Monday, August 22, 2011

When Birds Strike

In the aftermath of the Red Arrows tragedy on Saturday I've had several conversations over the last twenty-four hours or so with people asking me about ejecting from an aircraft and to be honest, I don't know the answer and can't. Until the formal investigation in concluded by the RAF, into what happened at Bournemouth, everything else remains media speculation.

The first thing however that occurred to me was a catastrophic bird-strike at low-level and I did notice the usual sea-bird activity around the cliffs when I was flying on Friday afternoon. When a large bird hits an aircraft the damage it can do is quite remarkable.

Parallels are being drawn with Rob Davies' miraculous escape at Duxford a few weeks ago, where he managed to bale-out of his P51 Mustang, 'Big Beautiful Doll' moments before it smashed in the ground after a mid-air collision with a heavily built Skyraider. Rob was extremely lucky as he left the aircraft well below the advertised safety height for his 'Fast Reaction' emergency parachute and only picked-up bruises. The £2m Mustang, between owners, wasn't so lucky and it proved to be uninsured.

When things go wrong at low-level there's very little time to do other than react and fall back on one's training, as any deep thinking process can take too long. During a display, like the one shown below for the Glider FX team at Shoreham last weekend, the aircraft is down to 300 feet along the crowd line during part of the display. Whoever shot the excellent video also got a little mixed-up on the pilot roster for Saturday.

In a relatively complex and delta-wing-loaded jet aircraft like a Hawk trainer there isn't the same level of gliding distance that may be available in propeller aircraft and when the engine goes silent time to impact is measured in fleeting seconds as this cockpit video from Canada illustrates. You can see the 'kamikaze' Canadian Goose hurtling in from the left of picture just after the video starts with the aircraft just above the runway.

Hopefully it will explain more clearly what goes on and in this example, there are two pilots in the aircraft working the problem and not one.

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