• Bird strike!

Low level flying, designed to minimize your exposure to radar and ground fire, also exposes you to other threats. Enemy troops have been known to string cables across favored low-level ingress and egress routes. Friendly power companies string cables across valleys too, and they're just as lethal whether you're in military training or on a civilian joyride.

Birds are another serious threat. While I've joked that bird strikes from behind can be a problem in a vintage biplane, there's nothing funny about an engine swallowing a bird or two, or worse yet taking a bird through the windshield. Even a small bird clobbered at 120 mph creates a considerable impact. Broken windshields in Cessna 172s aren't unheard of, and at 450 knots....

There can be a humorous side to a bird strike incident too, though.

An A-6 was out on a low-level hop over Northern Oregon and radioed in that they had a problem. They'd hit a really big bird, they said, and even the supposedly bullet-proof windshield hadn't protected them. The bird actually came through the canopy and hit the bombardier/navigator full in the face.

Fortunately, in accordance with standard procedure, they both were flying with their helmet visors down and that afforded some small additional protection. Nevertheless, the B/N sustained some facial lacerations and was not at all pleased with the introduction to his fine feathered (ex) friend.

Slowing to minimum airspeed they soon began to worry that they'd freeze from the cold air. Fortunately, they were close to home and were soon safely back on the ground.

An impromptu debrief ensued on the ramp. The crew described the virtually instantaneous appearance of the bird, the explosion of guts and feathers, and the incredible roar and blast of wind.

Always happy to take advantage of an opportunity to make fun of each other, the B/N in spite of his condition, cracked that he thought the pilot was hurt too until he realize the blood on his partner was from the bird.

Asked if he'd thought to use the first aid kit, the pilot managed the last laugh. No, he said without hesitation, the bird was dead.


While birds are virtually impossible to miss if they're in your flight path, I avoid low level flight along beaches and other areas where birds are known to congregate. That said, we did narrowly miss a huge bird at FL230 one day while climbing out from NAS North Island enroute back to Whidbey.


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