Chapter 13 — Solutions — Lessons from Military Aviation Experience
- Standards Branch
- Aerodromes and Air Navigation
- Wildlife Control
- Preface to the second edition
- How To Use this Book
- Chapter 1
- Chapter 2
- Chapter 3
- Chapter 4
- Chapter 5
- Chapter 6
- Chapter 7
- Chapter 8
- Chapter 9
- Chapter 10
- Chapter 11
- Chapter 12
- Chapter 13
- Chapter 14
- Chapter 15
- Production Team
- Colour Plates
- Comparison of military and civilian aviation: aircraft type and role
- Case Studies
Based on the following accident statistics, it’s clear that there has been and continues to be considerable and unique risks associated with bird-related accidents in military aviation settings. Please note that for the purpose of this list, serious accidents involve at least one of the following: a destroyed aircraft, an aircraft damaged beyond repair, or human fatality.
- For the period 1950 to 1999—and based on comprehensive data provided by 32countries—there were 286 serious military aircraft accidents involving 141 fatalities.
- During the same period, there were approximately 67 serious accidents involving atleast 24 fatalities in nine additional countries for which there is partial data.
- The totals for which complete or partial data exists therefore comprise a minimum of 353 serious accidents with 165 fatalities—148 aircrew and 17 people on the ground.
- Three of the 353 serious accidents involved the death of one flight-crew member asa result of windshield penetration. In each of these three accidents a second flightcrewmember completed the flight. In all of the remaining 350 accidents, theaircraft were either destroyed or damaged beyond repair.
- As only one country provided complete data for the period between 1950 and1999, one can assume that true serious-accident numbers likely exceed 353.
- Fatalities rose sharply in the decade commencing in 1990—at least 88 lives werelost. In addition, a minimum of three large four-engine military aircraft have beenlost in bird-related military aviation accidents during the past 6 years. The problemappears to be growing more severe.
- Unofficial reports indicate that several additional losses have occurred in the year 2000.
Comparison of military and civilian aviation: aircraft type and role
Military aviation bears the greatest resemblance to its civilian counterpart in the fleets of large, long-range, jet-powered transport aircraft such as those used by the United States Air Force (USAF). These aircraft include:
- the Lockheed C-141 Starlifter, a four-engine jet;
- the Lockheed C-5 Galaxy, the world’s third-largest transport; and
- the new four-engine McDonnell-Douglas (now Boeing) C-17.
The Coalition of Independent States (CIS)—including Russia, and the Ukraine —employs:
- the four-engine Ilyushin Il-76 Candid;
- the four-engine Antonov AN-124 Condor, the world’s second-largest transportaircraft; and
- the six-engine Antonov AN-225, the world’s largest aircraft.
By far the most common military transport aircraft is the four-engine turboprop Lockheed Martin C-130 Hercules, which first saw service in 1955. Designed for short, rough landing strips close to battlefields, the C-130 continues to be popular; in 1998 there were 1,447 C-130s in the military fleets of 56 countries. New models include upgraded avionics and engines.
Photo courtesy Denis Cloutier
A C-130 Hercules, similar to the aircraft that crashed as a result of a bird strike at Eindhoven AFB in Holland on July 15, 1996; 34 lives were lost.
Photo courtesy Denis Cloutier
Boeing KC 135. This aircraft is used for air-to-air refuelling.
Certain civilian jet transport aircraft have been adapted as tankers for military use, carrying fuel and providing in-flight refueling for fighter aircraft. The USAF— including the Air Force Reserve and the Air National Guard—flies two types of tanker aircraft:
- the older four-engine KC-135—the precursor of the Boeing 707 passenger jet—and
- the newer KC-10—a modified Douglas DC-10.
Other countries use converted bombers as tankers. For example, the U.K. operates BAe Victors, which have four turbofan engines, while the CIS use the twin-turbojet Tupolev Tu-16 Badger.
As tankers generally fly for long periods at high altitudes, they are susceptible to bird strikes only during takeoff and landing phases. Therefore, these aircraft are at the same level of strike risk as their civilian counterparts.
Maritime patrol, anti-submarine warfare and airborne warning-and-control aircraft
A variety of military aircraft are used for maritime patrol and anti-submarine warfare (ASW). The most common maritime patrol aircraft is the Lockheed P-3 Orion, a military version of the Lockheed Electra. The P-3 has four turboprop engines and can fly for up to 12 hours. There are an estimated 500 P-3s in use by 14 countries; the Canadian military uses a version of the P-3 called the CP-140 Aurora. The CIS equivalent of the P-3 is the four-engine turboprop Ilyushin Il-38. The Royal Navy
E-3B AWACS. The USAF has lost only one of these aircraft, and that was due to a bird strike on September 22, 1995 at Elmendorf AFB, Alaska.
flies the BAe Nimrod, a four-engine derivative of the Comet passenger jet. Several European nations use the French-built Dassault-Breguet Atlantic for maritime patrol and ASW work. These aircraft spend most of their time at relatively high altitudes when moving to and from patrol areas, but do descend to low levels (less than 500 ft) over the ocean while conducting ASW patrols.
The E-3 Sentry Airborne Warning and Control Systems (AWACS) aircraft is a derivative of the KC-135/Boeing 707, and conducts long patrols at high altitudes. Used in Europe and by NATO, the E3 circles near battlefields and acts as an airborne air-defence operations centre. In terms of bird-strike risks, the Boeing E-3 is as susceptible as many older passenger jets still flying throughout the world. The CIS equivalent of the E-3 is the Ilyushin Il-76 Mainstay, a modified version of the Il-76 four-engine Candid transport aircraft.
The most famous bomber in operation today is the B-52 Stratofortress operated by the Strategic Air Command of the USAF. Powered by eight turbojet engines and carrying a large payload over long distances, the B-52 operates at high altitudes— above airspace regularly occupied by birds. The newer Rockwell International B-1B supersonic long-range bomber operates at extremely high speed at both high and low altitudes. In the high-altitude mode these aircraft face similar bird-strike risks as civilian jet transports, primarily during landing and takeoff; at low levels, B-1Bs are at much higher risk, especially considering their high airspeeds. The USAF Northrop B-2 stealth bomber operates mostly at moderate to high altitudes—above most birds.
Photo courtesy Denis Cloutier
Rockwell International B-1B. On September 28, 1987 a B-1B was lost in a collision with an American White Pelican while on a low-level mission in Colorado. Three crew members died.
Fighter and attack aircraft
These aircraft are unique to military aviation. They feature one or—at the most—two engines, and flight crews of one or two persons. Air-superiority fighters avoid detection by flying at extreme high and low altitudes. These aircraft also fly low to conduct attacks on ground targets, and it is during these high-speed, low-level flights that birds are most likely to be struck.
