How Bird Strikes Can Affect Jet Engines: Exploring the Causes of Bird Strike Accidents

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The Dangers of Bird Strikes

How can a flock of harmless geese kill people? The answer is clear: through a bird strike! Bird strikes have been in the news since 1912 and very little has been achieved on the prevention front. The most disastrous bird strike accident was reported in 1960 when 62 people were killed in an Eastern Airlines aircraft crash after a flock of starlings were sucked into the plane’s engines.

In reality, a considerable amount of the general public is still ignorant about the seriousness and losses caused by bird strikes. A collision between a flying aircraft and a bird (or a flock of birds) can be termed as a bird strike. Bird strike accidents can be extremely serious to airplanes and jets, leading to loss of human life. In other cases, damages to the plane body or machinery can amount to greater financial losses of several millions of dollars.

What Causes a Plane to Crash After a Bird Strike?

The bird that strikes the aircraft might damage the nose, the trailing edge of aircraft’s wing flap or the engine. The size of the bird also matters in determining the extent of destruction it can cause. A tiny bird like sparrow would not be able to cause any damage that would hamper the functionality of the aircraft. However, a flock of geese might cause unrecoverable damage, eventually leading to a plane crash.

The fan blades of the plane engine move at a very high speed to generate sufficient power required by the aircraft to fly. If the bird hits the engine, it may damage or break off one or several fan blades leading to significant engine failure. This kind of accident generally leads to unrecoverable consequences, and no matter how skilled the pilot is, nothing can be done to avoid the imminent disaster.

Where do Bird Strikes Usually Occur?

Bird strikes usually occur at lower altitudes, especially during take-off or landing. This is because the aircraft shares almost the same air space as that of the birds. At many places, the surrounding areas of the airports are open fields and grasslands that attract migratory birds. It is noted that majority of the bird strikes occur during the season of migration when birds fly across the sky in groups.

Are There Any Initiatives to Control the Bird Population Around Airports?

Many airports have bird management initiatives associated with them. Animals like dogs and even predators like hawks are used to scare off birds. Just a few years back, bird populations were controlled by subjecting such bird-rich areas around the airports to gassing.

Because of the advocation of animal activists and other concerned citizens, lethal methods to control bird populations are no longer in use. This has also indirectly led to an increase in accidents due to bird strikes. In fact, environmental laws have greatly contributed in increasing bird populations to unknown levels, causing bird strike hazards to have become an unsolvable question in front of many airport authorities.

Bird Strike Tests on Airplanes

Most of the aircraft used by airlines are subjected to a “bird strike” test before they start their maiden flights, wherein dead birds are shot against the plane’s engine that revolves at maximum speed. Then, the time taken by the plane to recover and land safely is examined under different dimensions such as during take-off and landing. These tests are carried out under the aid of a computer simulation. Many times, such simulation tests fail to cover a situation wherein both the engines of the plane are damaged.

Chesley B Sullenberger III is a hero in the eyes of his nation and his fellow pilots from an event occurring on January 15, 2009. He was the pilot that successfully crash landed a US Airways AirBus A320 on the icy-cold Hudson River, saving the lives onboard the plane. Both the engines of the plane were found to be damaged by a bird strike. We cannot expect such a miracle to happen every time; therefore, it is important that the policy and law makers take necessary action to prevent bird strikes.

Learn more about how technology is helping to decrease the number of bird strikes in the air.