Drone Hits Plane — And This Time It’s A Real (Police) One!

Over the years we’ve brought you many stories that follow the world of aviation as it struggles with the arrival of multirotors. We’ve seen phantom drone encounters cause panics and even shut airports, but it’s been vanishingly rare for such a story to have a basis in evidence. But here we are at last with a drone-aircraft collision story that involves a real drone. This time there’s a twist though, instead of one piloted by a multirotor enthusiast that would prompt a full-on media panic, it’s a police drone that collided with a Cesna landing at Toronto’s Buttonville airport. The York Regional Police craft was part of an operation unrelated to the airport, and its collision with the aircraft on August 10th was enough to make a significant dent in its engine cowling. The police are reported to be awaiting the result of an official investigation in the incident.

This is newsworthy in itself because despite several years and significant resources being devoted to the problem of drones hitting planes, demonstrable cases remain vanishingly rare. The machine in this case being a police one will we expect result in many fewer column inches for the event than had it been flown at the hands of a private multirotor pilot, serving only to heighten the contrast with coverage of previous events such as the Gatwick closure lacking any drone evidence.

It’s picking an easy target to lay into the Your Regional Police over this incident, but it is worth making the point that their reaction would have been disproportionately larger had the drone not been theirs. The CTV news report mentions that air traffic regulators were unaware of the drone’s presence:

NAV Canada, the country’s air navigation service provider, had not been notified about the YRP drone, Transport Canada said.

Given the evident danger to aviation caused by their actions it’s not unreasonable to demand that the officers concerned face the same penalties as would any other multirotor pilot who caused such an incident. We aren’t holding our breath though.

Header image: Raysonho @ Open Grid Scheduler / Grid Engine, CC0.

70 thoughts on “Drone Hits Plane — And This Time It’s A Real (Police) One!

  1. Irresponsible and stupid as it would be, it would be great to really prove the point and have that same collision, or a near miss caught on camera – so much the same evidence with a private pilot… See just how different the reaction is… When the mear suggestion such a thing might have been in the air around an airport shuts it down and gets innocents arrested, with no proof at all you would hope such a well documented case would create a similar witch hunt for while, so they can get it out of their system and realise they are making a panic over bugger all, there are so many bigger dangers in modern life that barely get a mention…

    As when a presumably rather large police drone – as I can’t see the police being able to make any practical use of the tiny ones with their correspondingly tiny flight times and payload capacity only dents a very light aircraft it also kind of proves another point, that multirotor and other RC craft are not some magic instant plane killer the way the reporting would have you believe should some idiot get their hands on them or something go wrong, any more than a bird is, infact you would have to argue they are massively safer as birds don’t understand the concept of no fly zones…

    1. “infact you would have to argue they are massively safer as birds don’t understand the concept of no fly zones…”
      Neither do a lot of humans apparently, even ones that really have not excuse not to have known better, like the police officers in this case.

    2. When an airplane such as a Cessna 172 is on final approach to landing, it is flying pretty slowly. The flaps are usually extended all the way, the engine is usually at low throttle, and the airplane attitude is slowly being pitched up for lift. Typical landing speeds at the beginning of final approach are around 55-60 knots.

      Normally these planes cruise at about 120 knots. So there is a big difference between hitting something at landing speeds versus hitting something at full cruise speed. Further, a Cessna 172 is a relatively slow, sedate airplane. Landing speeds for high performance piston aircraft may be around 90 knots on the beginning of final approach, and if you’re flying anything like a business jet, you could be setting up for speeds of around 125 knots.

      The impact of something like a drone at the latter speeds is quite significant.

      Birds are a known issue. In fact, I have hit a bird in flight (it was probably a seagull) at cruise speed. It didn’t do any damage. But when you have hard parts that may weigh a couple kilos, it is entirely possible for it to make a hole in the windshield. Larger birds such as turkey vultures have been known to do this to aircraft. It is a very serious thing. First, you have debris in the cockpit, but worse, now you have to land with the wind in your face and NO GOGGLES. See how well you can see at highway speeds your head out of the window and no eye protection. Now think about landing an airplane that way. Finally, this may sound weird, but if you break enough of the windshield, the aerodynamic performance of the airplane can degrade quite severely. You may not have the necessary climb performance to go around safely.

      What I am trying to convey to you is that the pilot and the instructor were LUCKY. They were very lucky that nothing went through their windshield. They were very lucky that they were already going quite slowly and that they didn’t need the engine to perform to specification (because it may not have been able to).