Examples of air-superiority fighters include the Grumman F-14 Tomcat flown from U.S. Navy aircraft carriers. The Tomcat is a twin-engine, twin-crew, variablegeometry wing aircraft. The USAF equivalents are variations of the McDonnell Douglas (now Boeing) F-15 Eagle—a sophisticated, twin-engine, single- or dual-seat, all-weather multiple-role air-superiority fighter. Israel, Japan and Saudi Arabia also fly the F-15 in a variety of roles. The General Dynamics (now Lockheed Martin) F-16 Falcon is a single-engine, single-seat fighter that was developed for the USAF. It is relatively inexpensive compared to other sophisticated modern fighters and is used by the military forces of 17 countries. The UK, Italy and Germany rely on the Panavia Tornado ADV, a twin-engine, variable-geometry wing, all-weather fighter.
The French-built Dassault-Breguet Mirage III is one of the most widely used fighter and attack aircraft, flown by 25 countries around the world. The McDonnell Douglas/Northrop F/A-18 Hornet is a classic dual-role fighter and attack aircraft originally developed for the U.S. Navy as a carrier-borne, single-seat, twin-engine, airsuperiority and ground-attack aircraft. Known in Canada as the CF-18, the F-18 is also flown by seven other countries.
The French-built Mirage 5 is the ground-attack version of the Mirage III. A much slower ground-attack aircraft is the Fairchild Republic A-10 Thunderbolt, more
Photo courtesy Denis Cloutier
General Dynamics F-16 Falcon
commonly known as the warthog—a single-seat, twin-turbofan, subsonic aircraft. The A-10 is heavily armoured and carries massive ground-attack armament. Operating almost exclusively at low levels, A-10s are more vulnerable to bird strikes.
Military training aircraft
Military pilots in training start in relatively small, two-seat, single- or twin-engine aircraft before being streamed into aircraft more closely resembling the bombers, fighters and attack aircraft and helicopters they will eventually fly. In recent decades, jets have taken over as the advanced trainers of choice, while there has been a move to conduct initial training in single-engine turboprops. Single PT6 turboprops are featured in both the Texan II—being delivered to the USAF and Navy—and the Royal Canadian Air Force version of the same aircraft, the Harvard II. Jet trainers include the twin-engine T-37 and T-38A (U.S.), and the single-engine CT-114 Tutor (Canada) and the British Aerospace Hawk (U.K.).
Single-engine turboprop training aircraft are at lower risk of serious bird strikes. Turboprop engines are more strike resistant than jets; their air-intake path does not permit direct access by FOD to the internal working parts of the engine. These aircraft are also equipped with windscreens that are more resistant to bird strikes. While there are no records of serious bird-strike accidents involving these trainers, they’ve been in use for a relatively short period of time and are not deployed in as many countries as their jet counterparts.
Initial-level training aircraft are used mostly for short-range, low-altitude flights such as circuits at aerodromes. Advanced-level aircraft such as the CT-114 Tutor and T-38A are employed in a number of training scenarios involving low- and high-altitude and short- and long-range missions.
Many helicopter types are used for military purposes, from large, twin-engine, heavylift versions to light single-engine utility helicopters. Most of these machines play transport roles at altitudes of a few thousand ft AGL. In some situations, however, altitudes are lower and the bird-strike risks are increased. Some types of helicopters have been converted into helicopter gun ships that have an offensive role, such as the McDonnell Douglas AH-64A Apache—designed as an attack helicopter. The Apache is a twin-turboshaft, two-seat, all-weather attack helicopter that flies at low altitudes, often at night. Although a substantial amount of military helicopter flying is done at low levels, the speeds involved are much lower than those of fighter and attack aircraft. Therefore, bird-strike probability is high, but damage severity is usually lower.
There are important differences between the routes and altitudes—commonly referred to as the mission profiles—of military and civilian aircraft; some of these profiles have been mentioned above and are discussed in more detail later in this chapter. There are also fundamental systemic differences between civilian and military flying. The majority of civilian operations carried out by vulnerable jet transport aircraft involve scheduled airline service in which commercial schedules provide a strong impetus to fly regardless of the level of bird-strike risk.
Military flight planners have much more flexibility in devising the timing and routes of training flights, routine patrols and missions. Obviously, this flexibility is greatly reduced during wartime. During peacetime, training flights can be moved from one location to another to avoid bird threats. Training flights may also be scheduled when airborne birds are less prevalent. For example, early morning training flights will reduce risks in areas where vultures and other soaring birds are the main concern. In other locations, midday training flights might reduce the risk associated with geese, gulls and ducks that are flying to and from feeding and roosting areas.
Each year, the journal Aviation Week and Space Technology publishes a compendium of aviation statistics entitled the Aerospace Source Book. Statistics in the 2003 edition show that 171 countries reported operating military aircraft. (Note that these numbers include many unsophisticated transport and general-aviation aircraft types used for utility purposes.)
The world’s 20 largest military fleets are listed in descending order in Table 13.1. The numbers are impressive, but it should be remembered that there have been substantial reductions in the military fleets of several countries in the past few years. For example, between 1998 and 2003, the Canadian Forces’ fleet was reduced from 581 to 427 aircraft.
|Country||Number of Aircraft|
|8. United Kingdom||1,574|
|9. North Korea||1,536|
|12. South Korea||1,252|
Table 13.1 World’s Largest Military Aircraft Fleets. Based on Aviation Week and Space Technology, Aerospace Source country’s armed forces.
Military strike databases
Military wildlife-strike databases resemble those maintained in civilian aviation (see Chapter 7), and present similar challenges to analysis—notably fluctuations and inconsistencies in reporting procedures and data. Nonetheless, the authors of this book have made every effort to reconcile the variations found throughout the military databases that were examined. We acknowledge that the following sections present our subjective analysis of this information. Further information and clarity can be found in the original data referenced at the end of this book.
In Canada, the Department of National Defence (DND) collects bird-strike statistics for all Canadian military aircraft. The strike data are sent to Transport Canada where they are included in the annual report known as Bird Strikes to Canadian Aircraft (discussed in more detail in Chapter 7). Separate reports for civilian and military aircraft have been compiled for 15 years—1984 to 1988 and 1991 to 2000. Reports previous to
1984 did not separate military and civil aviation. Since separate reporting began, there were 2,229 reported strikes to Canadian military aircraft—an average of 171 strikes per year. The average was higher between 1984 and 1988—247 strikes per year—than during the 1991 to 1998 period—124 strikes per year. It is not clear whether this trend is related to:
- a smaller number of aircraft and reduced flying hours in recent years,
- different reporting rates in the two periods, or
- improvements to safety in the later period.
There was a steady decline in the total number of hours flown by the Canadian Armed Forces during the ten-year period from 1988 to 1997. During this time, the average number of hours flown per year was 231,162. Total hours have decreased from 294,124 in 1988 to 170,140 in 1997—a steady decline of 42 percent over the ten-year period. Over the same period, the number of recorded bird strikes declined from 290 in 1988 to 114 in 1997, a decline of 61 percent. The recorded strike rate has decreased as well—from 12.5 per 10,000 hours in 1988 to 6.7 strikes per 10,000 hours in 1997. Assuming that the reporting rate has not changed, the decline in strike rate indicates that there has been an improvement in the operations of the Canadian Armed Forces with respect to the bird-hazard issue.
