Thursday, February 09, 2006

Big Bad Bird

Red-tailed hawks are pretty big birds. There are a gaggle of them that hang around Brackett Field in SoCal, where I used to instruct and fly freight; I came close to hitting them on several occasions. I always wondered what kind of damage they'd inflict on a small airplane. Last week, I got to witness first-hand what they'll do to a MegaWhacker.

The MegaWhacker in question hit the hawk shortly before landing in Boise; I was supposed to fly that airplane out. As it taxied in, it became evident that we weren't going anywhere - there was a big hole in the side of the vertical stabilizer, with one huge hawk wing hanging out limply. The crew said that the impact shook the whole airplane. This happened on downwind, at about 200 knots. That's significantly below the MegaWhacker's Vmo (redline) for that altitude, so it wasn't even a worst-case scenario.

Today a friend told me that they're looking at up to six weeks to repair the airplane. Beyond the obvious hole in the tail, there was a fair amount of structural and internal systems damage. It's pretty amazing what a ten-pound bird will do to a fast-moving aircraft.


Ron said...

I hit a bird once, too. It was in a Skylane, on a max-gross departure from a high density altitude airport in mountaneous terrain.

Thankfully, it was a relatively small bird -- I'm not sure what type. There was an entire flock of fast movers which flew right toward and then around my airplane. Unfortunately one of them cut it a little too close (no pun intended).

Thankfully, there was no damage to the aircraft. Small bird + slow aircraft speed. I imagine a big bird hitting a big airplane would create quite a mess.

When the certify transports airplanes, everyone knows they ensure the engines can handle a bird. But what about the other parts? Leading edges, stabilizers, flaps, etc?

John said...

I've ferried Caravans back to maintenance after they have suffered bird strikes on the leading edge of the wings. The birds in question are usually geese, which are not small. Still the damage seems fairly localized. I'm told the Caravan actually has reinforcements in the wing structure specifically to handly these sorts of impacts. I'd assume that transport category aircraft have similar design provisions.

I was flying with a student several years back in a 172 and we hit a turkey vulture right after takeoff. The bird must have weighed at least 15 pounds and it struck the leading edge, just outboard of the wing strut. The impact made a very loud noise and the plane shuddered. The leading edge was seriously deformed, but the plane handled completely normally during the return to landing. Repairs were made and the plane was back in the air a week later.

A bird through the windshield, well that's a different story.

Sam said...

I've actually hit four birds in my career. Three of them were sparrows and left little damage. The fourth, however, was a goose. I hit it at night in the traffic pattern at Grand Forks. It came through the prop and hit the nosebowl, then slid off and hit the right wing. The nosebowl was severely cracked and had to be replaced; the wing just got dirty.