      I’m also not trying to tell drone pilots that they have no business flying in controlled airspace, but for the love of all that is good in this world –TALK TO AIR TRAFFIC CONTROL!

      1. i can imagine the police changing up their drone use procedures due to this. like if you are within x distance from an airport, you ought to be required by law to inform the local atc. or at least have a transponder installed. though i can imagine criminals use sdr technology to sniff for said transponder as a tip off that the police are watching.

        i for one live right under the approach to the water near the local float plane dock. and some of them planes are flying very low. if i were to hover a drone up there (i know my rc heli can do it), its a very good possibility that a strike would occur. so im rather supprised that small aircraft on drone collisions haven’t happened more often.

      2. Oddly enough – THIS WAS POLICE. Hobby drones have had, in ratio, 0.000% the rate that the Canadian police have had, previously with a POLICE helicopter that ended up with $200k in damages.

        Why isn’t a small plane with a delicate windshield equipped with backup goggles for the pilot? They can afford Ray Bans, cause those look good. One plane had the windshield cave in during flight and was initially blamed on a drone – turned out it was sun damage to the plastic from being stored outside without a cover that weakened it so that it could not withstand the relative wind.

        In the meantime piloted planes kill people frequently; multi-rotor drones, not yet.

        In the USA drones are prevented by the FAA from broadcasting their location on ADS-B OUT. Seems like that would be one thing they might be required to do to alert ATC and other aircraft – but then that’s not in accordance with the pure rage anti-drone spitting-mad that is going around.

        1. Wow. One of the worst comments I have seen on HAD in quite some time. You are waiting for actual deaths before you will even entertain reigning in of your precious multi-rotor drones. It’s only a matter of time before one of these kills someone, because they have injured people—innocent people that had nothing to do with the drone’s operation.

          Airplanes aside, until now I was relatively indifferent. However, your comment has convinced me that this type of craft needs to be kept away from anyone who doesn’t want them flying around them. I believe that the unanimous consent of everyone that will be within 1000 yards of an operating drone should be obtained 1 week before it is allowed to fly in the public space at the appointed time. Violating these rules should be treated like a weapons violation—i.e. a felony with prohibitive first-offense requirements.

          1. How is unanimous consent from everyone within 1000 yards going to practically work? How does that compare to flying a kite?

            We should be mindful about not creating unnecessary danger with comparatively new toys but none of that sounds reasonable or workable.

          2. m_a_s:

            It’s only a matter of time before a teacup kills someone, too. Golf kills. Baseball kills. Boating kills far more people than quad copters ever could. And, of course, then we have real risks like cars. Are you going to make people stop driving? Using guns? Cars kill tens of thousands of people in the USA every year, and so do guns. Wasting resources controlling almost non-existent risks prevents their use for actually doing something about safety. The risk from quad copters is very small. Probably a lot of people, if forced to quit flying quad copters, would do something more dangerous. Model airplanes, which are probably even safer, and have had a good record for many decades, get lumped in too.

            I don’t know what your real problem with quad copters is, but it isn’t safety.

            If you manage to somehow create a risk free society, it will only be that way because everyone in it is dead.

      3. I’d absolutely go so far as to say that drone pilots shouldn’t fly in controlled airspace. That’s the “controlled” part. The ATCs need to be sure where everything is. The local police (obviously) should have contacted them.

        But it’s also true that the drone panic has been used to push through laws onto hobby flyers, winged or rotored, that are far in excess of what was previously agreed. And that’s a bummer.

        Did I tell you about this one time that we were leaving San Diego and hit a flock of geese? Plane limped up the coastline to LAX at low altitude. They explained it to us once we were on the ground — they had a cracked winshield up front. Good choice: it was a flight to Europe, up over the pole and across the Atlantic and all that. You know how you watch that crack growing and growing…

      4. Didn’t say they were not dangerous in a collision, as of course they are – but a bird doesn’t know it shouldn’t be there, most humans will obey that restriction, and most drones are actually quite a bit lighter than birds.

        This was a pretty heavy impact – sure nothing on if the cesna had been a faster aircraft, but still a relatively high closing speed. And against a very lightweight plane – the way the media has been reporting drones you would expect the cesna to instantly be uncontrollable at best, an probably instantly a massive fireball on the strength of the reporting against drones. This is nothing but some pretty minor (if expensive) damage, and with the timing even if it had breached the window an emergency landing at an airport is disruptive but much less likely to be fatal.