Through its Bird Aircraft Strike Hazard (BASH) Team, the USAF maintains a comprehensive database. During the 13-year period from 1985 to 1997, a total of 34,830 strikes were recorded—an average of 2,681 strikes per year, varying annually between 2,267 and 3,066 strikes. Strike statistics for the U.S. Navy, Marine Corps, Army and Coast Guard air services are not routinely collected and published.
The air forces of Europe submit bird-strike statistics to EURBASE, the European military bird-strike database. These statistics were summarized in a paper presented by Mr. Arie Dekker of the Royal Netherlands Air Force to the International Bird Strike Committee at its 24th meeting in Slovakia in September 1998. Although EURBASE became operational in 1990, several air forces submitted data on bird strikes that occurred prior to that date. By the end of 1997, the database contained information on 34,564 bird strikes from 17 air forces, including 1,458 records— 4 percent of the total—from before 1980. The main contributors to the database are:
- Britain’s Royal Air Force (11,394 strikes, 33%);
- the West German Air Force (9,000 strikes, 26%);
- the French Air Force (3,498 strikes, 10%);
- the Royal Netherlands Air Force (3,413 strikes, 10%);
- the Israeli Air Force (2,465 strikes, 7%); and
- the USAF, reporting occurrences in European air space (2,264 strikes, 7%). U.S.records were submitted for the period 1985-1992; recent U.S. statistics have notbeen submitted to EURBASE.
|Year||Number of Strikes||Cost (USD$)|
Table 13.2 Costs of Bird Strikes to U.S. Air Force Aircraft
Costs associated with military bird strikes
The most complete cost estimates for damage caused by bird strikes are maintained by the USAF, and are summarized in Table 13.2. Overall identified costs were USD$502 million during the 14-year period from 1985 to 1998.
The preceding data is dominated by a strike that caused the 1987 Colorado crash of a B-1B bomber, which had a replacement cost of approximately USD$200 million at the time. The 1995 data are heavily influenced by the crash of an AWACS aircraft that struck Canada Geese on takeoff from Elmendorf Air Base in Anchorage, Alaska.
Most bird strikes do not result in damage to aircraft. Between January 1985 and February 1998, more than 95 percent of strikes (33,262 of 34,856) were reported to be non-damaging, incurring less than USD$10,000 in damage per occurrence. Damaging strikes are classified by cost:
- Class C: between USD$10,000 and USD$200,000 in damage;
- Class B: between USD$200,000 and USD$1 million in damage; and
- Class A: either USD$1 million in damage or the loss of an aircraft and/or a fatality.
Between 1985 and 1998 there were:
- 1,477 Class C events (4.2 percent),
- 59 Class B events (less than 0.1 percent), and
- 23 Class A events (less than 0.01 percent).
The costs listed in Table 13.2 are minimal; they do not include estimates of ancillary and indirect costs incurred through:
- site cleanups,
- crash investigations,
- deploying replacement aircraft,
- personnel required to complete missions delayed by bird-strike damaged aircraft, and
- legal and family compensation costs.
The total costs are for the USAF only. The aircraft associated with the U.S. Navy, U.S. Marine Corps, U.S. Army, U.S. Coast Guard—and their associated reserves— represent about 60 percent of the entire U.S. military aircraft fleet.
Given the absence of ancillary and indirect costs and the exclusion of approximately 60 percent of the military fleet, it is probably conservative to estimate that the total damage caused by birds during this 14-year period was more than one billion dollars; damage to U.S. military aircraft from bird strikes probably averaged between USD$75 million and USD$80 million per year.
The loss estimates in the previous paragraphs do not account for the deaths that accompanied some of the accidents. Between 1985 and 1998, there were 33 fatalities resulting from bird strikes to Air Force aircraft and one involving a U.S. Navy aircraft. Had the same number of aircraft been lost in civilian aviation, the number of deaths would have been significantly higher. Many military flight crews can eject from damaged aircraft—civilian flight crews cannot.
Military bird-strike accidents
As mentioned earlier, 95.4 percent of bird strikes do not cause appreciable damage to aircraft—at least in the experience of the USAF. Only strikes in the remaining 4.2 percent resulted in more than USD$10,000 damage per occurrence. Of greatest concern are bird strikes that:
- lead to fatalities,
- threaten crew safety by forcing ejections, and
- lead to the destruction of aircraft.
Dr. W. John Richardson of LGL Limited has compiled the most complete database on these types of bird-related military aviation accidents. Further information on his research can be obtained in the references at the end of this book.
Richardson’s 1996 compilation included 46 years of data supplied by all major western and central European air forces, except Spain. For some countries, data was also available from navy and army air arms. Additional accident data was also recently made available from four eastern European air forces and Israel. Canadian and American losses in Europe are also relatively new additions to the compilation. Overall, the data included:
- 152 military aircraft lost in Europe,
- seven in Israel, and
- nine European aircraft lost outside the region.
Total fatalities reached 37; another 34 deaths occurred in the crash of a Belgian Air Force C-130 Hercules aircraft on July 15, 1996 (discussed later in this chapter).
Between 1950 and 1995, Europe’s worst known bird-related accident took three civilian lives when a Belgian F-104 crashed in Germany in 1980. An East German Mi-8 helicopter crashed due to bird ingestion in 1975, resulting in three fatalities. A Royal Navy Sea King helicopter lost with 22 fatalities near the Falkland Islands on 19 May 1982 is thought to have been the victim of a bird strike, but the official cause is listed as not positively determined (Richardson 1996). Two aircrew died in each of at least six accidents involving either European or Israeli aircraft; 19 accidents occurred with one fatality each. Overall, there were at least 27 accidents involving between one and three fatalities, and 126 accidents with no fatalities. In the other 15 cases (14 pre-1980) it is not known whether there were any fatalities. During the period 1950 to 1995 there was one Soviet fatality in Asia and three U.S. fatalities.
Geographic distribution of accidents
The numbers of bird-related accidents involving European military aircraft are listed in Table 13.3. The numbers of accidents for each country are related to the size of the air force, the completeness of the records and the types of aircraft flown. The military of the United Kingdom shows the largest number of accidents with 58. Other significant losses occurred to the aircraft of:
- West Germany (23 bird-related accidents),
- Netherlands and East Germany (10 each),
- Sweden (9), and
- France (7).
The reported numbers grossly under-represent the situation in the CIS.
Some bird-strike accidents occur outside the borders of the operating country, including:
- 2 Belgian,
- 2 French,
- 7 West German,
- 4 Netherlands, and
- 18 British aircraft.
Since 1964, eight of the 17 known Canadian losses due to bird strikes were in Europe. At least seven U.S. aircraft have been lost to bird strikes in Europe since 1973.
