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Should an unmanned drone be sucked into the engines of a plane, the results would be disastrous.
So a US Airways plane almost smacked into a drone earlier this year.
According to the Wall Street Journal, a US Airways pilot was approaching an airport in Tallahassee, Fla., on March 22, when he came so close to a "small remotely piloted aircraft" that he was "sure he had collided with it," said Jim Williams of the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA).
Williams, head of the FAA's unmanned-aircraft office, made the incident public for the first time at a conference in San Francisco on Thursday.
There did not appear to have been a collision upon inspection, he said, but "the risk for a small [drone] to be ingested into a passenger airline engine is very real."
The near-miss occurred about 5 miles from the airport at an altitude of roughly 2,300 feet.
The drone was said to have been painted in camouflage, which would be unusual choice for the many commercial enterprises that now use drones as well as the military, at least according to the Defense Department.
Word in the skies is that unmanned aerial vehicle, aka drone, most likely belongs to a hobbyist. The FAA hasn't been able to locate the owner, however.
The FAA currently bans the commercial use of drones in the United States. Hobby and many law-enforcement uses are permitted, though hobbyists are required to notify an airport when they're that close. Whoops.
The incident has sparked lots of talk about the lack of clear rules around drones. Without a better set of rules, near misses like this one and, worse, actual collisions are increasingly likely.
Now, imagine "a metal-and-plastic object, especially that big lithium battery, going into a high-speed turbine engine," Williams said.
"The results could be catastrophic."