back to article Height of stupidity: Heathrow airliner buzzed by drone at 7,000ft

An airliner circling Heathrow narrowly missed colliding with a drone flying at 7,000 feet – while another aircraft approaching the London airport saw a drone hurtle past just 30 feet from its cockpit. The first near miss took place in mid-May when an Airbus A319 pilot flying to Heathrow saw a one metre-long drone, painted …

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Re: Cue loads of people saying...

Nothing would happen, unless these bombs were really equipped with the goods and the safety were off.

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Mushroom

Re: Cue loads of people saying...

And hope like hell the safety devices work if it's someone that's carrying a physics package.

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Stop

Re: Cue loads of people saying...

Having seen what happens to a Rolls Royce Trent when a goose is fed into the intake, I cannot begin to imagine what something as unsquidgy as a drone would do.

Jet engines have armoured burst protection casings. They aren't there to retain bits of goose, but to retain bits of high speed nickel alloy compressor blades which are a much tougher proposition. What breaks the first blade is probably irrelevant to the outcome.

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Re: Cue loads of people saying...

"Wonder how much damage would happen on the ground if a fully-laden Tornado came off worse after hitting drone?"

Something pretty much like this, I guess.

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Re: Cue loads of people saying...

I have seen what the keys in a fitter pockets can do , when he crossed in front of an air intake at a test bay for aero-engines. No engine and big and small jigsaw bits for assets. Wondrous thing - the chief test engineer almost throttled the fitter while asking him what he had put through 'my engine'. Nothing 'squiggy' or not should be allowed near an operational aircraft (aeroplane) engine.

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Re: Cue loads of people saying...

Really care to estimate how many pieces of a drone actually have the size durability, and density of a set of keys? Answer none.

Can we stop the daily fail hysteria now - I thoughtt El Reg was read by critics also thinking engineer scientists and programmers.

Most drones are likely to have the same impact as a bird strike - ie minor inconvenience to passengers and major inconvenience to the poor engineers who have to replace the engine.

If you wimps really want to scare yourselves try googling lightening strike damage or drunken pilots.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Cue loads of people saying...

Nothing would happen, unless these bombs were really equipped with the goods and the safety were off.

Unless there's an awful lot of helium involved I think you would have to cope with a ginormous hole in the ground. Gravity still sucks..

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Headmaster

Re: Cue loads of people saying...

Lets just say the word Li-Ion Battery. Not the most stable of things, tend to go boom even when in poor buggers pockets! Put that through an engine and see if the resulting debris strike produces the same sort of forces you would expect from a regular bird ingestion.

But the fact of the matter is that whether a plane can survive flying on one engine or not is irrelevant. We are talking about the landing or taking off of an airliner carrying 200+ people. At that moment, suddenly you lose one engine - if you really dont think that is going to make the pilots day rather shit, then how about we shoot out one of your tires going down the autobahn at 120kmh? Its basically the same thing. Your car can still drive with a blown out tire. It wont handle the same and the forces on the car will act completely different, but you can handle it right? It's not going to completely throw out your handling and risk you running off the road, is it? Well guess what? It will have a much larger effect on an aircraft as suddenly you lose half your thrust, gain a f%&kload of drag (acting in totally unexpected and unforeseeable ways), forces will act in 3D not just 2D as on the road, and your still expected to hit the runway and keep 200+ people safe.

Anyone who thinks the risk is understated, has never seen the raw data of a bird strike test. Believe me Engine's are designed to take a bird strike, NOT more then that, and a Drone is a hell of a lot more then a Bird in terms of damage!

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Cue loads of people saying...

to the person that downvoted the post would you like to explain why?

I've seen a plane crash right in front of me. It took the roof off a car and killed all the occupants. The driver's husband was in the control tower watching the aircraft that crashed take off. The HS125 hit a massive flock of birds just after lift off.

It was not a pretty sight.

Bringing down a Civil Airliner is no laughing matter. If it happens on the approach to Heathrow or just about any major Airport in Europe there will be many people on the ground killed.

Are you one those very sad people who'd be there with their phone taking pictures and posting them on YouTube for your 5 nanoseconds of fame rather than helping the casualties?

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Re: Cue loads of people saying...

Gordon are you really that much of an arsehole to think that if a drone is composed of only weeny bits that won't bring down an airliner, then we shouldn't worry.

As others have already remarked one of the drones was at 7000ft and at least a metre across, couldn't be anything remotely as dense as a bunch of keys in that eh?

We can all do name calling so the 9th word of this comment should suit you.

If you consider your statement that many here including myself are engineers, maybe you should stop and think a couple of these commentards might know what they are talking about.