Y M D
|Location||Service||Aircraft||# Persons||Flight Phase||Time||Type of Bird Struck||Altitude||Parts Hit|
|Type||Category||Ab.||Ej.||Killed||AGL (feet)||Speed (knots)||Ws||En||Other|
|770926||W. Germany||AF||Mirage 5||FA 1||1||1||0||CrL||D||Pigeons, Wood||600||420||P|
|800512||W. Germany||AF||TF-104||FA 1||2||2||3grnd||CrL||D||prob. birdstrike||500||450||F|
|881117||Belgium||AF||F-16||FA 1||1||1||0||Cl||D||Pigeons, Wood||400||200||F|
|890718||Belgium||AF||Mirage 5||FA 1||1||0||0||Ap||D||Pigeons, Wood||300||195||F|
|Canadian Forces (Europe only)|
|650916||W. Germany||AF||CF-104||FA 1||1||1||0||Ap||D||unkn.||3000||300||-||F|
|660321||W. Germany||AF||CF-104||FA 1||1||1||0||CrL||D||unkn.||1000||410||-||F|
|780818||W. Germany||AF||CF-104||FA 1||1||1||0||CrL||D||unkn.||800||420||-||F|
|810316||W. Germany||AF||CF-104||FA 1||2||2||0||CrL||D||buzzard||500||510||-||F|
|Czech & Slovak AF|
|French AF & Navy|
|900517||France||AF||Mir. 2000||FA 1||2||2||0||CrL||D||gull||500||400||S||F|
|900726||Chad||AF||Mir. F1||FA 1||1||1||0||CrL||D||unkn.||300||475||-||F||A|
|920613||Chad||AF||Jaguar||FA 2||1||1||0||Cl||D||Egrets, White||50||185||F|
|960119||France||AF||Mir. 2000||FA 1||2||2||0||Ap||D||Gull, Yel.-leg.||110||135||I|
|920204||France||Na||S.Etendard||FA 1||1||1||0||CrL||D||Gannet, North.||100||480||S||F|
|960126||France||Na||S.Etendard||FA 1||1||1||0||CrL||D||Gull, Yel.-leg.||500||450||P||-|
|Germany (East) AF|
|670807||E. Germany||AF||MiG-21||FA 1||1||1||0||CrH||D||unkn.||>3300||>324||-||F|
|67-74||E. Germany||AF||MiG-21||FA 1||1||1||unkn.|
|720320||E. Germany||AF||MiG-21||FA 1||1||0||0||Dem||D||>1||1000||324||F||F|
|740417||E. Germany||AF||MiG-21||FA 1||2||2||0||CI||D||unkn.||<3300||<324||-||F|
|750428||E. Germany||AF||Mi-8||H 2||3||na||3||Hov||T||unkn.||660||0||-||F|
|761002||E. Germany||AF||MiG-21||FA 1||1||1||1||CI||D||unkn.||165||216||-||F|
|770817||E. Germany||AF||MiG-21||FA 1||1||1||0||Ap||D||unkn.||330||190||-||F|
|820622||E. Germany||AF||MiG-23||FA 1||1||0||0||CrH||D||ducks||2000||485||I||F|
|880506||E. Germany||AF||MiG-21||FA 1||1||1||1||CI||T||ducks||65||216||F|
|880805||E. Germany||AF||MiG-21||FA 1||2||2||0||CrH||D||crows||1640||270||F|
|Germany (West) AF & Navy|
|620411||W. Germany||AF||F-84||FA 1||1||1||0||CrL||D||buzzard||500||<450||P||-|
|640805||W. Germany||AF||G-91||FA 1||1||1||0||CI||D||pigeons||100||160||F|
|670516||W. Germany||AF||F-104||FA 1||1||1||0||CrL||D||gulls||500||450||P|
|691130||W. Germany||AF||F-104||FA 1||1||1||0||CrL||D||duck?||800||450||-||F|
|701030||W. Germany||AF||F-104||FA 1||1||1||0||CrL||D||crow||800||450||-||F|
|710907||W. Germany||AF||G-91||FA 1||1||1||0||CrH||D||gulls||1200||<450||P|
|720801||W. Germany||AF||G-91||FA 1||1||1||0||CrL||D||buzzard||500||360||-||F|
|760809||W. Germany||AF||G-91||FA 1||1||1||0||CrL||D||buzzard||500||360||-||F|
|771007||W. Germany||AF||TF-104||FA 1||2||2||0||CrL||D||pigeons||800||450||F|
|810706||W. Germany||AF||F-104||FA 1||1||1||0||CrL||D||buzzard||600||450||-||F|
|820804||W. Germany||AF||F-104||FA 1||1||1||0||CrL||D||unkn.||400||-||F|
|670428||W. Germany||Na||F-104||FA 1||1||1||0||CrL||D||duck?||1000||200||-||F|
|760315||W. Germany||Na||F-104||FA 1||1||1||0||CrL||D||Goose, Barnacle||800||420||-||F|
|780818||W. Germany||Na||F-104||FA 1||1||1||0||CrL||D||gulls||500||400||F|
|781207||W. Germany||Na||F-104||FA 1||1||1||0||CrL||D||ducks||800||480||F|
|790417||W. Germany||Na||F-104||FA 1||1||1||0||CrL||D||Shelduck||800||440||-||F|
|Hellenic (Greek) AF|
|921007||Greece||AF||Mir. 2000||FA 1||1||1||0||CI||D||gull||100||240||F||I|
|841016||Hungary||AF||MiG-21||FA 1||2||2||1||Ap||D||Goose, Bean||850||205||-||F|
|741028||Israel||AF||A-4||FA 1||1||0||1||CrL||D||pelican, G. Wh.||400||420||P||-|
|791007||Israel||AF||Kfir||FA 1||1||1||0||Ap||D||pelican, G. Wh.?||900||220||-||F|
|830504||Israel||AF||A-4||FA 1||1||1||0||CrL||D||Buzzard, Honey||300||420||P||-|
|881218||Israel||AF||F-16||FA 1||1||1||0||CrL||D||Eagle, Golden||300||420||-||F|
|890620||Italy||AF||Tornado||FA 2||2||2||0||CrL||D||poss. birdstrike||800||225||F|
|590915||W. Germany||AF||Hunter||FA 1||1||1||0||CrH||N||unkn.||2500||-||F|
|750711||W. Germany||AF||NF-5||FA 2||1||1||1||TO||Kestrel, Eur.||0||[low]||-||F|
|790301||W. Germany||AF||F-104||FA 1||1||1||0||CrH||buzzard?||>2500||-||F|
|811201||W. Germany||AF||F-104||FA 1||1||0||0||CrL||Duck, Eider||4-500||-||-||W I|
|831004||Netherlands||AF||F-16||FA 1||1||0||1||TO||Heron, Grey||0||-||F|
|900504||Netherlands||AF||NF-5||FA 2||1||1||0||T&G||Pigeon, Hom.||low||-||I|
|710809||Norway||AF||F-5||FA 2||1||0||1||CrL||D||Gull, Les. Bl.-bk.||500||3-400||P||-|
|810602||Norway||AF||F-16||FA 1||1||1||0||CrH||D||Crane, Eur.||2500||450||P||-|
|950504||Norway||AF||F-16||FA 1||2||2||0||CI||D||Gull, Gr. Bl.-bk.||1100||320||-||F|
|700531||Sweden||AF||Lansen||FA 1||2||2||2||CI||Starlings, Eur.||35||175||F|
|770321||Sweden||AF||Viggen||FA 1||1||0||1||CrL||prob. birdstrike||~85||595||S||-|
|770901||Sweden||AF||Lansen||FA 1||1||0||0||TO||small, >1||0||110|
|741023||Switzerland||AF||Mirage III||FA 1||1||1||0||CI||D||Gulls, Bl.-head.||50||190||S||F|
|910812||Switzerland||AF||Hunter||FA 1||1||0||0||Dem||D||unkn.||<1650||405||-||-||W I|
