The bird always loses but…..

January 8, 2009 by Bruce Landsberg
This PA28 instructional flight , amazingly, landed safely after collision with a Turkey Buzzard.

This PA28 instructional flight, amazingly, landed safely after collision with a Turkey Buzzard.

Bird strikes are one of those things that, seemingly pilots can do little about. However, those flying turbine aircraft have good reason to be wary as a bird up the engine(s) can be catastrophic and there have been horrific accidents, usually on takeoff, where bird ingestion has created fatal engine indigestion.

The instructor on the F-16 that loses engine on takeoff to a birdstrike is masterful in his guidance to the student. They ultimately have to resort to the Houdini seats that none of us have but a BRS parachute might help in certain circumstances.

I’ll admit to having been somewhat smug about bird encounters and have suffered little as little birds have done little or no damage to non critical parts of the piston aircraft I flew. But birds are very big deal if you happen to be in the wrong place. The University of North Dakota lost a Piper Seminole and two aviation students in 2007 after a night cross country encounter with a flock of Canada Geese. At least one bird hit the stabilator causing the aircraft to depart controlled flight in a matter of seconds and crash shortly thereafter.

Bird strikes are a bigger deal than we in the GA community generally acknowledge as 80% typically go unreported (not sure how they arrive at that number) but a few statistics: The USAF reported over 4,300 in 2004 and a 12 pound Canada goose that collides with a 150 knot aircraft will exert a force of over 1,000 pounds according to information published on the US Birdstike Committee website. The committee estimates over $600 million annual damage to aircraft.

The videos and the pictures speak for themselves.

This is another link to an airliner who caught one and lost one on takeoff.

For more info: ASF Safety Topic-Bird Hazards
I’d be curious of the circumstances surrounding your bird strikes, if any. It’s something we should discuss more.

Bruce Landsberg
Senior Safety Advisor, Air Safety Institute

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  • Leo Robinson

    Hello Mr. Landsberg.

    At the moment the text which reads ”This is another link to an airliner…..” does not seem to direct the viewers of your blog to what I think you had intended.

    Some time back I came across a video which might be just what you had in mind. The airliner is ThomsonFly, boeing 757, departing Manchester with a bird strike.

    Yes the bird lost but of most importance is the professional conduct of the aircrew, controllers and ground crew.

    Hope this one works.
    (Simple copy the link above and paste it into your internet browser)

    Safe Flight.

  • Kevin R.C. O’Brien

    Hi Bruce,

    I think your F-16 video has been faked. The HUD video is real but shows events aboard a CT-155 Hawk jet trainer in Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan in 2004. The aircraft was #202. Here’s the official mishap report from the Canadian Department of National Defence website:

    Shorter link in case that dog’s breakfast of a link breaks up:

    Some jerk spliced in the F-16 shots, and promoted it as his own video. If you haven’t seen the two HUDs, or haven’t seen the original video, it’s understandable you’d be taken in. With even CBS, CNN and the Associated Press faking news these days, it’s hard to trust anything.

    Bird strikes are deadly serious for turbines. USAF had terrible loss of life in an E-8 at Elmendorf last decade — the four big turbofans ate a flock of starlings on takeoff. ISTR over twenty crewmembers died, but without looking it up I can’t say for sure..

  • David Reinhart

    Just one, and it was a small bird that came in contact with the vertical fin of the C-150 or -152 I was flying. A very small dent and we reported it to nobody except the FBO we rented the plane from.

    I’ve been worried about strikes on several occasions. Williamsburg-Jamestown frequently has a lot of Canada geese in the immediate area of the runway and the last time we departed from there the big worry was what they would do when I went to full power: would they be startled and takeoff into our path? Fortunately, nothing of the sort happened.