        So I would agree in one sense they were lucky their billion to one back luck of actually colliding with a drone turned out with no major harm done. But equally lets not oversell it, that really rare collision would only cause serious harm to the aircraft one in several hundred thousand times (if not more) so actually they would need to roll a serious string of nat 1’s to come close to the required level of bad luck to come to harm! (The number of bird hits vs actual effect on the aircraft is a pretty good indicator of what drones can do)

        1. Well the rarity of the event is somewhat dependent on the controller of the drone. If someone were hell bent on colliding with a plane, the rarity goes way down. If they’re super cautious, the rarity goes up. If they’re a stupid cop, it’s a coin toss.

          1. Actually hitting something moving so fast, with your relatively slow RC flyer, even if you really really want to is going to be far from trivial… It will obviously shift the probabilities some but its such a challenging task I would still expect it to be nearly impossible to succeed at, the sort of thing you would have to try actively for a week to actually hit once…

            When you look at how often experienced RC pilots hit static objects marking their course rather than fly through the gap, now try to find the right spot of air and arrive there at the right moment when the target is moving and you wouldn’t actually be able to see it easily to adapt to its changing course…

            It is however certainly possible, and I’ve got some ideas on how it could be done deliberately with pretty good reliability. But it wouldn’t be a human pilot, we just don’t have the depth perception needed to calculate the required trajectory – folks have a hard enough time crossing the flight path with the very much faster moving and larger danger area projectiles from anti-aircraft guns, and to be reliably effective when you did hit would take some extra onboard nasties…

    1. Interesting,
      In that case the drone there weights just over one lb, and was presumably moving at a reasonable speed.
      Wouldn’t a large bird have broken through the window and caused similar damage?

      Or is it just that the drone has less squish than a bird and that the windshield safety standards need to be updated?

    2. The goal is to raise the safety of small drone flight to that of manned aviation. There have been no deaths resulting from small drones but US manned aviation had 414 fatalities in 2019 and 379 in 2018. Small drones have a long way to go.

    3. By that argument anything with a finite level of improbability will happen. Its not at all if something bad can happen – its all about how likely it is and how bad it will be if it happens.

      In the case of Drones VS other aircraft the numbers so far make it look ridiculously unlikely to happen or cause any real harm, though no doubt one day it will.

      It would take a fair bit of skill even to make a collision happen on purpose, as the drone would have to near enough park exactly in the way in all 3 dimensions – multi rotors are generally not even close to fast or powerful enough to deal with the speed and wash produced by human scale aircraft so would have to put themselves exactly in its flightpath, I would suggest when you look at how good folks like those at Flitetest are with RC control even against static objects like trees – and those guys do a great deal of flying the odds of being able to actually collide on purpose are so close to zero it counts as zero in the real world without FPV, and maybe up enough to happen after several weeks of trying with FPV and lots of spotters with radios to help… And that is assuming active malice!

      Then there is the actual harm caused – which from everything we have seen is not meaningfully different to a bird strike, which happens all the time usually to no effect for the aircraft at all… So yes at some point somebody is going to get hurt because of a RC aircraft, though for my money its more likely to be pilot error in the same way folks smash their cars when they get surprised by something than actual harm to the aircraft…

      But the time that it takes to happen just once how many folks die because the train crossings are not idiot proof enough, they eat too many burgers, their dog startles livestock, a simple fall, they breath in that one thing they happen to be allergic too and never knew, or…., all of life is risk, but not all risks are worth panicking over.

  2. These guys should have known better…. But this is the problem with this technology. We RC’ers cringe every time we see these stories as it just brings more regulation to our hobby. To use, if people would just join a club and fly at a designated airfield and fly within normal eye-sight of the plane/drone…. No problem. Out of sight, out of public mind…. That may be a ‘regulation’ down the road because of these far and few problems (but highly media sensitive).

    1. The same reason the media goes in to a frenzy every time an autonomous car crashes, but not when a human crashes – people are scared of things they don’t understand. Fear sells news.

      1. You made me remember, this week news make fun of “how unreliable” the Tesla system is at making sure an human is behind the steering… by cheating the detection system. (Like adding weight to the steering).

        Ok, I will solder the safety valve off of a hot water tank and then put it in fire and I will said how unreliable the safety of those hot water tank are when it will explose!

    2. Maybe those requirements absolutely have to be there for safety or whatever, but “if people would just” comes off as pretty arrogant and dismissive.

      I don’t have any personal interest in any of this, but if I *were* to take an interest, I’d be much more interested in building something that could travel long distances autonomously than in building a “model” of anything. Which means that line of sight would be impractical. And my understanding is that a lot of people fly these things for photography purposes, which could also make being in line of sight hard, and definitely makes “designated airfield” a total non-starter.