|United Kingdom (AF, Navy, Army)|
|530730||France||AF||Vampire||FA 1||0?||0?||CrL?||>1||low||I||W F|
|570410||UK/Wales||AF||Vampire||FA 1||2?||0?||0?||CrL?||gulls||500||-||-||W I|
|601109||W. Germ.||AF||Hunter||FA 1||1||0||0||CrL||unkn.||250||390|
|610316||W. Germ.||AF||Swift||FA 1||1||0||0||D||unkn.||-||-||I|
|620904||UK/England||AF||Vampire||FA 1||2?||0?||0?||TO||D||gulls + plovers||0||100|
|640817||HongKong||AF||Canberra||B 2||TO||Kites, Black-ear.||TO||[low]||-||I|
|640930||UK/England||AF||Jet Prov.||T 1||2?||2?||0||CrL||D||large||300||190|
|660727||UK/England||AF||Jet Prov.||T 1||2?||2?||0?||CrL||D||unkn.||250||180|
|710225||W. Germany||AF||Canberra||B 2||0?||0?||CrL||D||unkn.||100||300||S||-||N|
|710629||UK/England||AF||Jet Prov.||T 1||2||2||0||Ap||D||large||300||110||-||F||F|
|720627||W. Germany||AF||Harrier||FA 1||1||1||0||CrL||D||Gull, Bl.-head?||700||420||-||F||N|
|730709||W. Germany||AF||Harrier||FA 1||1||1||0||CI||D||>1||20||135||F|
|731012||UK/England||AF||Gnat||T 1||2||0||0||CrL||D||small, several||250||360||I||N I|
|740107||UK/England||AF||Jet Prov.||T 1||1+||0?||0||CrL||D||Pigeon, Wood||300||230||S||-||N|
|740516||W. Germany||AF||Harrier||FA 1||1||1||0||CI||T||small||20||20||-||F|
|790326||W. Germany||AF||Jaguar||FA 2||2||2||0||CrL||D||Rook||250||240||P||F|
|800731||UK/England||AF||Jet Prov.||T 1||1||1||0||CI||D||Pigeons, Hom.||400||140||F||M|
|801117||UK/Scotland||AF||Nimrod||P 4||20||na||2||CI||D||Gulls, Bl-h+Com.||20||138||S||F||NWTF|
|810601||UK/Scotland||AF||Jaguar||FA 2||2||2||0||CrL||Gull, Bl.-head.||300||450||P||F|
|831121||UK/England||AF||Jet Prov.||T 1||2||2||0||CrL||T||>1||low||F||U|
|840815||UK/England||AF||Jet Prov.||T 1||2||0||0||CI||D||Avoiding Birds||25||low||-||-||-|
|841129||S. Atlantic||AF||Harrier||FA 1||1||1||0||CrL||seabird, large||250||480||S||-||N|
|860929||UK/England||AF||Bulldog||pT 1||2||na||0||CI||D||Avoid Sim. Birds||~250||[low]||-||-||-|
|910925||UK/England||AF||Harrier||FA 1||2||2||0||CrL||D||Gulls, Bl.-head.||250||P||-||U|
|930628||UK/England||AF||Harrier||FA 1||1||1||0||CrL||prob. birdstrike||low||-||-||W|
|871015||N. Ireland||Na||SeaHarri.||FA 1||1||1||0||CrL||large||250||[low]||-||F|
|860429||UK/England||Ar||Gazelle||H 1||4||na||0||D||Avoiding Birds||125||[low]||-||-||-|
|911114||N. Ireland||Ar||Lynx||H 2||11||na||1||CrL||D||Avoiding Birds||low||-||-||-|
|United States (Europe only)|
|840809||UK/Scotland||AF||F-111||FA 2||2||2||0||CrL||D||Gull, Herring||200||HI||-||I||N|
|861008||Spain||AF||F-16||FA 1||1||1||0||CrL||Vulture, Griffon||low||-||F||I|
|870520||Spain||AF||F-4||FA 2||2||0||2||CrH||Vulture, Griffon||2000||[low]||P||-|
|840908*||W. Germany||Ar||RV-1||O 2||2||2||0||CI||>1||[low]||F||U|
|Former USSR (very incomplete)|
|6604_||Estonia||AF||MiG-17||FA 1||1||0?||1||T||Crane, Eur.||2600||380||P||-|
|911119||E. Germany||AF||MiG-23||FA 1||2||2||0||Ap||goose||500||-||F|
|*Unofficial report of uncertain accuracy.
Table 13.3 Serious military aviation bird-strike involved European aircraft). All listed accidents involved one or more of the following: destruction of the aircraft and fatalities.
Types of aircraft
The data up to and including 1995 indicate that most military aircraft involved in serious bird-related accidents have been single-engine fighters or attack aircraft (121 of 167) flown by one pilot. Single-engine trainers accounted for 12 of the losses. Twin-engine fighters and attack aircraft accounted for 21 accidents. Other twin-engine fixed-wing aircraft— mainly Canberra and Il-28 light bombers—accounted for eight losses. Other losses include three helicopters, two four-engine aircraft and one CIS fighter of unknown type.
The European data show that more than 92 percent of bird-related accidents involved fighter and attack aircraft and related trainers—aircraft that, for the most part, have no counterpart in civilian aviation.
Helicopter and four-engine aircraft losses are of interest because these aircraft are similar to civilian models. An East German Mi-8 helicopter was lost in 1975 after its turboshaft engine ingested a bird. Two British Army helicopters were reportedly lost after striking wires and crashing while avoiding birds. An RAF Victor four-engine tanker was lost in 1976 after multiple gull strikes led to an aborted takeoff above decision speed. It was later concluded that the bird strike caused little damage and the aircraft could have taken off.
A Nimrod four-engine patrol aircraft was lost in 1980 when three engines failed because of multiple gull strikes immediately after takeoff. One four-engine aircraft was reported lost in the U.K. before 1950. In 1944, an RCAF Halifax bomber was destroyed in a crash landing after a bird penetrated the windscreen and disabled the only fully qualified pilot. The relative rarity of serious bird-related accidents involving helicopters and four-engine aircraft is noteworthy and mirrors the civilian experience. However, when major damage does occur, the risk is high. Ejection seats are the exception—and non-existent in helicopters—and there are often a large number of personnel on board. Recent incidents involving large four-engine military aircraft are discussed later in this chapter.
