Drone collisions: what did I tell you?

Quite apart from terrorists using small unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV’s, or drones) to carry explosives or other weaponized cargo, I’ve been warning for years that they may be used to try to deliberately collide with airliners while landing or taking off.  The sheer volume of such incidents (most, thanks be to God, near-misses or close encounters so far) convinces me, from a statistical perspective alone, that all of them can’t possibly be accidental or unplanned.  Some of my past articles include:

Well, guess what happened on Thursday?  (Click the screen capture for a larger view.)

US and international news media are also reporting that the collision was probably with a drone.  There is no blood or other physical debris to indicate that a bird was involved, so that’s a likely deduction.  I’m sure investigators are searching for any detached parts of the UAV’s fuselage, propellers, etc. to confirm the ‘diagnosis’.  The damage is also similar (albeit worse than) that caused to another Boeing 737 during a drone collision while approaching the airport at Tete, Mozambique, in January 2017.  Compare the photographs of the two aircraft and you’ll see the similarities for yourself.

Interestingly, ABC10 News in San Diego reports:

The flight was from Guadalajara, but flight tracking website FlightAware showed the plane did not take its usual course. According to the tracker, the Aeromexico flight instead flew into the U.S., over a flight-restricted zone along the U.S.-Mexico border.

That’s an area where drones are in constant use by Mexican drug cartels to ferry drugs and supplies over the US border, as we recently discussed in these pages.  One of them might have been in the wrong place at the wrong time.

I continue to believe that deliberate attempts to crash a drone into a jet airliner have occurred, are occurring, and will continue to occur.  If the Aeromexico incident is included, there have already been at least four recorded incidents of drone mid-air collisions of which I’m aware, including one in Canada and one in New York.  I can easily imagine terrorists planning to fly multiple drones into the landing pattern of a major airport, to “swarm” an airliner as it was too low and slow to maneuver easily.  That’s not a happy thought – and the damage shown above illustrates the danger.  What if that drone had hit an engine, or multiple engines, rather than the nose cone?  What if it had struck the cockpit windows instead of the radome?

Food for thought.



  1. Well those of us with a working knowledge of the subject need some better info, Pastor. So far on your scholarly lectures on the subject, I’ve seen several CG animations showing 2 lb. drones dropping 80 lb. bombs with surgical precision on tanks. I’ve seen a few attempts to weaponize these things by people that were obviously loons and easily caught by the authorities. I’m intrigued by this latest one about the cartels using them to run drugs. My only question there is why? When you can’t defend your borders against illiterate peasant families migrating illegally… why would the cartels go to the hassle of using drones? Especially when they can buy the authorities and politicos out of pocket change?

    Something is not adding up about that collision either. Commercial drones do not operate at the same altitudes that jets typically cruise at. Again, it’s elementary physics: the radios don’t have the range, the multi rotors can’t reach the higher altitudes as the air thins, etc.

    Whatever, if some alarmist old hens want to believe that drones are going to destroy the world, I suppose there is no harm in it. What really intrigues me is the organized smear job and media misinformation going on here, and the perps that are trying to stampede the public. What are these guys doing that has them so worried about being seen by a hobby drone? There is a reason they are trying to take the eyes out of the skies… and I would love to know what it is that has them so frightened.

  2. @Glen: I have no idea why you persist in ignoring reality, but you do. In every post I've made on the subject, I've provided links to news reports, official government statements, even videos, proving the points I make – yet you persist in denying the possibility of anything behind my claims except my delusions.

    I'm no longer going to reply to your comments on the subject. I'll let my readers follow the links I provide, examine the evidence for themselves, and draw their own conclusions. You and I will simply have to differ on the subject.

  3. We know that drugs are being moved accross the border via drones. Fact, not fantasy. Why? My bet is a combination of reasons. Higher success rate than 'mules', lower expenses, experimenting in case the wall gets built would all work.

