Although birds will take evasive action to avoid us, and lights can make us more conspicuous, there are times when their and our best efforts aren't good enough. The iconic bird strike incident was in 2009 when US Airways flight 1549 was forced to ditch in the Hudson River within minutes of striking birds after it had taken off from LaGuardia Airport.
During the latter part of April, I lost count of how many times I was asked, "Did you ever have a bird strike while flying?" The reason was that the mixing of birds and airplanes was very much in the public consciousness after two emergency landings at area airports. Delta flight 1063, a Boeing 757, was forced to make an emergency return to New York's Kennedy Airport after a bird strike caused an engine failure. A few days later, a JetBlue Embraer 190 was taking off from the airport at which I'm based, Westchester County Airport (HPN), on a flight to West Palm Beach, Fla. Just after liftoff, when only a few hundred feet off the ground, flight 571 struck two geese. The regional jet made a safe emergency landing with no injuries to the 58 on board. The ATIS at HPN always warns of "bird activity in the vicinity," but it's rare to actually spot any while airborne, and bird strikes are even rarer.
Just a few days after the JetBlue incident, I had the dubious pleasure of flying past the nearby airport at Bridgeport, Conn., just as the local controller was busy warning an arriving aircraft about "a large flock of geese" soaring between 1,000 and 2,000 feet in the vicinity of the traffic pattern. No matter how hard we tried, neither my passenger nor I could spot the "large flock of geese."
Bird Strike Committee USA is an organization designed to help deal with bird strikes and other wildlife issues. It's led by personnel from the FAA, Department of Agriculture, Department of Defense, and industry. Annual meetings are attended by everyone from AOPA to the NTSB and bird strike organizations from more than 20 countries. The 2012 meeting will be in August in Memphis, Tenn. According to the committee's statistics, about 10,000 bird and other wildlife strikes were reported for U.S. civil aircraft in 2011. The Air Force recorded about 4,500 bird strikes in 2011. From 1990 through 2010, 431 different species of birds were involved in civil aircraft strikes in the U.S.
Since April 2010, there have been more than 400 bird strikes at Chicago's O'Hare International Airport, 280 at New York's LaGuardia, 450 at Kennedy, and 185 at Los Angeles International. According to the Bird Strike Committee's statistics, the collision of a Canada goose weighing 12 pounds and an aircraft traveling at 150 miles per hour, generates the kinetic energy of a 1,000-pound weight dropped from 10 feet.
The U.S. Air Force has developed the United States Avian Hazard Advisory System. Most pilots probably have never heard of it, but it's available for anyone to use at www.usahas.com. It's a system used for bird-strike risk planning. Using radar and predictive modeling, bird activity is monitored, and forecasts of bird-strike risks are prepared.
It was developed because the Air Force needed a way for its flight planners and pilots to factor bird activity into their decisions about flight routes. Bird risks are plotted on an hour-by-hour basis, and also on a longer-term trend basis for the next 12 hours, 24 hours or longer.
While some bird strikes are not serious enough to be reported and investigated, the NTSB has conducted numerous bird strike investigations over the years.
On November 15, 2010, an Embraer 170-200 LR regional jet operated by Compass Airlines as flight 5887, collided with a flock of birds shortly after departing the Minneapolis/St. Paul International Airport (MSP) in Minnesota. The intended destination was Missoula, Mont.
The flight departed runway 30R and was climbing through 5,000 feet at 250 knots when the collision occurred. The flight crew decided to return to the airport since they didn't know the severity of damage. Inspection revealed damage to the radar dome. The forward pressure bulkhead web contained a dent and puncture. The left engine was damaged. None of the 80 people on board was injured.
On April 6, 2010, a Beech 95-B55 operated by the State of North Dakota's Attorney General's Office hit several mallard ducks during cruise flight at 4,200 feet over Center, North Dakota. Night visual meteorological conditions prevailed.
The pilot in command, in the left seat, was under a hood for instrument practice. The flight instructor, in the right seat, was seriously injured when one duck crashed through the right cockpit windshield and struck his face.
The flight had departed Bismarck Municipal Airport, Bismarck, N.D., en route to Hazen, N.D. They returned to Bismarck. The pilot-in-command said he heard a "loud pop" and felt a "violent rush of air."
On February 18, 2010, a Cessna 208B struck a bird while on approach to Sacramento International Airport, Sacramento, Calif. The airplane was on a Part 135 cargo flight. The commercial pilot, the sole occupant, wasn't injured. The airplane's right wing was damaged.
The pilot told investigators that when he was approaching runway 16R, at 300 feet AGL, he saw about five large birds. The pilot felt an impact to the airplane, and the airplane rolled to the right. The pilot corrected the roll with opposite aileron and rudder input and landed.
Remains from the bird were sent to the Smithsonian for identification. According to the test results, the remains were identified as from a tundra swan.
On November 4, 2009, a Beech C-99 on a Part 135 cargo flight had a bird strike while on approach to Show Low Regional Airport (SOW), Show Low, Ariz. The commercial pilot received minor injuries. The left front pilot windshield was damaged. The flight originated at Sky Harbor International Airport (PHX), Phoenix, Ariz.
The bird strike occurred just after the pilot began the descent into SOW. At about 11,000 feet MSL, a bird struck the windshield, making an 11-inch by 8-inch hole. Remains from the bird were identified by the Smithsonian as a western grebe. The average weight of this species is 3.3 pounds.
On July 31, 2009, the number-two engine of a Raytheon BE-400A twin-engine jet was damaged by at least one bird while on its takeoff roll at Sugar Land Municipal Airport (SGR), Houston, Texas. The intended destination was New Orleans, La.
The captain told investigators the airplane was almost at 95 knots when one large and two smaller birds were seen flying across the airplane's path from left to right. He described the two smaller birds as "sparrow" sized and the larger bird as a heron about four or five times larger than the smaller birds. The pilots were unable to react before at least one of the birds struck the airplane.
The captain reported the right engine immediately lost all power and they rejected the takeoff. Examination showed all but one of the right engine fan blades were fractured and the inlet duct had separated from the front of the engine and was hanging from the engine.
Bird remains were sent to the Smithsonian's Feather Identification Laboratory. The bird was identified as a yellow-crowned night heron.
The four-seat, tricycle-gear, low-wing airplane struck birds while landing at Ocean City Municipal Airport, Ocean City, N.J., on July 4, 2009. The pilot and passenger were not injured. The flight had departed Lancaster Airport in Pennsylvania.
The pilot said that two Canada geese wandered onto the runway from the surround-ing grassy area. The geese made contact with the airplane's propeller and the right main landing gear. After striking the geese, the airplane veered off the right side of the runway and then struck a concrete runway light-mounting pad.
Examination of the airport and surrounding area by a wildlife biologist from the U.S. Department of Agriculture revealed that approximately 30 Canada geese permanently inhabited the area surrounding the airport's runway, the adjacent city-owned golf course, and an adjacent marsh. At the time, no perimeter fencing existed between the marsh and the airport to keep wildlife off of the airport. A wildlife-control program subsequently was put into effect at the airport.