  • Lawrence Stalla

    My Mooney M20K met up with what was probably a Canada goose at about 2:30 AM one April night in 2002, at about 1800 feet AGL and 130 KIAS while descending into my home field (00V). The impact punched a large hole in the windscreen on the right side (it would have been a bad night to have been my copilot). Mostly because a noticeable yoke buffet led me to suspect empennage damage, I declared an emergency and diverted to Colorado Springs. Once on the ground, I determined that the windscreen was the only thing damaged; the bird missed the propeller on the way in, and the vertical stabilizer on the way out (the buffet was likely due to disturbed airflow past the broken windscreen). But, the COS Airport Manager and I spent the next hour picking bird bits and feathers out of my cabin, so that we could send them to the Smithsonian (OBTW: the FAA’s current wildlife strike reporting procedures are given in AC 150/5200-32A: My insurance company graciously paid to upgrade my M20K windscreen from the stock 3/16″ to a thicker 1/4″ plexiglass. This was fortunate for all concerned, since the next bird I hit, one night in September of that same year, struck in the center of the windscreen, but bounced off leaving nothing more serious (for me) than a large grease smudge. No bird strikes since.

  • Avi Weiss

    Hey Bruce;

    Though I wasn’t flying it, I saw the immediate after effects of a bird strike on a medivac BK117. A seagull came through the upper part of the windscreen, hit the pilot in the head, and shattered the helmet front visor and upper front dome, rendering him temporarily blinded in one eye.

    The cockpit was a mess, and rotor and engines had to be torn down for inspection, as a result aircraft was offline for quite a while, generating a huge negative cash flow.

    What is most troubling is that there are limited prophylactic steps that can be taken to avoid such strikes, as birds are usually hard to observe, ubiquitous and literally have a mind of their own, though they do exhibit some “repeatable” behaviors, such as diving rather than climbing to avoid a head-on.

    While somewhat tough to spot during the day, they are impossible to spot at night (unless we can start breeding them with automatic anti-collision beacons), so they have the same randomness and safety-of-flight issues as an uncontained engine failure.



  • Adrian Gilbert

    Greetings Bruce

    Departing Amsterdam on a foggy morning in a B747-200 freighter we hit a flock of geese at about 150 ft. On arrival in Milan Malpensa, we found the radome to have major cracks and damage but, of more interest, we found a one metre long bloodly streak down the outside of #4 engine !

    This was just one of many birdstrikes I have had in my 17,000 hours of flying. Birds can get you at surprisingly high altitudes too: we sucked a large hawk-type bird into the #2 engine on an HS Trident 2 aircraft at 11,000 ft on descent into Nicosia one afternoon: it totally destroyed the engine…

    There was an interesting article in the US AOPA magazine a while back about a guy who experienced a bird strike: his windscreen was totally destroyed and he was very lucky to be able to land with glass fragments from his (glass) glasses in his eyes. Since reading that article, I don’t use (glass) glasses while flying anymore: I wear a pair of those hammer-proof, plastic, glasses designed for use in workshops. I have those little stick-on magnifying lenses to convert them in optical glasses: I have a clear pair and a sunglasses version to suit any situation.

    The medics can fix up just about anything you care to break on your body except the good old “Mark One” eyeball so we better look after them…

  • Bruce Landsberg

    Hello Adrian & Avi…..

    I think what we are seeing is that these are largely random, low probability and occasionally, high consequence events. Easier to mitigate around airports but not stop.

    Another misconception is that birds don’t fly IMC – they do and I’ve seen it but they don’t fly IFR, if you get the distinction.

    Thanks for joining in……Bruce

  • Sandra E Wright

    Dear Mr. Landsberg:

    In your recent article about “The bird always loses but…”, you ask how it was determined that only about 20% of bird strikes are reported.

    The U.S. Department of Agriculture (which manages the National Wildlife Strike Database for the FAA) conducted a study in 2005 to obtain an estimate of the percentage of bird and other wildlife strikes involving civil aircraft reported to the FAA. The methodology and findings are summarized as follows: (taken from Cleary, E. C., R. A. Dolbeer, and S. E. Wright. 2005. Wildlife strikes to civil aircraft in the United States, 1990-2004. U.S. Department of Transportation, Federal Aviation Administration, Office of Airport Safety and Standards, Serial Report No. 11, Washington, DC. 53 pages).

    Reporting of wildlife strikes with civil aircraft is voluntary but strongly encouraged by the FAA (Advisory Circular 150/5200-32A,
    Reporting Wildlife Aircraft Strikes [22 December 2004]). An initial analysis of independent strike data from an eastern USA airport in 1994 indicated that less than 20 percent of strikes were actually reported to the FAA for inclusion in the national database (Dolbeer et al. 1995).

