Thursday, November 19, 2015

Pilots and Birds

Pilots have sort of a love-hate relationship with birds. Some learned to fly out of a desire to be like the birds. I came grudgingly to appreciate avian skills while I was a student pilot learning to judge winds and momentum in the flare. I still derive schadenfreude from watching a bird misjudge a crosswind landing, because they usually get it so perfect, angling their wings and tail and settling on a single branch just as groundspeed and vertical speed reach zero. I knew an ultralight pilot whose pinnacle of life experience occurred the day an eagle flew along wingtip-to-wingtip with his tiny craft, checking him out and then seeming to just share the joy of being aloft on a beautiful day. If you've got through any part of a career in aviation without having to reject a take-off, perform a go-around, declare an emergency, or visit maintenance because of birds, then I can't imagine which part of the planet you fly over.

The airplane I flew yesterday bears a scar that we think is a rat strike. I know that a rat is not a bird, but I still blame a bird. See, one day an eagle crossed our path while we were on the take-off roll. There was no thump and no exploding cloud of feathers, so we were pretty sure we hadn't struck the eagle, but after the flight there was nevertheless a small dent, mostly just stretching of the aluminum skin between two ribs on the wing, and some blood spatters. The airport crew reported finding no carcass, and certainly an eagle would have made a bigger dent. Our theory is that the eagle dropped its payload in order to more easily dodge us. I should have gone full CSI on the remains. I'll bet I could have found some fibres and checked them out at the MicrolabNW Photomicrograph Gallery. As it is I just nag maintenance to put the dent repair on their spare time list, because tiny as the dent is, it is a roughness in the wing, and that spot is always the first one to ice up in flight.

The video below (preceded by an ad, you don't lose anything if you just mute the whole video) is from an incident a year ago when a bird strike smashed the spinner on a Dash-8 on take-off. I don't see any damage to the propeller itself, but the damage to the spinner must have caused an imbalance, because the pilots elected to shut the engine down. You can see the blades feathered (aligned with the direction of flight for minimum air resistance). And I have to laugh at the fact that the very terminology "feathered" is bird-related.

They inspired us to fly in the first place. They interfere every day with our ability to do so safely. We can't stop admiring them and we can't stop resenting them. This whole post has just been an excuse to show you this gif. Does anyone not love this crow? It's just a looped gif, but the full YouTube clip shows that it wasn't an accident. That crow was hanging in there for the ride. I suppose it wasn't all that different to clinging to a branch on a windy day, but it's having fun, isn't it?


Alex said...

That gif just made my day

Sarah said...

I love the Crow video! Corvids know how to have fun.

Flying with birds is a whole set of peak experiences for me, a glider pilot. Raptors are not intimidated at all by the big white bird, and will check you out very closely or just thermal alongside. They're much better at it than me though.

The most memorable bird flight I can recall is shadowing a whole flock of pelicans. A shimmering white/black mass, which I was careful to not approach too closely. They will also thermal en masse, but I'd stay well clear of that gaggle!

One question though - did you forget to link the Dash 8 video?

Sarah said...

10 seconds googling, must be This incident

Doesn't look that alarming to me - and it was probably nearly as quick to complete the 1-hour flight as it would be to return to the take-off airport. Destroyed composite spinner looks bad though. And I don't think the bird made it.

Quote from one of the passengers in the article:

"I must refute the story of horror and terrified passengers as utter crap. Everyone was calm and the crew were excellent. What Dan failed to say was that captain announced that the best weather in the south of England at the time was Birmingham so we would continue with an on time arrival. Having just left Guernsey with a strong crosswind and wet runway with turbulence in the climb ... it would not be a good idea to return with just one engine."

Michael5000 said...

I grew up around seagulls. At some point I noticed that although they fly pretty well, especially considering the windy conditions that they operate in, and although they are really good gliders, they just don't land worth a damn. Really, it's pretty shameful. A landing seagull glides in low, nice and smooth, then executes an exaggerated flare -- and then basically acts out the exclamation "OH SHIT," flailing its wings and legs wildly around for a second before gracelessly flopping down onto the good earth. Plop! Except then, it shamelessly pretends like nothing happened. The transition from panicked plummeting to studied insouciance is so fast that everybody just assumes the gull must have known what it was doing all along. But you should never give a seagull the benefit of the doubt on this point. The truth is, they are just bad landers.

Aviatrix said...

The Dash-8 video is there for me, so it must be a format that is suppressed in your browser settings, Sarah.

Michael, I have watched baby seagulls learning to fly, but missed observing that the adults never achieve grace.

Dora Ali said...

it woul not be a good idea to return with just one engine."