Phases of flight
Of the 148 accidents for which phase of flight is known, 90 (61 percent) occurred away from the airport environment during cruise and weapons-range flight. Most of these serious en-route bird strikes (78 of 90) were in low-level flight at less than 1,000 ft AGL. Overall, bird-strike accidents to aircraft during low-level flight comprised 53 percent of the total recorded. Just over half of the accidents occurred during types of flight that are exclusive to military aircraft.
Of these same 148 bird-related accidents, 58 (39 percent) took place at or near airfields during takeoff, climb, approach, touch-and-go landings, overshoots and flight demonstrations—most occurred during takeoff and climb-out. The two known accidents involving European four-engine aircraft between 1950 and 1995 happened during or immediately following takeoff. Two subsequent European four-engine accidents involved a NATO E-3 AWACS on takeoff and a Belgian Air Force C-130 Hercules on short final approach.
Altitudes and speeds
Regarding bird-related accidents at known altitudes, 103 (72 percent) of 143 were encounters at 500 ft AGL or less; 27 more (19 percent) occurred between 501 and 1,000 ft. Of these 130 low-altitude strikes, 50 were near aerodromes and 72 were during low-altitude cruise or weapons-range flights. The highest altitudes at which strikes resulted in aircraft loss were 2,500 to 3,500 ft, where eight strikes occurred. Reported speeds during bird encounters that caused aircraft loss ranged from 0 kts for a hovering Mi-8 to 595 kts. Seven of these strikes were at 500 to 595 kts. Almost all high-speed accidents—above 400 knots—transpired during cruise or weapons-range flights and mainly at low altitude.
Parts of aircraft struck
Engines were reported as the aircraft part most commonly struck. Of the 144 serious accidents in which the part struck was reported, 102 involved the engines, and 24 were to windscreens and canopies; a further 11 involved engines and windscreens. There were only seven serious accidents in which the reported parts struck did not include either engines or windscreens.
Types of birds
Figure 13.1 summarizes the types of birds that have caused serious accidents in military aircraft in Europe between 1950 and 1995. The species of bird involved was unknown in 66 cases. In four additional cases, the accidents resulted from efforts to avoid birds rather than actually striking them. The birds responsible in the 98 identified strikes were:
- gulls (35),
- buzzards and hawks (11),
- ducks (8),
- pigeons (8), and
- corvids (6).
Other groups accounting for at least three to four accidents each were:
- seabirds (Gannet and two others),
- herons, egrets and storks,
- waders (lapwings or plovers in each case) ,and
All values should be considered minimums because of the many accidents for which bird type is unknown.
Gulls posed the greatest problem both near aerodromes and during low-level cruise, but caused only one known accident during cruise above 1,000 ft AGL. Similarly, pigeons caused accidents both near aerodromes and during low-level cruise. In contrast, there were no known losses to buzzards or corvids near aerodromes; however, these birds were struck during both low- and high-altitude cruise. Losses to ducks were mainly during low-level cruise, as were all losses to seabirds and pelicans.
Figure 13.1 Types of birds causing serious accidents to military aircraft in Europe (1950-1995)
Canadian and U.S. experience
Table 13.4—adapted from preliminary work by West and Richardson (2000)—lists the serious military accidents that have involved birds in Canada and the United States. The table excludes accidents involving Canadian and U.S. aircraft in Europe.
There have been ten Canadian Forces aircraft lost to bird strikes in domestic airspace. They include five CF-104 Starfighters and five CT-114 Tutor trainers. There were two fatalities, both occurring when the crew of a Tutor was unable to safely eject after steering its aircraft away from the city of Regina.
Table 13.4 presents 55 serious accidents involving U.S. military aircraft in American airspace. These accidents involved 42 fatalities—24 in the crash of the E-3 AWACS at Anchorage, Alaska in 1995.
Overall, there were 62 Canadian and American accidents in which the phases of flight were known—24 (39 percent) were caused by birds during low-level flights.
This Canadian/American figure is somewhat lower than Europe’s, where 72 percent (103 of 143) of accidents occurred during low-level flights.
There were major differences between the types of birds struck in North America and Europe. In Europe, gulls caused the most accidents—36 percent. In Canada and the U.S., gulls comprised only 11 percent (5 of 44) of the accidents caused by identified species. The most important group were vultures—Turkey Vulture and Black Vulture—which comprised 30 percent (13 of 44) of the accidents. Vultures were also responsible for 9 (38 percent) of the crashes that occurred during low-level flight. The remaining groups are:
- hawks and eagles, six accidents—14 percent—including five low-level flight accidents (21 percent);
- ducks (three accidents);
- White Pelican (two accidents);
- Snow Goose (two);
- Canada Goose (two);
- Sandhill Crane (two); and
- European Starling (two).
There have been several recent major bird-strike accidents involving military aircraft. Although fighter and attack aircraft are most frequently involved, fatalities are relatively few due to small flight crews and the availability of ejection seats. There has, however, been greater loss of life in the smaller number of large-aircraft accidents— aircraft similar to those found in the civilian jet transport fleet. Examples of accidents involving both types of aircraft are reviewed in some detail below.
Fighter and attack aircraft
As discussed earlier in this chapter, high-speed flights at low levels—the altitude zone that is occupied by most birds—are at the highest exposure to bird strikes. Fighter and attack aircraft and associated trainers fly the majority of missions at this altitude—89 percent of all serious accidents in Canada and the U.S. comprised these aircraft. Fighter and attack aircraft move so fast that birds—and pilots—have virtually no time to react. Large birds such as vultures, hawks, gulls, pelicans and cranes are often struck while soaring in the path of quickly moving aircraft. In these high-speed collisions, even small birds can cause serious damage.
For example, a swift penetrated the canopy of an F-111 strike aircraft during low-level flight over Zion National Park in Utah. Both crew members ejected safely before the aircraft crashed. In another incident, one engine of a twin-engine T-38A trainer ingested swallows on takeoff from Dallas Naval Air Station—the aircraft flew for one minute before crashing. Both members of the crew ejected safely. In yet another example, a T-38A ingested a Horned Lark on takeoff from Reese AFB in Texas. The pilot rejected the takeoff, overran the runway and the crew ejected. One crew member was paralyzed as a result of the accident.