    To obtain an improved estimate of the percent of strikes that are unreported, we obtained 14 sets of wildlife strike data maintained by three airlines and three airports for various years (1991–2004). Only 489 (10.7 percent) of the 4,561 strikes recorded in these databases had been reported to the FAA for inclusion in the National Wildlife Strike Database (Table 17). The National Wildlife Strike Database contained an additional 591 strike reports for the relevant time periods unknown to the airlines or airports, making a total of 5,152 known strike events in the combined databases. If we assume that these 5,152 known strike events in the combined databases represented all strikes that occurred for those airlines and airports during those time periods, then the National Wildlife Strike Database contained 1,080 (21.0 percent) of the total strikes. Because it is highly probable that additional strike events occurred that were not recorded in either the national or local databases, the percent of strikes reported to the FAA probably fell somewhere between 10.7 and 21.0 percent.”

    These findings refer to commercial aviation at Part 139-certificated airports. A 2008 USDA study found that reporting rates for GA aircraft at GA airports was likely less than 5%. These findings (taken from Dolbeer, R. A., M. J. Begier, and S. E. Wright. 2008. Animal ambush: the challenge of managing wildlife hazards at general aviation airports. Proceedings of the 53rd Annual Corporate Aviation Safety Seminar, 30 April-1 May 2008, Palm Harbor, Florida. Flight Safety Foundation, Alexandria, Virginia, USA) are summarized as follows:

    “An analysis of reported strikes and strike rates per 100,000 movements in 2006 for a random sample of airports indicated that Part 139-certificated airports averaged about 9 times the reported strike rate as GA airports. As noted above, previous analyses indicated that less than 20% of strikes were reported at certificated airports (Wright and Dolbeer 2005). If we assume that actual strike rates are similar at certificated and GA airports, it is likely that less than 5% of wildlife strikes at GA airports are reported.”

    The overall conclusion from these studies is that it is difficult to measure the magnitude of the wildlife problem at Part 139 and GA airports because reporting of strikes is so limited (5% to 20%) under a voluntary reporting system. In 1999, the NTSB recommended to the FAA that strike reporting be mandatory.

    Sandra Wright, FAA Wildlife Strike Database Manager
    Richard Dolbeer, USDA, Retired

  • Bruce Landsberg

    Sandra & Richard — Thanks very much for clarifying the question _ I did wonder how we knew that 80% went unreported when it wasn”t reported.

    Appreciate your comments …..

  • John Freas

    I was a new F.O. on a Lear 23 in the mid 1990s. We were departing Punta Gorda, FL (KPGD) at around 6AM. I was the pilot-not-flying sitting in the right seat, watching the gauges and calling speeds. Everything seemed normal on the takeoff roll until just after I called V1/Rotate*, at which point the Captain replied “Oh $@*%!” (which was not a standard response per SOP) but proceeded to rotate and climb. We retracted the landing gear and completed the after takeoff checks at which point I asked what happened and he said “Didn’t you see it?” I told him that I had been watching the gauges and he explained that just as I started to call V1, something that looked like a huge snake rose up from the runway and disappeared under the right wing.

    It turned out to be a Sand Hill Crane which had been sleeping on the runway because the concrete was relatively warm on that cool morning. The screaming roar of the Lear woke it just in time to raise it’s head and look around before becoming one with the right main gear door, which promptly departed the airplane at the piano hinge, putting a golf ball sized dent in the flap behind it. The gear door and remains of the bird were found on the runway by our maintenance shop personnel. No other damage was done to the airplane, but the part alone cost over $5,000 to replace not including the several hours of labor required to hand fit the new piece to the airplane.

    * The values of V1 and Vr in the Lear 23 were usually within 5 knots, which passed faster than you can say “V1Rotate”, in fact the call was often “V1RotateV2″ – I loved that little rocket.