Harmless or not flying a drone near an aircraft is at minimum, fucking stupid and at worst potentially fatal.

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Re: Cue loads of people saying...

"Really care to estimate how many pieces of a drone actually have the size durability, and density of a set of keys? Answer none."

Brushless motors are pretty tough.

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Re: Cue loads of people saying...

> Li-Ion Battery. Not the most stable of things, tend to go boom

They may tend to catch fire but they don't explode. Inside an engine they would be no more explosive than the gallons of fuel being poured into it.

> the same sort of forces you would expect from a regular bird ingestion.

Birds are also mostly made from combustible materials (which is why we can use them as our fuel).

> then how about we shoot out one of your tires going down the autobahn at 120kmh? Its basically the same thing.

Not at all 'the same thing'.

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Re: Cue loads of people saying...

Can we stop the daily fail hysteria now - I thoughtt El Reg was read by critics also thinking engineer scientists and programmers.

There are a few videos of bird strikes totally trashing engines, I posted some on the last thread about this, one over Manchester and one on a testing rig.

Also there has been no tests done, so your guessess are also not valid. I am working from what I have been taught as an engineer about turbines etc, and also admmittedly making a guess maybe a bit more of an educated one.

But if the chance is small does not mean you should risk it, the one time it goes wrong is a big disaster. Odds may be small, but with the increase of incidents then the chances you hit the unlucky roll goes up, this is not some risk you piss around with when it can be avoided by making a few people act more responsibly with their toys.

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Paris Hilton

Re: Cue loads of people saying...

Something pretty much like this, I guess.

Hmm....

When the number of cancer cases in the vicinity of the accident rose disproportionately in the years after, suspicion rose that the jet, contrary to US statements, may have been loaded with ammunition containing depleted uranium. In 2002, however, a test of soil samples from 250 meters around the crash site revealed no traces of depleted uranium. Another possible explanation for the increased cancer rate in the surroundings, which gained credibility because no uranium was found, is that the aircraft carried JP-8 fuel. This jet propellant is considered highly toxic and may have spread around the area of the crash.

Well, I sure don't wanna work on a carrier.

Anyway... about that case where the WHO insists that Iraqi Uranium Babies have actually nothing to do with Uranium in the environment....

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Re: Cue loads of people saying...

Having seen what happens to a Rolls Royce Trent when a goose is fed into the intake, I cannot begin to imagine what something as unsquidgy as a drone would do.

Geese are not squidgy. Several years ago, some geese decided to camp on the dam about 50 metres from where I type. I shot them with 22 longs hoping for a free feed. The bullets bounced off the geese, annoying them slightly, but they stuck around for 2 or 3 days until their owners turned up and captured them.

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Re: Cue loads of people saying...

Jet engines have armoured burst protection casings. They aren't there to retain bits of goose, but to retain bits of high speed nickel alloy compressor blades which are a much tougher proposition. What breaks the first blade is probably irrelevant to the outcome.

And yet...

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Turbine_engine_failure#Notable_uncontained_engine_failure_incidents

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WTF?

Re: Cue loads of people saying...

So why didn't you exploit the superlative accuracy of your 22 long rifle rounds and shoot the damn geese in the head, which is not at all armoured and the loss of which will render the goose unable to fly off?

Even neck-shooting will disable birds nicely; there's no call to try for heart-lung shots when you can do much, much better with a little patience.

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Stop

Easily solved ...

pass a law (aren't we lucky we live in a country where we are constantly (and lately) told how parliament is supreme) which makes the manufacturers and sales agents responsible for any loss of life thanks to their drones.

Not fair, nor proportionate, but you can bet your life all of a sudden these won't be available to Barry from accounts anymore.

I'm not a big fan of the hysterical "something must be done" school of action. But in this case, the idea of a "Lockerbie plus" incident fills me with dread. Especially as the incident is most likely going to happen on ascent/descent - in other words over a heavily populated area.

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Re: Easily solved ...

So long as that law applies regardless of status, i.e. no one gets a free pass simply because they're operating a commercial or miltitary drone. As noted elsewhere, drones at 7000 feet aren't the garden-variety, consumer models.

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Re: Easily solved ...

Make drone manufacturers & sales agents responsible for end users mishaps?

What?!

Even if such an astoundingly absurd law were to be put into place, it would be absolutely and totally uninforceable due to the fact that you can (and many many people do) build a drone (fixed wing & multirotor) from individually bought parts, often driven by an open source flight controller, the likes of which has no sort of manufacturer enforced geofencing like DJI products to try and stop people flying near airports, or even limit the height to 400ft.

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Operational distance...

At 7,000ft up we are not talking toy shop drone- this was commercial or military.

