Q: What happens if a bird hits a plane? Can a bird actually cause a plane to crash?
I’ve never considered the idea of a bird hitting a plane, but you never know (martyrs to the cause of ornithological superiority?). As for planes hitting birds, that’s another story. So-called bird strikes happen from time to time, and usually the damage is minor or nonexistent (unless you’re talking from the bird’s point of view).
Sometimes, though, it’s serious. A military 707 crashed in Alaska several years ago after hitting a formation of geese after takeoff and suffering multiple engine failures. A Lockheed Electra operated by Eastern Airlines crashed in Boston in 1960 after a flock of starlings damaged three of its four turboprops. And more recently, an engine on a TWA 767 suffered an uncontained failure during takeoff from Tel Aviv in 1999 after ingesting a gull.
Engines are the most vulnerable componenents. Birds don’t “clog” an engine, but can bend or fracture the fan or compressor blades, causing power loss or failure.
Airframes, including the powerplants, are tested for bird strike resistance, while at various airports, especially those along the coast, everything from scarecrows to shotguns to border collies are used to keep populations from interfering with operations.
This article is part of a collection that originally appeared on Salon.com. Patrick Smith, 38, is an erstwhile airline pilot, retired punk rocker and air travel columnist. His book, Ask the Pilot (Riverhead) was voted “Best Travel Book of 2004” by Amazon.com. Patrick has traveled to more than 55 countries and always asks for a window seat. He lives near Boston.