  • http://aopa Brent Wilson

    I was flying one clear December moonless night a few years ago in my Citabria with the intent of getting in my 3 full stop night landings to stay current. I was on downwind at 800 feet AGL. As I started my turn to base, the landing light lit up a flock on Pigeons( estimate 30 to 40 ). With no time to deviate from course and an imminent collision all I could do was raise my arms in front of my face and hope they didn’t come through the windscreen. I heard a thud and no rush of air from the windscreen. I was lucky and they bounced off without coming through. As I turned to final, I noticed it was difficult to see the runway lights, almost as though I was wearing dark sunglasses. I landed uneventfully and pulled over to inspect for damage. The carnage I found was pretty ugly. The windscreen was covered with a coating of blood. The cowling, struts, landing gear, and the leading edge of the wings were completly splattered with bird guts, blood, and feathers. It was a mess to clean up but the aircraft had no sign of damage. I was lucky I wasn’t going faster.

  • Dave

    Bruce: Great commentary, but too bad your link was misleading. The “F-16″ is a video that has been going around for a while and its not an F-16. The video splices a couple of different things together including video of an F-16 (single seat) and cockpit recordings of a BAE Hawk that crashed after a bird strike during a training mission in Canada.

  • Heath Jarvis

    I have a few bird stories…

    When I was training for my private certificate, my CFI told me that he had experienced 2 serious bird strikes, and both occurred at night. The first one was in a Cherokee. The bird hit the leading edge of the left wing and pushed the leading edge all the way to the spar! It yawed the plane so hard that at first he thought they midaired with another aircraft.

    The second one was in a twin – a Navajo, I think. The bird came through the co-pilot’s windshield, sending plexiglas all over his friend’s face. The remains of the bird ended up all over the back of the cabin. I believe this one was at 12,000 feet!

    My father had a very unique occurrence while doing pipeline patrol in a Cessna 182 about 25 years ago. Bird strikes were not terribly uncommon for patrol pilots because they rarely flew much more than 500 agl. Anyway, one day a bird went THROUGH the propeller without hitting a blade! The air current took the bird over the windshield WITHOUT hitting it! Then the bird missed the tail! Dad looked back and saw the bird still flying!

    Finally, one thing to remember. If you’re coming up on a bird, remember that they can dive faster than they can climb. While flying my brother-in-law’s Luscombe one day at about 1500agl, we came up on a hawk. It was slightly higher than us, so we decided to fly under him. Just before we got to him, he dove on us! We had to push pretty hard to stay under him, and only missed him by a few feet. Next time, I’ll just climb above him…

    Doc: “You’re supposed to be able to execute every aerobatic maneuver in the book with a 6g limit.”
    Brad Randolph: “Sure, if I execute every maneuver perfectly…and sprout feathers in the tail.”
    – from the movie “Cloud Dancer” starring David Carradine

  • Charles Bell

    November, 1998 departing Fort Smith, Arkansas at 6:30am – Citation SII, all is well, the copilot made the standard callouts, called Vi, then rotate – at that moment I did the rotate maneuver and immediately flew through Doves, how many, don’t know, just looked like grey smoke instead of birds. The right engine flamed out and I was not sure of the condition of the left engine. We flew the Flight Safety profile, talked to tower, decided on a useable emergency landing area. Got to a safe altitude turned downwind with a usable runway in range. The left engine kept giving thrust. Due to our training at Flight Safety, the Tower and Approach Control Professionals and the Grace of God we were able to land, without further incident, on the same runway we departed on. The great survival effort of the US Air crew had to, in some part, come from the same sources – I am just so thankful that we were not faced with a double, instant engine failure. Hope this helps someone.

  • Donovan Mott

    For 25 years I worked as a pilot flying helicopters from San Jose, Ca. The companies I worked for were “utility”oriented so we performed a variety of tasks ranging from flight training to construction, fire-fighting, line patrol, charter, package carrying for FED EX and UPS and TV work. During that time, I can remember at least a dozen bird strike incidents involving damage to rotor blades, vertical fins, windscreens, engines and landing gear fairings. Our area of operation included most western states and incidents occurred in all of them. Lessons learned incuded the following: climb fast after take-off, use landing lights (preferrably the flashing type) always, birds almost always dive when a collision is imminent and slow down when in the vicinity of possible bird activity. None of these tips will guarantee immunity, even when all are combined. However, if even a few incidents are averted by learning from other’s experiences, incorporating similar ideas into a training program will be worth the effort.

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