Last weekend, an Embraer E175 that had just departed from Chicago O’Hare International Airport hit something and made a quick return to land at ORD. The landing was routine, and no one was injured.
The crew was sure the plane had hit a drone. We reported earlier this week about a Cessna 172 in Buttonville, Ontario, Canada, that struck a drone at 500 feet AGL as it was approaching to land. Ouch. That drone, as it turned out, was being operated by the city’s police department. Double ouch.
In the case of the E175 that smacked something hard, the FAA quickly relayed the pilots’ report of hitting a drone, and when that happens, the feds step in and are very good at finding the person who was flying the remote-controlled craft.
In this case that will be a bit harder.
The plane, the FAA now says, didn’t strike a drone but, rather, a Mylar balloon, such as the type you see at birthday parties or baby showers. Really, you see them everywhere. Years ago, the pilot of an aerobatic plane intentionally hit a Mylar balloon he saw floating up nearby, only to severely damage the leading edge of the wing he hit it with. No one was injured, but it was still an expensive lesson in how tough these balloons are.
There’s even been a new word coined for the phenomena of stuff floating around at flying altitudes, “jetsom,” a takeoff on the word, “flotsam,” which of course is stuff that’s floating around in the sea.
While the FAA has created registries for drones and drone operators, it has not created one for Mylar balloons or their operators.