Jim Williams, who heads the Federal Aviation Administration's unmanned-aircraft office, revealed at a drone conference in San Francisco on Thursday that the March 22 US Airways flight from Charlotte, N.C. to Tallahassee, Fla. came so close to the drone that the pilot "was sure he had collided with it."
The drone was painted with camouflage, which would be unusual for most of the drones used by the American military, at least according to the Defense Department.
The drone was more similar to a model aircraft flown by hobbyists rather than a so-called quadcopter that many see as the type of unmanned aircraft with commercial potential.
The flight's near brush with the drone occurred about 2,300 feet above the Tallahassee Regional Airport, and while inspection of the plane found no damage, Williams warned that "the risk for a small [drone] to be ingested into a passenger airline engine is very real."
"Imagine a metal-and-plastic object, especially that big lithium battery, going into a high-speed turbine engine," he said. "The results could be catastrophic."
Update: The plane was a U.S. Airways flight. U.S. Airways is owned by American Airlines.