  4. I'd say a drone hitting the windscreen is likely to cause less severe damage than the radome hit due to the thickness and strength of the transparency. The more serious concern is the engines. Hi bypass fans make a big target, but a drone is more frangible than a large burden and the debris is likely to be spun radially in the collision, meaning little debris is likely to get into the core and really affect the engine. On approach the flight path is shallower and more predicable, but engines are operating at low power. Worst case would be a swarm at the departure end of a runway…..but even heavy aircraft flight path is steep to over 400 ft and I doubt you could pop up a swarm close enough and fast enough without getting noticed.
    Notwithstanding the above, the threat is real: probability of deliberate (stupidity or malfeasance) attempt is non-zero (certainly Remote: 1e-3 to 1e-6 per year in CONUS) potential severity is Catastrophic, so the risk is Serious. (See MIL-STD -882). Were I the FAA, I'd be conferring with the DHS and FBI on defensive strategies for airports……

  5. Hey Peter;

    I have seen bird strikes on airplanes and have repaired a few. The Radome is composite and thin because of the weather radar and other things that are under there. The windows are made of much sterner stuff, remember they fire frozen chickens at the windows to test the durability when the occasional Canadian goose makes an appearance…eh. As far as the motors goes…or engines…sure they can try to FOD out a turbofan, but the engines are much more durable than people think, Sure Drones can be a threat, but I honestly believe that the plane hit a drug mule drone near the border. The cartel uses drones to ferry dope and watch the American side for the border patrol. "Murphy" on Murphy's Law has stated that from his experience.

  6. A 'soft kill' that forces a functioning plane to land and takes it out of the duty rotation is still a kill, considering how few actual resources most militaries have. Do this to a P-8, or a C-130 or C-17, or various command and control aircraft. Plane still works, but is now in the repair shop.

    No deaths to warrant an over-enthusiastic response by armed soldiers or drones. Just an inconvenience, that leaves a hole in a patrol pattern or stops a cargo run…

    Kinda like what Tom Clancy talked about in his book "Debt of Honor."

  7. Judging by the size of the hole and peeled back material, I would guess that if this was a drone, it was not a hobby size unit. This would be a commercial size, something designed to lift a payload of more than a few ounces. Obviously, ~5 figure cost would not be a big deal for a drug cartel.
    I don't recall if Murphy mentioned drone sizes in his reports from the border area. Difficult to tell sizes when they are flying at a distance without some sort of reference object near them, unless you recognize the model.

  8. Gonna try this again, my last attempt was eaten by the ether before I could sign in…

    Gonna put on my USAF aircrew hat for a moment (unlike the uniform from a few years ago, this thing still fits pretty well…) and cover a few points for the skeptics out there

    1. The USAF considers this a real, known, and 'Serious' threat. See Differ's comment re 'Serious'

    2. We're not talking the $40 quadcopter from Walmart little Billy up the street got for Christmas, or even the commercial-grade $5000 can stream hi-def video and pictures nwhile carrying a couple pounds quadcopter. RC hobby planes are considered drones for this definition. Think a scale model of a C-47 or other cargo plane

    3. They've been used by terror/rebel groups for assassinations before. Remember all those 'Amnesty International condemns the US drone strike that killed 2/wounded 3 at a wedding in X Country' form a few years ago? Yeah, those weren't all us. Or even our allies. Rival terror groups with hobby aircraft carrying a cellphone-trigger IED at the wedding.

    4. High performance/low cost CPU's scare the ever-loving shinola out those of us who were following the intel while I was in. It puts computerized flight operations in the bloody hands of anyone who is willing to spend four (yes, 4 as in $9,999 or less…way less, if the numbers a few of us came up with were right) figures.

    4b. If this doesn't scare you, think about the explosive potential in 5lbs of tannerite (https://www.youtube.com/watch?time_continue=97&v=1hSqj9A2wcA) and now put more of a less stable compound in the take-off/landing corridor at JFK, DFW, or Newark where all that needs to happen is enough of a show from the impact to spook a pilot into banking or pulling back without enough airspeed…

    5. For the 'it can't carry that much', here's an off-the-shelf, unmodified, shipped-from-china that has a payload capacity of over 30lbs: https://www.fpvmodel.com/super-huge-mugin-4450mm-uav-h-t-tail-plane-platform_g628.html

  9. "For the 'it can't carry that much', here's an off-the-shelf, unmodified, shipped-from-china that has a payload capacity of over 30lbs: "

    There are also off the shelf drones which are equipped with tanks for applying various agricultural chemicals. They have to be able to lift enough liquid agent to cover an appreciable amount of acreage, otherwise, they're useless.