|Date Yr Mo Day||Aircraft Type||Bird Species||Crew**||Circumstance|
|66 10 12||CF-104||Snow Goose||1E||Engine ingested bird and parts of intake, then failed. Ocurred at 2000 ft near CFB Cold Lake, Alberta.|
|67 03 30||CF-104||1E||Engine ingested bird on climbout from CFB Cold Lake, Alberta.|
|68 11 15||CF-104||ducks||1E||Engine ingested birds; 1 bird penetrated windscreen during low-level flight near Unity, Saskatchewan.|
|69 08 19||CF-104||hawk?||1E||Bird struck fuselage, engine failed during low-level flight near Cold Lake, Alberta.|
|74 05 27||CF-104||large||1E||Engine ingested bird during low-level flight near Cold Lake, Alberta.|
|76 05 11||Tutor||1E||Engine ingested bird and flamed out during touch and go at CFB Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan.|
|76 05 31||Tutor||Mallard||2E(K)||Engine ingested bird and failed during climbout from Regina, Sask.; crew turned away from city and ejected late.|
|80 06 24||CF-104||2E||Engine ingested bird and failed during low-level flight at Cold Lake, AB.|
|91 02 26||Tutor||2E||Engine ingested bird just after takeoff from CFB Moose Jaw, Sask.|
|97 09 25||Tutor||2E||Engine ingested bird and suffered compressor stall while in cruise over Assiniboia.|
|United States of America|
|62 10 10||F-102||starlings||Engine ingested multiple birds along runway at Westover AFB, MA.|
|64 10 31||T-38A||Snow Goose||1E(K)||Bird penetrated windscreen on approach to Ellington AFB, TX; parts of windscreen ingested, both engines failed, pilot ejected too low.|
|66 -- --||T-38||Unk||Engine ingested bird on takeoff; aircraft destroyed; location unknown.|
|66 -- --||F-100||gulls||Birds struck landing gear on takeoff; gear collapsed on landing.|
|66 -- --||T-38||gulls||2E||Birds penetrated windscreen and ingested in both engines on climb.|
|66 10 --||T-37||Sandhill Crane||[1K]||Bird penetrated windscreen at 1200 ft and 240 kt; pilot killed; 2nd pilot landed aircraft at Reese AFB, Texas.|
|67 -- --||T-38||Unk||Bird penetrated windscreen on approach; pilot incapacitated, aircraft dived into ground. Location unknown.|
|67 09 --||F-100||hawk||1K||Crashed after striking bird. No further details available.|
|68 -- --||F-100||1K||Bird penetrated windscreen during low-level flight; aircraft dived into ground. Location unknown.|
|68 -- --||F-100||Golden Eagle||2E||Bird penetrated windscreen during low-level flight. Location unknown.|
|69 -- --||T-37B||vulture||1K||Bird penetrated windscreen during climb, dived into ground. Location unknown.|
|70 -- --||T-37B||vulture||[1K]||Bird penetrated windscreen on climb at 2000 ft and 195 kt; pilot killed; 2nd pilot landed aircraft safely. Location unknown.|
|70 -- --||T-38A||small birds||2E||Nose and windscreen struck small birds while climbing; radome disintegrated and ingested into engines. Location unknown.|
|71 -- --||RF-4C||vulture||[1E]||Bird penetrated windscreen on low-level flight. One crew member ejected, other landed plane safely. Location unknown.|
|71 -- --||F-101B||small bird||2K||Engine ingested bird on takeoff; aborted takeoff and overran the runway; aircraft burned. Location unknown.|
|71 -- --||F-111||vulture||2E||Bird penetrated windscreen on low-level flight; pilot lost control. Location unknown.|
|72 -- --||T-38A||Sandhill Crane||[1E]||Bird penetrated windscreen at 9000 ft; one pilot ejected but second pilot landed aircraft safely. Location unknown.|
|73 -- --||F-111A||swift||2E||Bird penetrated windscreen during low-level flight at Zion NP, Utah.|
|74 01 14||T-38A||2E(1K)||Bird penetrated windscreen during climb from Randolph AFB, Texas; debris ingested causing power fluctuations.|
|74 05 06||T-38A||2E||Engines ingested birds just after takeoff at Randolph AFB, Texas; dual flameout.|
|79 07 27||A-10A||1E||Bird severed hydraulic lines in wing leading edge at 1100 ft; aircraft caught fire and crashed at Bonita, Arizona.|
|81 09 08||T-38A||gulls||2E(1K)||Both engines ingested gulls just after takeoff from Cleveland Lakefront Airport, Ohio.|
|82 05 11||F-16A||White Pelican||1E||Bird hit radome causing severe damage; debris ingested in engine at 2000 ft over Great Salt Lake, Utah.|
|85 04 02||T-38A||Br.hd. Cowbird||2E||Engine ingested birds at 500 ft in climb from Sheppard AFB, Texas.|
|85 10 30||A-10A||1E||Tail and wing hit wires as pilot attempted to avoid birds during low-level flight at Emerickville, Pennsylvania; aircraft became uncontrollable.|
|86 10 20||F-4E||vulture||2E(1K)||Bird penetrated fuselage, ruptured fuel lines and caused fire during low-level flight over Georgia.|
|87 09 28||B-1B||White Pelican||3E(3K)||Bird penetrated wing/nacelle junction rupturing hydraulic lines during low-level flight over La Junta, Colorado; inflight fire resulted.|
|89 01 04||F-16A||vulture||1E||Bird penetrated windscreen during low-level flight over Avon Park Range, Florida.|
|89 01 05||F-16C||starlings||1 inj||Engine ingested birds on takeoff from Shaw AFB, South Carolina; takeoff aborted, aircraft burnt out.|
|90 04 10||OA-37B||vulture?||1E||Lost control and crashed when avoiding birds on approach to Howard AFB, Panama.|
|91 04 18||F-16A||vulture||1E||Engine ingested bird at low level near Fort Smith, Arkansas.|
|92 09 03||T-38A||vulture||[1K]||Pilot killed when bird penetrated windscreen during low-level flight near Abilene, Texas; rear pilot landed aircraft safely.|
|92 09 18||F-16A||plovers||1E||Engine ingested birds on rotation at Duluth, MN; crashed after 2 minutes.|
|92 12 17||F-16A||hawk||1E||Engine ingested bird and seized during low-level flight over the Dixie Range, Texas.|
|93 06 20||T-38A||swallows||2E||One engine ingested birds on takeoff from Dallas NAS, Texas; flew for 1 minute before crashing.|
|93 07 06||T-38A||Horned Lark||2E||Engine ingested bird on takeoff from Reese AFB, Texas, aborted takeoff, overran, ejected; 1 crew member paralyzed.|
|94 05 06||T-38A||Extensively damaged after birdstrike; details unknown.|
|94 07 01||F-16B||vulture||2E||Engine ingested bird during low-level flight near Eagle Pass, Texas.|
|95 09 25||E-3B||Canada Geese||24K||Struck many geese on takeoff from Elmendorf AFB, Alaska; 2 engines failed; crashed in trees.|
|97 10 22||AT-38B||2K||Struck by F-16B that was avoiding birds during a photographic run at Edwards AFB, California.|
|United States of America|
|Navy and Marine Corps.|
|7? -- --||A-7B||vulture||1E||Bird struck radome and was ingested during climb somewhere in southeast U.S. (Year?); aircraft lost power.|
|7? -- --||A-4B||gull||1E||Engine ingested bird on takeoff, pilot aborted too late, overran into river. Location and time are unknown.|
|73 03 21||AV-8A||1E||Struck bird at Beaufort, South Carolina. (Year?)|
|80 05 --||TA-4J||2E||Apparently crashed after striking birds. No further details.|
|80 09 29||T-34C||[1E]||Bird penetrated windscreen at 2800 ft; instructor ejected, student landed aircraft safely at Brewton, Alabama.|
|80 10 31||A-4M||1E||Bird hit wing slat during low-level flight over Dare County Range, North Carolina; aircraft became uncontrollable and hit trees.|
|84 05 05||A-4E||1E||Bird penetrated windscreen on approach to Cecil NAS, Florida.|
|86 01 17||AV-8B||Red-tail Hawk||1E||Bird penetrated windscreen on low-level flight near Yuma, Arizona.|
|90 04 21||TAV-8B||vulture||2E||Engine ingested bird and failed during low-level flight, Beaufort, SC.|
|92 05 28||F-18A||vulture||1E(K)||Bird penetrated windscreen on low-level flight near Gainesville, Florida; pilot ejected but killed.|
|93 10 15||AV-8B||hawk||1E||Engine ingested bird and failed during low-level flight, Raleigh, NC.|
|94 03 08||EA-6B||Canada Goose||4E||Engine ingested bird while doing touch and go at Bogue Field, North Carolina; one engine failed, inflight fire.|
|95 01 14||TAV-8B||Herring Gull||2E||Bird penetrated rear cockpit through canopy and blast shield during low-level flight near Rocky Mount, North Carolina.|
|95 10 05||FA-18D||2E||Left engine ingested large bird on low-level flight over SW Arizona.|
|96 11 01||T-45A||duck||2E||Engine ingested bird on night approach to Kingsville NAS, Texas.|
Table 13.4 Serious military accidents involving birds in Canada and United States.* All listed accidents involved one or more of the following: destruction of the aircraft, pilot ejections or fatalities. * Excludes accidents involving Canadian and U.S. military aircraft in Europe. ** E=ejected safely; K=killed; E(K)=ejected but killed; inj=injured (very incomplete).
