Saturday, April 7, 2012

The Birds!!!!

I was thinking of all the interesting things that Line Mechanics do. We go on road trips and work on engine issues and have the pleasure of working in the sun, rain, and snow. We change windows, tires, APUs, and the like. We change vomit covered seatbelts and broken coffee makers. And I thought to myself that I have likely mentioned most of these things in my past blogs. One of the more interesting things we do that I have not mentioned is BIRD STRIKES.

Recently the bird strike activity of the airlines has come into public focus with the US Air emergency landing into the Hudson River by Capt. Sully. That was an amazing bit of flying and an unusual result of the bird strikes that we encounter as Line Mechanics.

Strike on a Kruger Flap

Working the Line for the last 15 years I must have worked on or been involved with hundreds of bird strikes. That may surprise some people but it happens every week. For the most part when we go out to a call about a bird strike we simply do a "Bird Strike Inspection", do some clean up and the plane is on its merry way. There have been some unusual ones that I have been involved in that cause damage but the vast majority of the bird strikes do no damage at all.

Because of the recent publicity of the bird strikes, however, we must now collect a sample of the bird (a feather or chunk of meat) bag it up in this neat little "Bird Strike Kit" that we now stock and sent it to the Smithsonian Institute in D.C. In D.C. they can tell from the sample what type of bird we killed and I guess that must be fed into some kind of super computer somewhere which tells them.....I have no idea what.

I once went to a terminating plane. It was night time and I did my usual walk around before going up to talk to the pilots. On the walk around I counted 26 bird strikes! I went up to the flight deck and I asked the crew if they were aiming for the damn things! They said they were on approach to land and a whole flock of tiny birds took off right in front of them. The Captain said it sounded like machine gun fire was hitting them. They Midnight shift guy did the inspection and found no damage.

One time while doing a walk around, again at night, I came around to the nose of the plane and the radome was caved in like someone punched a car door only larger. The crew told me a pterodactyl hit them (that's how big the thing was). Again we did the inspection R/R'd the radome and that was that.

Those instances and many more were before we had to mail evidence of the birds to D.C. Since then there were two interesting bird strikes that I was involved in. The first was a call from an F.O. He was doing his walk around and said there was a bird strike on the left gear. Me and another guy I'll call GrassHopper went out to see what was up. Once there I could not believe it: there wrapped around the still hot brake was an entire turkey vulture!

 Usually we only see some blood, feathers and maybe a couple of chunks of meat but this thing was complete! As a matter of fact the hot brake had cooked some of the bird! We unwrapped it and did our inspection (no damage) and then got to thinking. Most of you know that when mechanic get to thinking the result is not going to be good

. Since there was no management there at the time and the whole "Bird Strike Kit" thing was not put together yet, all we had to go on was a letter that stated we were to keep a sample of the bird to sent to D.C. GrassHopper and I thought 'we can do better than that, we can send them the whole damn bird!" We got a trash bag, put the bird in and stuck it in the freezer in the shop. I then copied the log page and wrote a letter to the manager and left both on his desk. I never did hear anything about it and I never saw the bird again.

The latest large bird strike I was involved in was what I ended up calling "Bird -Ageddon". This thing was a mess but at first it was decieving. This plane was again a terminator. When I was walking around her I noticed some feathers sticking to the left forward wing-to-body fairing and some blood streaked aft of there. There was nothing in the engine, nothing on the gear, nothing on the tail leading edges. I went up to talk to the crew and they told me they saw the thing, it was pretty big, they tried to miss it but then heard the thump. As a matter of fact the passengers and the Flight Attendants heard it too.

After the crew left I went back down and started to look the hit over. The bird hit on the leading edge of a seam between two panels. I pulled the feathers out and could see that the panels were damaged. The holes that once had screws in them had been torn and the screws were missing all along the seam. I called the Foreman and asked him to bring the camera so he could take a picture of the panel and sent it to MX Control. My buddy Brika-Brack came over and we were looking over the damage. I told him "I have a funny feeling that bird is back behind that panel". He was not sure but he helped me to take the panel off. As soon as we got the panel off I called the Foreman (and his camera) back. Just as I thought the bird hit that seam, it deformed, the bird went inside, and then the panel popped back into place.

 Inside that panel was like a bomb went off. There were bird parts and blood everywhere. The bird hit so hard it actually bent the box structure that comprised part of the kruger flap compartment. The bird continued in two pieces up over the wing and down under the wing in the spaces left by the wing-to-body fairings. The Foreman was quite impressed, he said it looked like the bird exploded in there and that is a real good description of it. That plane was down for something like 5-6 days while they figured out how to clean/repair all the damage!

That was certainly the messiest bird strike I have been involved with others are just strange. Any Line Mechanic will tell you about bird strikes that leave no evidence except a perfect impression of the animal on the plane. It's like a ghostly imprint. You can make out the head, beak, feathers, feet, some times even the eye, but there is no blood or damage. I have heard of bird strikes that go through the radome, through the forward bulkhead and into the flight deck-spraying the pilots with blood! At Delta we had one the hit the side of the plane, on a seam I assume, made its way into the fuselage, past the sidewall and sprayed the passengers!

Those last two are very rare. As a matter of fact any damage resulting from birds is rare. Bird strikes, however, are NOT rare and as a Line Mechanic it's just another in a long list of "interesting" calls you will contend with. The other thing about birds is that they seem to find their way into the engines. As with Capt. Sully's plane this can cause the engine to flame out, damage blades, etc. This is also pretty rare and while there is a special inspection for birds that go into the engine most of the time the planes are good to keep flying.