It’s always good to review basics and one we hear ALL the time is fly the aircraft first—no matter what! This month’s blog is inspired by a New Zealand pilot who further reminds us that the little bird—little aircraft—big sky theory doesn’t always work. (You may recall a minor incident over the Hudson River involving an Airbus a few years back that illustrates how birds can ruin your day.)
This is from pilot Mike Greenwood, edited for length but much worth the read. I’ll have some closing commentary.
“Bird strike smashes through plane’s windshield @ 5,000′
The Eagle and the Sportsman
Bobby, my dog, and I took off in a Glassair Sportsman from the Gold Coast destined for home base Moruya [on the] south coast of NSW [North South Wales] for Christmas.
We were cruising on autopilot at about 140 knots at about 5,500’…when BANG!!—what seemed like an explosion which continued with loud noise of air and engine screaming.
I saw an instant of a large bird spread-eagled across the windscreen as it smashed straight through hitting my face. This left me unable to see or hear because my face and eyes were covered in blood, and my headsets were ripped off in pieces. There was horrendous noise of high speed air rushing in the cockpit with no windscreen…as the plane plummeted downwards.
In the first minutes…I couldn’t see or hear anything. But then my first glimpse…was about to hit the mountains. After dodging…I was fighting to climb. Pushed everything forward—power, pitch, and mixture, and kept pulling on stick. I was unable to see airspeed—slower was better for air rushing but didn’t want to stall…tachometer at over 2700 rpm.
… despite having to wrestle controls I was not spinning or banking so perhaps wing or tail damage not too bad. I was concentrating on mental picture of mountains to fly through the gaps from memory.
Once I stabilized…and beginning to climb I worked on clearing right eye with shirt. My decision that I had lost my left eye saved my life because then I thought, “…stop wasting time on it and try to clear the right eye.” [Comment: Got to focus on the main thing—survival! ]
Bobby, my canine co-pilot strapped behind me, was so calm. It helped me focus.
Now being able to see more out of that right eye the cockpit and screens were covered in blood…struggled to get position on bloodied maps. Thought two birds were jammed beside me (which later proved to be one large eagle) with feathers and blood everywhere.
Tried to locate the headsets that were blasted off my head by following the cable, but there were just some wires with the boom mic still hanging on and a broken ear cup. So I shouted a Mayday call into it while pushing transmitter button on joystick, but could not see through blood on maps to give much position. I didn’t expect it worked anyway.
The flying…was like trying to push an open bucket through the air instead of a streamlined nose cone. [Comment: After such an event, we become test pilots so changes must be done carefully and analytically—very easy to say sitting here, not at all easy in-situ!] But also some of the battle was interference from the auto pilot servos.
With no headsets to communicate with I sent texts to friend in USA knowing he could contact airport control and emergency. I tried to steer further right toward Canberra and away from mountains while texting my friend.
Looking for the iPad fixed to roof, it was covered in blood. I could see some yellow (indicating an urban area)…maybe Bathurst, Orange, or even Goulburn. I texted new plan to friend in U.S. and tried another Mayday call.
I had fought the auto pilot continuously because it could not hold the plane up against force of air into cockpit. I had to disconnect it to turn around and find airport…was holding a high nose attitude with low airspeed and full power, pitch, and mixture. I used half flaps and didn’t let speed fall below 70…
By good luck I spotted runway in distance…flew high over airport and tried one last emergency call while checking best runway. No chance of seeing windsock, but I assumed wind would be roughly easterly—I tried to make wide circuit and set up final approach for runway. I texted my friend in U.S. to make sure they looked after Bobby if I landed.
Once on short final I could see very little…used lots of runway but managed to get down OK. Yahoooo!!!
I refused to leave my dog if the ambulance wouldn’t take him, but we went to a kennel for Bobby first before going to the hospital!! I never panicked through all of it because of Bobby. He calms me and I just focused on the job…”
Take away: WELL DONE MIKE (AND BOBBY)!
Birds are a threat, but as impolitic as it may be, so are “drones” or UAS. A windshield strike will result in the same outcome except the blood, if any, will not belong to the drone. We ultimately may be smart to wear face shields below 2,000′ agl!—ugh.)
Maintain control at all costs—’nuff said. Autopilot may help or hinder. That will require some experimentation. No sudden moves—slow and easy does it while maneuvering. Long runway and plenty of time to line up. Angle of attack (AOA) or airspeed is essential.
CRM (cockpit or crew resource management)—use cell phone, a handheld transceiver, iPad—anything. Contact ATC if you can reach them BUT flying takes all priority. I have a second headset (for front seat passengers) close at hand. Kudos to Bobby for helping the PIC stay calm. Panic on anyone’s part is not helpful.
Maintain control at all costs—If a crash is inevitable, try to spread out the enjoyment of it for as long as possible—it will be a great story so don’t rush the experience since you’ll likely only get to do it once. Sudden stops are extremely bad for survival, so every G that can be spread out means that more chance of telling a great story! Bob Hoover put it more elegantly: Fly the thing as far into the crash as possible.
Birds can be more than just messy, an inconvenience, or result in a bad day like this. A bad strike can be fatal. The University of North Dakota lost a Seminole and two pilots due to a bird strike.
The odds are a bird strike (or drone) won’t happen to you—until it does! It’s good (but not pleasant) to think about these things ahead of time. Anyone have a Bird-Bash story to share?
Recommend you take a look at AOPA’s Bird and Wildlife Strikes Subject Report and ASI’s Real Pilot Story: Bird Strike.