USAF B-1B bomber
The Strategic Air command of the USAF maintains a low-level bombing range in eastern Colorado. On September 28, 1987, a four-engine Rockwell B-1B bomber was training on the range at an altitude of 600 ft AGL at an indicated air speed of 560 kts when a 15-pound White Pelican struck the aircraft just above the right engine nacelle. The bird strike started a fire that ignited and deteriorated the hydraulic systems until the aircraft entered a slow and uncorrectable roll to the right. Three of the six crew were unable to eject and died in the crash.
The accident investigation revealed that there had been approximately 50 bird strikes along the same instrument route (177) during the previous eight years—a routedangerously close to two reservoirs that harboured large numbers of White Pelicans and Sandhill Cranes. A further contributing factor was that the B-1B was not designed to take a major bird strike; the B-1 fleet was subsequently modified to reduce its vulnerability.
USAF/NATO E-3 AWACS
The E-3 AWACS aircraft is the military version of the four-engine Boeing 707 passenger jet, flying similarly long missions at high altitudes. The E-3 is equipped with sophisticated radar and communications systems, including a large circular top-mounted radome. Until 1995, these aircraft operated without a crash since first entering service in 1977.
On the morning of September 22, 1995, a fully loaded USAF E-3B AWACS began its takeoff roll at Elmendorf Air Force Base in Anchorage, Alaska. The mission was to be a routine 6.5-hour training flight. The tower air-traffic controller had seen a flock of geese near the runway but failed to notify the flight crew. As it lifted off the runway, the aircraft struck a flock of Canada Geese. At least 31 birds were involved, some ingested by the two left engines—one of which had to be shut down while the other lost power. The aircraft could not gain altitude or be controlled. It rolled left and crashed into a treed hillside. All 24 crew members were killed.
Subsequent investigations determined that the air-traffic controller should have warned the flight crew about the presence of geese. At the same time, the crew should have been concerned since geese were often in the area, and the bird-watch condition for the airport was moderate—indicating a probable bird hazard. The investigators also criticized the personnel in charge of flying operations at Elmendorf AFB for not having instituted an aggressive bird-management program. Following an inspection of the base in July 1995, the USAF BASH team had warned of the dangers posed by the resident Canada Goose population.
The case of the E-3 is a wake-up-call for the civil-aviation system. Many airports have insufficient bird-control programs to deal with problem geese. The E-3’s similarity to many commercial airliners means an identical accident could occur with a civilian jet transport aircraft—an aircraft loaded with passengers.
Remarkably, another E-3 AWACS crashed after a bird strike on 14 July 1996. The NATO aircraft was taking off from Aktion airbase in Greece when multiple bird strikes caused the crew to reject the takeoff at high speed. The E-3 ran off the runway, travelled along a stone pier and veered into the sea. The impact broke the fuselage between the wings and the cockpit. Fortunately, there was no fire and all 14 members of the crew survived without serious injury.
Belgian Air Force C-130H
On July 15, 1996, a Belgian Air Force four-engine C-130H Hercules transport with 41 persons on board crashed while on short final to the Dutch Air Force Base at
Wreckage of the E-3B AWACS on September 22, 1995. On July 14, 1996 the only other loss of an E-3 AWACS occurred when a NATO version was lost to a bird strike at Aktion airbase, Greece.
Eindhoven, Holland. A massive bird strike has been confirmed as the primary cause of the crash. A flock of as many as 600 lapwings (a large shorebird) and starlings— out of view of the control tower—flew into the path of the Hercules just prior to landing. Many of the birds hit the cockpit and port wing—dozens ended up in the engines, three of which lost power. The left wing dropped until the aircraft hit the ground beside the runway, damaging the fuel tanks. All 41 persons on board survived the crash, but as the aircraft came to rest at 18:02 a fuel fire immediately enveloped the forward fuselage.
The crew tried to rescue the passengers by extinguishing the fires and opening the rear fuselage doors; however, impact damage prevented opening the doors from the inside. The air-traffic controller on duty knew that there was a significant number of passengers on board but did not relay that information to the fire brigade, which began fighting the fire five minutes after the crash and completed the task two minutes later. Unaware that there were passengers on board, and assuming the fourperson crew had perished on impact, the fire brigade proceeded to extinguish the engine fires. Only at 18:38—some 36 minutes after the crash and 29 minutes after they extinguished the main fire—did the firemen force open the rear door of the aircraft to discover there were passengers present. By this time, 31 had died from toxic fumes. Three others died later, for a death toll of 34. The ability of a large flock of relatively small birds to cause the crash of a large military transport aircraft—one also used in many civilian roles—underlines the risks associated with bird strikes.
While the sharing of knowledge between civilian- and military-aviation sectors remains critical, military aviation appears to have little to teach its civilian counterpart. The differences in aircraft types and flight profiles preclude many direct comparisons, especially considering the more stringent bird-strike certification standards facing civilian aircraft. Wildlife-management programs at military and civilian aerodromes also employ the same techniques and equipment. Furthermore, military aviation’s greater flexibility in flight scheduling and route selection make it possible to avoid known areas of bird activity at all times of the year—a luxury not afforded the tightly scheduled world of civilian aviation.
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