      As for joining clubs, I strongly suspect that the clubs are very good at supporting *your* reasons for flying, and extremely bad at supporting *other* reasons for flying.

      You can’t assume that everybody’s gets the same value out of something as you do, and so you can’t assume that a “solution” that works for you will work for everybody.

      1. See, all we want to do is fly airplanes, jets around the patch/field. Doesn’t bother anyone. Been doing it for years and years. Fly line of sight, below a certain height, have spotters incase of full scale fly-overs, etc. We have internal guidelines on dos/don’ts for a reason…. And we have a LOT of fun flying and building aircraft. Then along comes ‘drones’ which anyone including the family dog (almost) can fly and even fly themselves. All of a sudden we have new regulations coming down that we are supposed to comply to. We almost lost our field over the new governmental rules, and more are probably coming.

        I am not against drone flying. Make that clear. However….

        When you start flying ‘everywhere’ and not within line-of-sight, and at high altitudes. You can really cause problems. In these cases you should have a ‘separate’ classification for that type of flying. In some cases get a notam from the FAA, file a flight plan, etc. Maybe even get a ‘license’ for your activity. Problem is we have a certain segment of the population that doesn’t care (have any common sense?) whether they fly over people, fires, into stadiums, high altitude, etc. Probably even think it is their right. This is probably a very small percentage (I hope), but politicians will simply lump us in with them when they make legislation and we get stuck/hammered with it. That I don’t like. If that comes off as being arrogant … so be it :) .

  3. The collision report is slightly entertaining.

    Make & Model of First Craft: 1972 Cessna 172N with highly specific engine identification and every other detail short of the trademark multi-brush pinstripe color(s)

    Make & Model of Drone: dude how do you even fill out one of these forms for a drone

  4. The incident is worse than just a dented engine cowling. According to the accident report linked to in the article the drone hit the prop as well. That is a significant repair, likely running into the thousands even if there is no actual damage.

    What the hell were the cops doing with a drone as close to an airfield that an aircraft on descent in final approach collected the thing. Idiots is too polite a term for them.

    That airfield isn’t a small grass strip in the middle of nowhere either.

    1. Known prop strike causes engine tear down and crankshaft inspection, prop dents may cause replacement, about $35,000 last I looked. Police will pay nothing towards this, may bill Cessna owner for damaging their drone.

  5. Here is a link to an earlier story of the York Regional Police starting their drone program. It includes several pictures of the drone they are apparently using. From the article:

    “Two licensed officers, one observing the drone and the other using a tablet and stylus pen to control the flight path, operated the apparatus that’s worth $125,000, including the cameras. It weighs 2.4 kilograms, is capable of vertical take offs and landings and can capture high-resolution images during the day or night. “The UAV is a welcome addition to our investigative toolbox,” police Chief Eric Jolliffe said.”


    1. In Ontario, taxpayers are an unlimited source of funding for government. And when taxpayers are asked if they mind a tax increase for this or that, they shrug and say it sounds worthwhile.

        1. It is licensed I am sure, otherwise they wouldn’t fly it. The regulations are very strict. NAV Canada is a private company that conducts work for airports. They aren’t the government. They were running an operation, they need to fly in restricted airspace. It’s all normally very well controlled and rules are followed. They also probably have an SFOC and can fly under those rules.
          UAV are very good tools for situational awareness in a rapidly developing situation and assist police with their job. Obviously something went wrong.

  6. All of my DJI drones can’t take off near an airport amongst other places like police departments .
    They also warn me when a maned aircraft is in the area nonmatter where I’m flying . We don’t
    need more laws , just less stupid people .

    1. “Less stupid people” is not going to happen. Restrictive technology is what is going to happen. Increasing monitoring, geo-boxing, and external third-party shut-off controls is what will happen. Governments truly love to control their citizens with increasingly intrusive technology.

  7. Get rid of airplanes, Military pilots, and General Aviation pilots. They are a menace to society and a danger to themselves..

    Planes have killed millions of people. Enola Gay and Bockscar alone killed several; 100,000 people.

    Civilian drones, none. A typical drone weighs as much as an inflated basketball, or a bird. If they can’t navigate around flying basketballs and birds and drones, they need to go back to flight school.

    I think it’s time to clear the skies of these dangerous airplanes, and airplane pilots, not the other way around.

    They’ve had a hundred years in the skies, and it’s time for them to clear off and make way for the future. The paradigm has changed.


  8. I live in York Region within 5km of buttonville airport. This is literally the first I’ve heard of the incident.

    Amazing how quiet they keep it when it’s the police who did it.

  9. One option for regulation would be to require all drone control signals to be isolated to frequency range X through Y. Within controlled airspace, broadcast a constant and common kill signal across that frequency range – drones that enter the no-fly zone fall out of the sky well prior to collision distance. Any harm is the responsibility of the drone operator; any out-of-frequency/kill-resistant operation is jail time.

    It’s approximately the same as getting arrested for riding your bicycle on the interstate/motorway/Autobahn – you lose your bicycle and possibly your freedom. “It’s just a bicycle and would hardly dent a car” is not a valid argument.

    Laws exist because people suck. Drone-flying people who suck ruin drones for everyone else.

    [Sidebar]: Car & Driver in the US ran an article (possibly the aforementioned) about the ease with which anyone can bypass the “self-driving” safety technologies from many companies (Tesla, GM, Mercedes, BMW, etc.). The gist was that those companies have strict liability if their products cause harm, and included in that is an expectation of competent and thorough prevention of bypass or escape (tangent – see also: Boeing 737-MAX). If you can disable driver-presence safety with, e.g., an orange or an ankle weight or novelty glasses, the driver-presence safety is (perhaps comically) insufficiently robust.

    Life and death risk is the wrong place for a “move fast and break things” mentality. If you doubt this, ask a surgeon why they don’t use the technically more modern and clearly more expedient chainsaw instead of a scalpel.

    Rules and their more stringent counterparts, laws, exist because people are reliably selfish and thus suck. Drone-flying people who suck ruin drones for everyone else; YouTube jerks who bypass car control safety systems ruin current almost-but-not-quite self-driving for everyone else. If you cannot accept this, revisit this conversation when your plane’s starboard high-bypass jet engine ingests a mis-flown drone and sends you hurtling to Earth one final time in a sickening high-g roll and a gush of Jet-A flame, or revisit as an errant self-driver oranges or ankle-weights itself head-on into your family’s current mode of transportation at speed. Choose that moment to try to reassure your friends and loved ones that personal desire and individual freedoms trump all other values.

    1. In the 1800s before anesthesia and antibiotics, a “good” surgeon was FAST. One highly regarded surgeon once amputated a man’s leg in 3 seconds. And the assistant’s finger(s). And the patient’s testicle.

  10. Where I live, the airport closes the airspace when the Police are flying drones, and the police cant fly drones without reporting to the tower. (we also have a hospital with ambulance helicopters coming and going)
    I listen to the tower freqency and incoming airliner have had to take a waitpattern if the police in question is not answering the phone and they have to call the dispatcher to radio the police to take the drone down.

    Hey all you people up there, sorry you will miss the connecting flight, but the Police is playing with their latest toy, and oh, I hope you dont mind the airplane burning an extra ton of fuel.

  11. OMG! The sky is falling!



    The U.S. Department of Agriculture, through an interagency agreement with the Federal Aviation Administration, compiles a database of all reported wildlife strikes to U.S. civil aircraft and to foreign carriers experiencing strikes in the USA. We have compiled about 241,000 strike reports from over 2,000 USA airports and over 300 foreign airports for January 1990 through January 31, 2021 (about 11,600 strikes in 2020). The following examples from the database, presented in chronological order, show the serious impacts that strikes by birds or other wildlife can have on aircraft and demonstrate the widespread and diverse nature of the problem.


  12. Being licensed to fly drones in Canada, I am required to know in how many different ways what that officer did was illegal.

    The answer is “lots”, and I’m not sure why the OP says the outcry would have been larger had the drone NOT been theirs. If the drone hadn’t been theirs, the guy would never have been in that airspace to begin with, because he wouldn’t have been able to flash a badge and ignore regs above his pay grade.

    The pilot needs to be held to task like any other drone pilot operating without a SFOC in controlled airspace. I assume he had his advanced operations license, and should face the full penalties here. Since this is an institutional or commercial flight that is a license suspension for the operations commander and a $50k fine. That’s what a “civilian” would get (note that under the Police Services Act, cops are civilians in civilized countries, so airquotes) and I hope whoever fucked up has to defend his case similarly.

    This is not “the sky is falling”, this is “someone ignored at least 5 different regulations and broke a fuckton of laws”.

    1. It’s cute that you think anything is going to happen. I bet he’s back out there with the next taxpayer funded airplane whacker explaining that he just didn’t have his right sunglasses last time.

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