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Scott Simmie

If you’re a regular reader, you’ll know by now that the collision between a drone and a Boeing 737-700 in Mozambique last week didn’t actually happen.

As TDC reported today, a more thorough investigation revealed that the damage was caused by a structural failure – the radome, which apparently had been purchased used, buckled and partially collapsed on one side.

Mozambique incident - Not a drone strike: investigation reveals it was a structural failure, not a UAV.
Not a drone strike: investigation reveals it was a structural failure, not a UAV.

It’s an expensive fix. But the damage to the industry may be harder to repair.

Here’s TDC Executive Editor Scott Simmie.

And here’s a transcript of the podcast.

Hi, my name is Scott Simmie. I’m the Executive Editor of The Digital Circuit – and welcome to our first-ever podcast. Today the topic is the recent alleged collision between a Boeing 737-700 and a drone.

Now, this was first reported, in the first week of January, by AVHerald.com.

And, according to the story, a flight called TM-136 was en route internally between Maputo to a city called Tete. It was descending when a loud bang was heard.

Now on landing, they got out and they had a look – and there was extensive damage to the nose, or radome, of the aircraft.

And if you haven’t heard that word before, a radome is a dome or structure that protects radar and other electronic equipment on board an aircraft – but is actually invisible to radio waves.

Well, it didn’t take long, of course, for the headlines to get out there. Here they are:

  • From the Express, in the UK: Drone CRASHES into Boeing 737 passenger jet coming into land
  • From Moscow: Drone Smashes into Passenger Plane During Landing
  • From The Mirror: Drone crashes into Boeing 737 jet plane coming in to land at Mozambique airport
  • From Fortune Magazine: Drone Collides with Airliner in Mozambique

And even from Motherboard, part of Vice: A Passenger jet in Mozambique collided with a drone. It then read: “No one was harmed, but it again raises concerns about drones presenting a danger to passenger aircraft.”

And now today – January 10, 2017 – the truth comes out. An investigation by aviation authorities reveals that it was actually a structural failure. Not a drone, not a bird – but a used radome that had a defect.

Now that’s great – we’re glad it wasn’t a drone.

But two things actually WERE harmed here.

  1. One: The reputation of this growing hobby and industry – which is already facing some regulatory clampdowns in certain jurisdictions.
  2. Two: The credibility of the media – which loves to embrace the worse-case scenario.

Now, this isn’t the first time it has happened. In one memorable incident at Heathrow, it was widely reported that a drone had struck a passenger aircraft. And it was later revealed, and this was in 2016, that the culprit was a plastic bag.

Now, some in this industry claim there’s never ever been a verified collision between a drone and a manned aircraft, but that’s not correct. in 2011 There was an incident involving a C-130 Hercules and a military UAV called an RQ-7 Shadow. It happened in Afghanistan and it left some pretty serious damage to the leading edge of the wing.

Now the Herc was able to come in and land, so it had a happy ending.

So we do know, with a drone of significant mass, there can be damage.

Now, that has not yet happened to a civilian airliner.

It’s been reported that it has – but it hasn’t.

At The Digital Circuit, we certainly hope it stays that way – and that the media is a little more careful with its facts.

We also hope that UAV pilots – whether hobbyists or professionals – obey all local regulations and stay clear of airports and flight paths.

Because, the truth is, there have been numerous reports of near-misses. And for us, that’s too close for comfort.

For The Digital Circuit, I’m Scott Simmie.

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