How would a bird strike on landing play out?
November 21, 2012 8:58 AM   Subscribe

Can you tell me in great detail what would happen if a 2-engine airliner ingested a bird into one of its engines while on approach to land?

This is for a graphic novel project. I need to establish a character's flying prowess, and for narrative reasons the problem he encounters has to manifestly not be his fault or a maintenance/hardware problem with the plane. So I figure bird strike on the engine while landing is a good situation, although I'm open to other suggestions that meet the above criteria (especially if they'd be visually interesting and/or allow a pilot to show some skillz)

The more detail I can get, the better, both on what would happen to the plane and how the pilot would save the situation.
posted by COBRA! to Science & Nature (8 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Best answer: The FAA Wildlife Strike Database is really going to be your friend here. I think I may have learned about it from this MeFi post actually.
posted by jessamyn at 9:02 AM on November 21, 2012 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Holy shit, that's a great resource. Thanks!
posted by COBRA! at 9:06 AM on November 21, 2012 [1 favorite]

Very little will happen, except maybe a few loud bangs.

A quick search of the aviation herald for bird strikes will produce lots of results. In the vast majority of these cases the plane will either return to the airport if the bird strike occurs on takeoff, or continue the landing if it occurs on approach. Here's one where the bird was ingested by the engine on approach; continued for a safe landing. This bird strike wasn't discovered until after the flight had landed. This flight executed a go-around, but I can't tell if that was before or after the bird ingestion. And so on and so on.


The entire goal of the aviation safety process is to make the safety of the flight not dependent on any above-average piloting skills. This makes the handling of any remotely common failure mode very procedural, cautious, and well-rehearsed. You need a really really weird scenario, like US 1549, Air Canada 143, or United 232, for example.
posted by kiltedtaco at 9:31 AM on November 21, 2012

Best answer: Here's a link to a video of what happens when an engine ingests a bird EXACTLY at rotation:

Thomson Airways:

One that happens a bit later, to a Delta flight:

Both seemingly dramatic, yet in reality not so much. Declaring Mayday and Emergency are, I believe, equivalent.

Here's an F-16 that didn't end up quite as nicely :-)
posted by scolbath at 9:51 AM on November 21, 2012

You may want to check out AOPA's Never Again. The podcast seems to have stories that are not on text website.
posted by Sophont at 12:23 PM on November 21, 2012

Best answer: "Approach" could mean any part of the flight up to... thirty miles or so away from the airport. The main risk from a bird strike is losing an engine, but nose cones and leading edges of wings and stabilizers are also at risk.

The lost engine is by far the biggest hazard to the aircraft, and the procedure on landing would be similar wherever the plane is on the approach path. Once determining that there is an engine problem - keep in mind that the pilots can't see the engines from the cockpit, so indications like oil pressure and turbine temperature and rotation speed will be indications something is amiss - the pilots would shut the engine down and possibly activate the fire suppression system. Fire suppression is accomplished by activating a bottle of retardant with a large red handle marked "FIRE" directly overhead of the pilots. If there's enough time, they will declare emergency on the approach or tower frequency declaring "MAYDAY MAYDAY MAYDAY" and probably a request for emergency services to meet them on the runway.

Modern twin jets will be able to land safely with one engine operational. Added workload comes from the adverse yaw encountered with only one engine working, but the one engine should have enough thrust to land the plane.

Two other situations I can think of that could result in an in-flight emergency not the fault of maintenance or the pilots:
-A bomb or other explosive takes out fuel lines or hydraulic systems. One rather famous crash was caused by a design flaw routing all three redundant hydraulic lines to the tail through one relatively narrow channel; an engine destroyed itself and sent shrapnel through that area, severing all three lines simultaneously.
-Air traffic control error results in a mid-air crash that does not immediately destroy the airplane. I could imagine an unlikely situation where quick action by the pilots saves the airplane but shears an engine off the plane.

There's also the Gimli Glider which ran out of fuel over the Atlantic due to several minor errors including inoperative fuel gauges, miscommunication with the ground crew, and poor preflight planning by the pilots. Not quite what you're looking for, but most if not all crashes are the result of the compounding of minor problems into one big clusterfuck.
posted by backseatpilot at 4:09 PM on November 21, 2012

Combination of private road, inadequate markings, and an unobservant driver causes a plane to hit a car during landing.
posted by Sophont at 9:07 PM on November 21, 2012

Landing is not a problem, even without any engine...I should know, I've flown gliders.
Bird-strikes at take-off, on the other hand, can be more of a handful for the pilot.
posted by Skeptic at 4:45 AM on November 22, 2012

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