Tuesday, October 11, 2011

What's that goose doing at 6,500 feet? (Repost from November, 2010)

Sometimes you can spend a lot of time hanging out at an airport and, aside from the usual things that go on there, nothing much happens. This morning, John and I headed out to the airport to check over the plane (aka Mikey) and straighten out the hangar. I had to go to the local FBO to wash my hands and "powder my nose".

A couple pilots were checking up on the weather for their IFR flight home. I struck up my usual conversation "Where are you from?" "Zelienople", one of them replies. Have you ever been to that airport? "Ahhhh. I was in there quite a while back". "I think it was a goat path back then". Actually, I had flown in there over 20 years ago. It wasn't much of an airport at that time, as I remember it. But things change and it's a thriving airport these days.

As I headed back up front to head back to the hangar, I noticed a little activity on the ramp outside. A Mooney had just landed. I didn't notice much about the pilot who got out of the plane. Someone mentioned that the Mooney had struck a bird. I didn't notice anything and figured the end result was a minor dent. I walked outside to check it out. You know how it is, you always have to check out things of that nature to see the "damage". I was curious to know the circumstances of the flight. As I approached the front of the plane, it became more clear the extent of the damage. The passenger side wind screen was no longer there. I observed the thickness of the Plexiglas to be 1/4". The upper portion of the window frame was crushed in and back. As I glanced into the plane from that angle it became clear that this was no ordinary bird strike. Blood was splattered in the interior of the plane mostly in the roof. Behind the rear seat, I noticed black, webbed feet sticking up against the back of the seat.

As is customary, one of the airport employees was there to get the facts and file a report. I still hadn't seen who the pilot was; I asked Shawn, employee of Arnold Palmer Airport, what kind of bird did the plane hit. "You can check it out for yourself; he's in the baggage area." Wow. That explains all the mess. As I continued walking around the right wing, I glanced into the plane. Sure enough, there was a bundle of blood and white feathers resting in the baggage area; a pretty sad sight. It looked like a snow goose from what I could see.

I asked where it happened. "The guy hit it over Johnstown at 6,000 feet." Reminds me of the time I hit a deer back in November, 2005 on landing at Rostraver airport. I actually had someone say "was he on the ground?". I wanted to say - no, I figured I'd go out looking for Santa's reindeer practicing for Christmas and take him out before I landed. Six thousand feet is pretty high to be spotting a snow goose but it's migrating season so probably isn't too unusual given the time of year.

I asked where the pilot was. Apparently, he was in the FBO. I guess I didn't realize I probably passed him in the lobby. I headed back into the FBO and when I saw the pilot I realized he was a friend of mine. I didn't realize it was his Mooney. He looked calm considering he probably had a pretty harrowing experience. He had feathers embedded in his shirt as well as some in his hair. "Ralph! Are you okay?" He said he was fine; seemingly proud that he got his first "kill". He realized he was pretty darned lucky the bird went through the passenger side. He believes the install of 1/4" Plexiglas he had performed a few years prior was a pretty good investment.

John and I headed home. Curious creatures that we are, we headed up to our respective offices in the attic to check things out. What happens after you get a bird strike? We found out some pretty interesting statistics.

The FAA has been building a bird-strike database since 1990. They have recorded over 108,000 between 1990 and 2009. 92% of strikes occur below 3,000 feet. A lot of people may not know this but, geese are family oriented, mating for life. As they migrate, the families travel together. If any bird in the flock sees a threat, it will break away from the flock and dive toward the threatening object. Ralph said he noticed the flock above him and then saw the bird dive at him, maneuvering at a blazing speed to make sure it made its target. A 4-lb. bird colliding with an aircraft traveling 130 knots will hit that plane with a force equal to 2 tons. This bird weighed about 10 lbs. and the Mooney was traveling 155 knots. Whoa!

To avoid a bird strike:
  • Don't fly beneath a flock of birds. When birds sense danger in the air they have a tendency to dive.
  • If you are approaching a flock of birds you should pitch up to fly over them; or alter your flight path to avoid going under them.
  • Turn on your lights. The birds may see you in time to move but don't rely on them doing so.
If you are involved in a bird strike remember to:
  • Fly the Aircraft!
  • Have a emergency plan in the event of a bird strike.
Once on the ground, contact the airport manager and call the FAA and file a bird-strike report.
.... and count your blessings.

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