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Black Helicopters

Re: Operational distance...

That should reduce the number of likely suspects. If it was indeed the military, it never happened.

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Re: Operational distance...

Or home made.

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Re: Operational distance...

More likely it was something else entirely - I seriously wonder how these people are "identifying" these things as drones given size of the object and the closing speed ... and in this case the distance from the ground (well over a mile).

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Re: Operational distance...

That's always been a bit of a puzzle to me how people can fly drones so high and people in aircraft can identify what it is when they're passing within a few meters of it at 180 knots or more.

My guess -- based on flying model sailplanes and being in full sized light planes is that high altitude drone sightings are probably debris rising on thermals. You cannot see a 3 meter wingspan plane comfortably over 300 meters (a few can, most can't) and a typical model radio won't control equipment at 7000' direct range so anything at that altitude is likely to be junk or an out of control model (thermals can grab models and lift them out of sight). When you're in even a small plane its easy to lose the feel for how fast you're actually going -- imagine trying to identify the markings on a cat that you've nearly run over while traveling at speed on a motorway (and then try to imagine doing this while traveling at two to three times that speed) and you get some idea of the problem.

A more likely problem is some clown trying to get low level pictures of commercial planes that are landing or taking off (like the Flybe incident). Or getting pictures of a news incident which makes it difficult for fire or police aviation to operate safely.

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Re: Operational distance...

Clearly it was aliens.

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Re: Operational distance...

Some out-of-the-box commercially bought quadcopters can reach a mile high, people have posted such videos on YouTube.

With the right parts you can build a ~5kg 680 sized hexcopter with 45 minuttes flight time, easily enough to get to 7000 feet & return without crashing.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Operational distance...

That's always been a bit of a puzzle to me how people can fly drones so high and people in aircraft can identify what it is when they're passing within a few meters of it at 180 knots or more.

I think this partially depends on the direction of travel. If a drone is deliberately up there to film an aircraft, it seems logical to expect it to travel in the same direction which substantially lowers the relative speed of the drone to the observer. That said, it's still going to be quite a difference - are there any drones that can actually hit 180 knots horizontal?

In any case, if it was a drone it should not be near there. It is entirely irrelevant if an engine can survive chewing up a drone - it's a risk that should not be there. It's idiotic for utter fools to undo decades of risk reduction where every little incident is taken apart to find ways to reduce risk by flying their toys near airports and flight paths. If people are so incapable of recognising the risks they cause they should barely be allowed to operate a spoon, let alone a drone.

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Anonymous Coward

As a model aircraft flyer I'm very concerned.

I fly in a countryside environment (on a farmers field) away from pretty much everyone other than my fellow club members and the farmers house. There are a lot of rules already in place, both by the club and the CAA/BMFA and we do stick to them, we also carry insurance.

These "merchant bankers" who buy a drone and fly it in such downright stupid ways are only going to create problems for us law abiding fliers, the nature of the devices means the pilot may be miles away. Given they are already breaking the laws (should stay in line of sight, under 400m, should not fly close to buildings, should not endanger any other aircraft) , I can't see how any more laws will make any difference.

DJI are already starting to try and enforce safety, by making their drones have a GPS geofenced "no fly" zones near airports and sensitive places, unfortunately the only people who will respect this and not seek to override the setting are the already law abiding fliers, not will it help with the cheap Chinese makers who sell them so cheaply.

I don't want models flying restricted more than it is, but I suspect it will be coming, as the actions of the few idiots are tarring the many safe fliers.

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If the level of automation in these quadcopter drones was reduced so that it actually required some level of knowledge, skill & practice to actually fly one it should deter the less serious from taking to the skies.

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the nature of the devices means the pilot may be miles away

Does that really work or you need a taxpayer-sourced satellite uplink for this?

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> As a model aircraft flyer I'm very concerned. ... I don't want models flying restricted more than it is, but I suspect it will be coming, as the actions of the few idiots are tarring the many safe fliers.

Too bad. There's is little (no?) evidence supporting of any of these alleged incidents, which means (to me at least) that they are just fabrications to stir up public hysteria in support of new restrictions. I.E. the decision has already been made, just not implemented yet.

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Genuine question

Aside from the relative levels of responsibility about what they're doing, what is the difference between model aircraft flying and drone flying?

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Re: Genuine question

Technically nothing.

Drones are classed as Multi-Rotor aircraft, effectively a sub class of model helicopters, and subject to the same rules as other model aircraft.

There are additional rules if the drone has a camera fitted related to privacy. Recording images for your own use is fine, but any form of selling those images is not, as that then can be seen as a commercial operation not a hobby with different rules around it.