    I leave it as an exercise for the student how much that sucker would weigh if the tanks were loaded with water. Other possible fillers are left to the reader's fertile imagination.

  10. Sorry Pastor, but lets have some honesty here. Many of the links that you posted went to videos with CG special effects, fake news articles written by obscure journalists quoting 'sources close to the pentagon' and 'currently unconfirmed reports' and that type of sensationalism. You'll forgive me for not trusting the mass media, at least?

    I was going to write a small novel rebutting our expert in the USAF air crew hat – but why bother? Common sense does that, and I will just leave y'all with the questions I have that never get answered:

    – if terror groups like ISIS, Al Quida, Hamas, and The People's Movement To Ban White Underwear For Men are able to wreak such devastation with hobby toys – why isn't Uncle Sam doing it? His drones cost millions, the missiles they fire cost hundreds of thousands, and they require the attention of integrated air crews and supply chains to maintain. Why is that?

    – if these cheap toys with their Chinese electronics could lift serious payloads and warheads… why are the world's militaries spending billions on large, complex delivery vehicles and systems?

    The whole issue is obviously nonsense. Look, ladies: I can walk right into your office building with a briefcase FULL of thermite and stash it under a desk or beside a file cabinet. Or put it in a convenient trash can. The drug trade is not running on drones. Anyone that thinks so is an idiot. I can set up a meth lab in a tar paper shack a couple miles from your house. There's probably a couple already.

    And perhaps, that solves the question I asked earlier. Hmmm – drugs are coming in by the container load on ships and planes and that means corruption at very high levels. I can see such people wanting to focus the short attention spans of stupid people on drones, in that case. Why are our gov't elite leadership and their tools in the media and military trying to do it? What is their angle?

    We shall part the road between us on this subject, then. For me, listening to you talk about drones is probably much the same as you listening to David Hogg talk about guns.

  11. The solution is fairly obvious to me. Don't outlaw drones – that horse has already galloped off into the sunset. Change the law and allow airports to jam the common control frequencies. Those are standardized, and ISIS isn't going to be designing and building their own radios any time soon.

    On this topic, the US Army really needs to get its act together and bring back air defense artillery. We've had proximity fuses for 40mm shells since 1944, after all. We also need to take the Russian penchant for electronic warfare much more seriously than we have been.

  12. I operated big airplanes for a living for over two decades. I would be a lot more worried about hitting a largish bird. I've done that. Never hit a drone.

  13. http://avherald.com/h?article=4c185005
    you might want to check out this article and the comments from people in the industry

    not mexican reporters trying to sell copy ..

    and not … …. who knows very little about the subjects he espouses knowledge of

    or do we not research enough to find out the flight or ground crew never once suggested a possible drone strike

  14. I let this one lay unmolested, assured that Glen would continue to parody himself better than anyone else could, (what with Baghdad Bob being long deceased). Glad to see my expectations were not in vain.
    Meanwhile, I'll just leave these here:


    To everyone not a certifiable lunatic, the threat from small easily-available drones is real, as echoed by the White House, the Secret Service, the USAF, and the entire DoD, time after time after time.

    Listening to Glen assure us that drones can't do what they've already done is only slight less hilarious than him assuring us that planes never land, because they fly too high for drones to possibly interfere.

    This is clearly the "wisdom" of a self-appointed SME on aviation who's never seen the approach corridor to any airport at any point in history since about 1903 at Kitty Hawk NC.

    Well played, Glen.
    You never fail to disappoint, with zero assistance from anyone else.

    Just a suggestion Glen, but you should probably up your meds.
    And maybe step away from the keyboard.
    Just saying.

    But mad props for having an avatar that's ben eerily predictive since Day One.

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *