Envoy Air Flight 3961 Suspected Drone Strike Was Actually A Balloon

Posted Aug 25, 2021

On August 22nd, an Envoy Air Embraer E175 was performing flight AA3961 from Chicago (ORD) to Detroit (DTW) when the crew members reported hitting a drone shortly after takeoff from Runway 09C. The story which was reported on several sites including AVHerald and VAS Aviation sparked heated debates, as unwanted drone encounters around airports have slowly increased over time.

The aircraft (registered N242NN) was climbing through 2,500 feet when the pilots reported possibly hitting a drone. From the recorded broadcast, the pilots are heard saying, “we just hit something. I believe we hit a drone about 30 seconds ago. We’d like to return to O’Hare.” After a few vectors around the field, they made a safe return in order to inspect the aircraft for damage.

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According to the FAA, an inspection of the aircraft revealed minor damage, but it turns out that the object the pilots hit was actually a mylar balloon and not a drone as was initially suspected. The aircraft was able to return to service the next morning.

Thankfully this was not a case of a drone being somewhere it was not meant to be, but the number of drone sightings and collisions has increased over time, to the point where the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has a public log of listed sightings as reported by pilots. In 2018, hundreds of flights in and out of Gatwick Airport (LGW) in London had to be canceled after there were reports of drone sightings near the runway. The incident resulted in airport officials shutting down operations for about 30 hours over a 3 day period, at the cost of about £1.4 million.

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Drone strikes could result in significant aircraft damage depending on factors like the size of the drone, as well as the force and area of impact. In a study conducted by researchers at the University of Dayton, they found that after they launched a drone into the leading edge of a wing, the drone penetrated deep into the wing’s cavity, damaging the main spar.

To somewhat combat airport incursions, some manufacturers even include software limiters so that drones can’t be flown above certain altitudes, but based on some quick Google searches, the values vary significantly by brand and model.

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[Featured Photo: Pxfuel]

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