway. Same as people committing crimes or driving under influence, a regulation doesn't eliminate bad behavior.
As for the manufacturers, most of them are not fighting against regulation. Having their drone associated with accident is bad for business. DJI, the world's leader has implemented automatic flight restriction (geofence) around airports for years now even before being asked by the authorities.

Comparing the situation between it being a bird as opposed to a drone is not a productive argument. The real issue is common sense. This situation plays right into the hands of the naysayers and politicians who will use it as their argument for draconian laws. All because of one idiot.

There's a huge influx of cheap Chinese video drone can cost as low as $60 http://bit.ly/syma5 , I wonder why this didn't happen more often.

As an FAA Certified Flight Instructor for 22 years, Professional Photographer and drone operator, it scares the hell out of me when I read some of these comments. Over the last several years, when I approach an airport for landing, I’ve started to have a very uneasy feeling about what’s out there between me and the airport. These types of comments/posts literally pop up in my brain during the last ten minutes of flight. “Beware of drone danger” is now a permanent addition to my landing checklist. The question we all need to ask ourselves is do we want the drone sector of aviation to continue to be considered the “danger” or are we going to stop trying to justify our actions as “no big deal” and become a legitimate part of the aviation industry? Like it or not, drones are a part of the aviation industry, I think it’s time we all take it to the next level.

If you think a drone striking another aircraft is not a danger, just picture in your mind a DJI battery going through the prop/windshield at 120 knots:


Greg, as a fellow private pilot, I sympathize with you in every respect. Unfortunately, the readers of this website appear to have the reasoning of a fifteen year old who just got a shiny new toy for birthday, and are determined to fly it regardless of the risk. Unfortunately, it will probably take a major aviation disaster for everyone to truly appreciate the gravity of this problem.

The fact that people are even questioning the damage a drone would do do an aircraft engine is simply beyond me.

That's because this website likes to sell the image of being a photographer more than the actual craft and responsibility of being a photographer. Especially with drones. It's the writers attitude as much as the people commenting. In my opinion obviously.

I'm not sure where you got that idea from.

Myself: "I personally have no patience for such behavior. It's no secret that the airspace above Los Angeles is incredibly busy, and to knowingly fly a drone high into that airspace is to willingly endanger lives."

Adam Ottke: "...some people apparently can’t exercise enough common sense to stay away from populated areas (i.e. Los Angeles) and critical city infrastructure (i.e. power lines)."

Jason Hudson: "It seems the narrow margin of escape from these potential disasters is getting narrower and narrower. Perhaps it is only a matter of time before an accident like this ends horribly in such a public arena. What kind of safety measures could prevent this in the future?"

I fly myself, and every time I read these stories, I think of the bird video shown above. We take the safe and responsible operation of drones very seriously.

The way I see it: either drone operators regulate themselves by way of formal training and registration, or they get regulated even more heavilly by the FAA or another authority. And those guys ate their sense of humor with very small spoons.

So how much does an anti-drone legislator have to pay to get drones banned? oh, about 499 for a phantom 3. fly that baby into restricted airspace and wait for something to happen.

The 'geo-fencing' that dji have added is the way forward. Not just lateral restrictions, but more importantly, the altitude needs to be limited.
That plus, a register, will eliminate the majority of the problems.


Multiple news outlets are reporting that it may not be a drone. It was the local police force that tweeted the original claim but it has not been confirmed by anyone and it starting to sound as though it was simply an object and the assumption was that it was a drone.





Thank you, we have official updates regarding this story coming soon.

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