Thursday, February 17, 2005

Bird Strike

The other day I had to submit a bird strike report. I wasn't even the one who hit the bird, which I must admit is a good thing, but it is the nature of bird strike forms to need submitting, it is the nature of co-workers to have other things to do, and it is the nature of Aviatrix to do things that need doing, so at least they get done.

There probably is no less exciting way to describe a heart-pounding event than to start with the paperwork, but paperwork is an aviation commodity even more ubiquitous than coffee. I'll start over.

One afternoon, a single engine airplane departed a small airport in Canada and, according to the published departure procedure, levelled off briefly before continuing its climb to cruise altitude. A few miles away, a bulldozer trundled across a berm of earth, shifting a pile of garbage, much to the delight of hundreds of seagulls. As a flock, they wheeled aloft turning, climbing and descending in ever-shifting formations, hundreds of times more complex than a Snowbirds routine, but with no appreciation from anyone. A couple of seagulls peeled off the flock, on some seagull whim, and allowed convective currents to carry them up, over a thousand feet above the ground.

The seagulls wheeled above the ground, seeing whatever it is that seagulls see: clean cars and other tempting bombing targets, garbage and other food sources, whirling ground beneath their wings. A pilot saw a sudden zoom of gray and white in peripheral vision, and then felt a shuddering "Wham!" With a jarring splash of feathers and blood, aluminum met meat and bone. The propeller still turned and the engine indications remained good, but the pilot was cautious. A call to the tower secured clearance for a return to the runway, and to the maintenance hangar.

Damage was limited. The cowling needs repairs from the impact. The oil cooler was hosed down to remove blood and feathers. There are no nicks on the propeller. The airplane is back on the line before the birdstrike paperwork is complete.

Always back to the paperwork. Location, phase of flight, altitude, airspeed, extent of damage. Number of birds seen, number of birds struck, species of bird, scientific name. (Scientific name? I resist the urge to put "Rattus aviatus" and just leave it blank). Cost to repair, time offline, other costs. If I were paid more the major time would be paperwork. But I'm not paid to do paperwork, just to fly airplanes, which I would probably do for free, anyway. No one pays the seagulls. And they have no paperwork.

Still, the pilot and airplane fared better than the seagull.


Anonymous said...

Whats that saying? Better to be a weasel than a seagull. Weasels don't get sucked into aircraft engines. Something like that anyway.
Funny all that paperwork for what was an entirely random event.

Anonymous said...

Saw the aftemath of one. T-38 declared inflight emergency shortly after takeoff, came back to field at low altitude and speed, landed safely and taxied over to transient maint for a look-see, trailed by three crash engines, the assistant chief's red pickup, and we three rescuemen.

Two young pilots very shaken up and split between fear of having done something very wrong and exhilarated at getting back alive, didn't know what happened. There was a "bang" and suddenly there was a basketball hoop-sized hole in the top of the rear canopy.

Assistant Chief growled up as I topped the maint stand to take a look, "AirmanRoj, what happened?".
"They hit something, I think" I said, looking at the thin tan colored slime rimming the hole. One metallic green feather under a half inch in length was stuck to the top of the ejection seat.