The BMFA has lots more details but that's a summary for here..

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Windows

How about enforcing transponder codes for drones?

If you could adopt a transponder code specifically designed for drones - even if all of them use the same code - they could be easily spotted from any traffic control in the planet.

It could be enforced based on weight or size, or any significant measure of hazard to any other aircraft. I am aware that they are sometimes small enough to be spotted in any radar, but it would be a start.

At least the traffic avoidance collision gear already present in aircraft can spot them.

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Re: How about enforcing transponder codes for drones?

There are no mode-s transponders of a size suitable for mounting on large size model aircraft, let alone anything smaller. Even the ones designed for gliders are barely up for the job, are quite hefty and suck a lot of battery power.

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Anonymous Coward

They're not drones - they're UFOs.

The aliens have switched to using remotely operated air vehicles that just *look* like drones. For years pilots reported being buzzed by "strange lights", now they're being buzzed by "drones"?

Sorry, I just don't believe it...

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Anonymous Coward

Re: They're not drones - they're UFOs.

Imagine they start getting buzzed by strange lights AND drones ... while friendly people from the sandy lands demand entrance to the cockpit ...

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as usual

Issue being irresponsible and dangerous idiots.

An incident will lead to nigh unworkable, badly written and widespread draconian law.

Which will then be ignored by irresponsible and dangerous idiots leading to only responsible owners having perfectly legitimate hobby taken away..

...and the issue will remain.

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Re: as usual

Because nothing, not even laws, or consideration of the safety of others, or really anything, gets between a nerd, his toy and his freedom to fly it anywhere and take a peek into any cockpit. Because he is mighty!!!

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FAIL

I call bullshit

Commercially available drones can't do 7K ft and airline pilots are already known to make this shit up. (e.g. http://www.theregister.co.uk/2016/04/28/heathrow_drone_strike/)

They're not "one metre-long" either.

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Re: I call bullshit

They CAN be a metre long, but the craft spotted in the first tale WAS NOT A FUCKING DRONE! It was remotely piloted using FPV goggles as hinted at in the article. That makes it not a drone as it was in no way, shape or form operating autonomous. I can even believe this as FPV flyers have been known to cover quite large distances and reach pretty large altitudes.

The second story I find utter bullshit. Because either it was a twin PROPELLER/ENGINE fixed wing craft or it was not a remotely piloted craft. A twin 'copter' craft of the size described simply doesn't have the battery power to get up to 2,300 meters. A twin engine model aircraft MIGHT be able to manage it, but then it should not be described as a drone by even the most braindead of investigator, reporter or pilot.

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Re: I call bullshit

Sorry to disappoint you, @Gene Cash, but you are *wrong*. Please inform yourself first before you spout off.

The Aerial Technology Thor X4 is a 1000x1000mm drone... used for photo/videography. The SteadiDrone Vader X4 is around the same size and goes up to... 4,000m (FL130 in pilot speak). So yes, commercially available drones *DO* do 7K ft and *are* that size.

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Re: I call bullshit

They CAN be a metre long, but the craft spotted in the first tale WAS NOT A FUCKING DRONE! It was remotely piloted using FPV goggles as hinted at in the article.

1) That is still a drone

2) How do we ACTUALLY KNOW it was "remotely piloted using FPV goggles". Do we have Paranormal Seers on the plane?

3) Does "remote piloting using FPV goggles" even work at serious distances? Freestyle radio links ain't magic...

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Re: I call bullshit

The unofficial record for FPV distance is over 5 kilometers out (That distance over ground, not even altitude). 2 km up is EASILY doable with a decent FPV rig (Clear line of sight and all that)

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Nyx

The problem is...

remote control model aircraft, especially helicopters, take skill to get off the ground and keep in the air. Drones don't. Anyone can fly them which means there is a larger pool of idiots that can get hold of them.

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"While airliner cockpit windows and engines are routinely tested for resistance to bird strikes, drones are a much tougher proposition – especially at typical airliner holding speeds of 300 knots or more."

Just out of interest, has anyone actually ran a test with a drone yet?

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Anonymous Coward

Just out of interest, has anyone actually ran a test with a drone yet?

They don't have enough caught drone pilots to fill up the plane yet..

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Joke

don't you mean....

Fire the Drone pilots into Jet engines?

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Boffin

On a technical point....

Commercial airliners are not at all likely to be holding at 300kts. This kind of speed would make the holding pattern extend way out and interfere with other airways. Furthermore, unless explicit authorisation is granted the blanket rule worldwide is 250kts or below at 10k feet and under.

The most likely speed for holding is a healthy, economical, no flaps 220. Anything from 190-230 actually is the most common speed for holding.

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