Would a golf ball ingested into an engine, or impacting a windshield cause meaningful damage to a commercial airplane?
The scenario below outlines that this is possible, but the principle question is: would it actually matter, as in, would it cause the same level of damage as, say, a strike from a single bird?
At McCarran airport in Las Vegas (KLAS), runway 1R is situated just across the street from a driving range. Several years ago, I was hitting balls on this range when a 747 landed on 1R. It seemed impossibly low; many people on the range stopped hitting to point and take pictures. For context, here's a video (not mine) taken from nearly the exact same spot, with an approach to the same runway.
At the time, I remember thinking "That plane is very low... what if it got hit?" Appearances are often deceiving, so my initial assumption was that it must be higher than I thought, so a did a bit of basic trig to find out:
The touchdown markers on 1R are about 4,250 feet (red line in picture below) from the top-level hitting stations. With a 3 deg. glide slope, the plane would have been roughly 225 feet above the ground when passing over the driving range (slightly lower down range when balls that have been hit are at their highest point).
(Image: Google Earth; own drawing)
With a 21-degree 7-wood which I hit about 200 yards, the ball would reach an apex of around 230 feet.
So, wind, timing, and the quality of golf shot actually struck notwithstanding, it seems at least possible that a ball hit from off that range could hit an airplane. In other words, the "bounding box" of the plane at least theoretically intersects a line representing the maximum height of a shot from the driving range. Thus, it seems unsafe, even if the chance is 1:1,000,000 (or greater).
I have to assume that since KLAS is one of the busiest airports in the U.S., that this is not actually an issue, otherwise changes would already have been made.
However, if an impact or ingestion were to occur, are there circumstances where it would be a "significant" event?
- No one, esp. myself, was trying to hit the plane.
- Despite #1, there are at least 50 hitting stations, which means lots of shots in the air as the plane is passing over the range.
- This is Vegas, and alcohol is served at that range. People do try, sometimes, to hit the guy in the little range car. I doubt that would ever carry over to a plane, but it can't be logically ruled out.
- My concern is that even without anyone trying, a ball could still impact the plane. But would it matter?