Virginia Tech researchers are urging changes in how commercial aircraft engines are designed in the wake of a possible new threat to passenger aircraft safety: drones, or unmanned aerial vehicles, being sucked into turbofan engines at high speeds. Such an impact would be devastating to the engine as its blades are ripped to shreds after “ingesting” the hard-shell center of a drone’s electronics housing.

Virginia Tech researchers created computer animes of what would happen if a drone was pulled into a commercial airliner’s turbofan engine block.

U.S. Federal Aviation Regulations require commercial aircraft to adhere to design criteria that help ensure the aircraft’s survival after a midair collision with smaller “soft” airborne objects, i.e. birds. However, little investigation has been conducted on the ingestion of drones into larger engines.

The researchers urge that more education on safe drone flight use is vital. The team is exploring various methods that could be used to prevent more critical collisions of drones and aircraft. The team notes that engine failure rates and timing can change with different commercial aircraft and different relative impact velocity between the drone and the plane.