Happily, there aren’t too many field cases of drone-plane collisions to draw from. In the US, it’s illegal to fly drones anywhere near aircraft (though people occasionally do.) In test conditions, however, drones have caused serious damage to planes. University of Dayton scientists flew a 2.1lb (1kg) DJI Phantom 4 drone into the wing of an airplane, traveling at 238 miles per hour. In the blink of an eye—three-hundredths of a second—the drone had smashed into the plane’s wing, tearing it asunder “like a spoon through chocolate mousse.” If it had gone soaring into the front windscreen, or even into the engine, it would have done still more damage.

Precisely who’s responsible for this particular mischief isn’t yet clear, though some 20 police units are out hunting for the drones’ pilots. Increasingly, British police have been forced to divert resources to new forensic intelligence forces dedicated to tackling drone-related crimes. How quickly they can find the culprits here remains to be seen—though thousands of passengers are waiting with baited breath.

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