Heard about the Bird?

May 26, 2010 by Bruce Landsberg

geeseHeard about the Bird?

The bird is the word. Ever since Canada geese racked up a score against Sully’s Airbus in the Hudson a lot more attention has been paid to our avian friends. The military has been having bird bashes for years and it’s cost the taxpayers millions in terms of engines, canopies, airframes and occasionally lives. Ditto the civilian world but jets have a bigger issue than those of us who have a high speed rotary bird deflector (prop).

NTSB just published some recommendations on how to deal with birds – not the least of which was reminding flight crews that bird induced power off landings are a possibility even in air carrier jets. Seems like the more things change the more we wind up going back to basics.

There are two areas of interest as we come into flying season: 1) All those flocks of big birds that flew south last fall are now working back north to summer homes and 2) Nesting in parked aircraft. On a recent flight we ran into, almost literally, several flights of Canada geese that were on cardinal IFR altitudes of 3,000 and 4,000 feet. It was good VMC so we could avoid them visually but a collision with one or more of these heavies would have resulted in a lose-lose proposition.  They may have been squawking but they sure weren’t talking. ATC did provide an advisory as did several other aircraft on the frequency so bird was definitely top of mind.

For preflights this time of year, be sure to look for bird evidence. That would be straw or droppings and in either case it may be subtle. At a recent safety seminar we heard of a PA28 that had landed with an undiscovered nest atop the engine. In flight there was enough airflow/cooling  to prevent combustion but  fire erupted as the aircraft taxied in. Apparently, no fire extinguisher was handy on board or at the FBO (Hmmm) and the fire brigade had to be called. It was a very expensive lesson on the importance on bird awareness during preflight.

Here’s the link to ASF website on Bird bash pix and stories. Anybody have an educational bird encounter to share?

Bruce Landsberg
Senior Safety Advisor, Air Safety Institute

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  • Kevin Collins

    I performed a thorough pre-flight before a recent flight with an instructor to shoot some practice approaches. Before I started the engine, a finch landed on top of one of the propeller blades and peered into the cockpit at me. The finch obeyed my “prop clear” warning, so I proceeded with engine start and the rest of the routine. I didn’t appreciate the foreshadowing at the time.

    During the run-up, the instructor detected a funny scent vaguely reminiscent of electrical insulation. I taxied back in, parked in a different spot, and shut down. Upon further inspection, he noticed a few bits of straw visible only when looking up towards the top of the engine cowling from in front of the plane. I was facing into the sun during the original pre-flight and didn’t think to bend down far enough to gain that particular angle, so I had not seen the sign. A mechanic removed the cowling to reveal a pristine bird’s nest sitting on top of the engine. He removed the nest, we checked around a little more, he replaced the cowling, and off we went.

  • Richard Depinay

    When birds see an aircraft, they tend to fold their wings and drop.
    If you can, your reflex should be to go up, while the bird goes down.

    On a side note, I have had already 6 bird strikes, although with no damages or minor. Even one at night once at 10000’! I guess birds do night VMC?!

  • Bruce Landsberg

    Both your experiences, echo mine. Up is usually better, landing lights on is supposed to help and thorough plugging of all openings is very helpful for aircraft parked outside although inside hangars are also vulnerable