Sunday, October 16, 2011

First Bird Strike

You hear of bird strikes taking down airliners - Miracle on the Hudson anyone? causing major damage on planes, etc. Maybe you saw on Flying Wild Alaska when a bird shredded itself in a prop and got smeared all over one of the planes there. Well, I don't know if chances are good for people to have a bird strike just because or what, but I had my first bird strike today. I'm pleased to report my experience was not at all dramatic.

I was nervous about this flight. It was my first solo flight to anywhere not RHV since my solo cross countries at the beginning of June. As planned I was flying down by South County Airport (E16) practicing flying in that non-towered airport environment. First was flying into the pattern correctly, flying a good pattern and landing at E16. I did good in the pattern, did my radio calls, overshot final a little, but fixed that and landed. It wasn't a bad landing, but it wasn't the soft field landing I wanted. I cleared the runway and taxied back to the start of the runway and took off from the airport to the west.

I flew slightly west of E16 to my usual practice area to practice slow flight and steep turns. In the mock check ride I didn't maintain my altitude in slow flight and I didn't roll out of the steep turns on the right headings. So, I worked on that and got to the point where I nailed it consistently. Which wasn't so hard. All I had to do for slow flight was pay more attention and move a bit faster. For the steep turns, pick a heading that had an obvious landmark to roll in and out at, then it was easy to roll in and out at that landmark.

Practicing done it was time to turn back to E16 and do an approach crossing midfield and then going back in on the 45 and landing again. I did my radio call and just short of midfield I see a couple smallish birds fly by on my right. Then I see another one on the left just as it flew up and into the plane. *THUNK!* I blinked and waited. No blood, no feathers, engine was running normally, prop was spinning normally, no vibration. From the angle the bird approached on I thought it could have ended up in the engine cowling and be blocking the cooling there. I made quick note of the current oil temp and pressure and monitored that carefully.

Well, now what. I'm right over E16. I've practiced emergency landings there over and over recently, so one instinct was to land there now. On the other hand, everything was running normal, oil temp and pressure were normal. My biggest risk was a bird in the engine cowling, if that's where it hit. The longer I flew the more I thought that wasn't the case. I decided to fly the 16 NM back to Reid-Hillview, my home base, more repair facilities there, if needed. If I saw the oil temp/pressure rise I'd return to E16 if I was closest to that airport, or RHV if I was closest to that.

With that decision made, I made a beeline for RHV (nice you can do that in a plane). I kept monitoring the engine and instruments closely and everything remained normal. I did a normal approach into RHV and had a normal landing. When I landed the front wheel seemed to shimmy a bit when I landed, but it stopped quickly. So far so good. Taxied back to Squadron2 and shutdown. I was anxious to see what mess the bird made.

When I got out of the plane I carefully examined the prop, cowling, engine, nose gear. All fine, not a feather, not a spec of blood, not even a clean spot. There was one very minor new looking dent on the lower portion of the cowling at a spot that could have been where the bird hit, but that could have been an old dent too. The plane I fly is a trainer and trainers aren't always pristine.

OK then. I called the owner of the club and let him know what happened, buttoned up the plane and went home. If you're going to have a bird hit your plane, hope for a small bird.

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