IT AIN'T OVER! 'TIL IT'S OVER! - Pilot gets uninvited guest during fini-flight ... a turkey vulture

  • Published
  • 99th Airlift Squadron at Andrews AFB, Md.
Enjoying my fini-flight Nov. 10, I looked forward to a fantastic finish to my T-1A Jayhawk flying stintwith Air Education and Training Command.

Then the bottom fell out.

We planned a formation out and back from Randolph Air Force Base, Texas, to David Wayne Hooks Airport in Houston with a simulated air refueling sortie on the front half and a simulated airdrop sortie on the return trip. The first leg of the sortie went off without a hitch. We completed all requirements and separated the formation for weather considerations heading into Houston.

We entered a low-level route on the second sortie for the airdrop mission and had to dodge some weather. We ultimately aborted the route once we turned westbound and saw that it would be impossible to complete because of the developing weather. We climbed to 4,500 feet and headed toward College Station, Texas, for a planned formation arrival prior to splitting up for separate arrivals into Randolph.

As the lead, everything was going relatively smooth as we reached 30 nautical miles north of College Station at 3,500 feet.

Then we heard a loud bang and felt a shudder. Moments later the aircraft's cabin filled with a putrid aroma that could be likened to rotten chicken.

We had struck what we believe to be a turkey vulture on the left side of the aircraft. The aircraft suffered no degradation in handling immediately after the strike or through landing. A quick scan of the engines showed that both were operating within limits with no apparent issues with the left engine.

Our wingman crew was in the offset position when we informed them we took a bird. We instructed them to look us over to give us an idea of the damage, so that we would come up with our game plan. We recommended they check us out from line abreast. By flying to the side of us, they could look us over without risking anything falling off our jet and taking them out as well. As they pulled up to line abreast on the left side, they informed us that yes, indeed, we had hit a bird.

With all the information we had available to us (engine instruments, visual inspection, aircraft performance and controllability), we decided to land full-stop at the nearest airstrip in College Station, which was in the direction we were already heading. We cleared off wing to shadow us and come up initial to Runway 16 while we set up for a 10-flap straight in for the planned full stop. Approach and landing were uneventful, and we taxied back to parking. Our wingmen executed their approach and landing without incident, as well.

Our surprise came when we opened the crew entrance door to see the extent of the damage done to the aircraft from the suspected turkey vulture. It looked as if someone had peeled the wing root back with an old-school field rations can opener.

There was blood everywhere.

It looked more like we'd hit a small deer than a bird, but Christmas was still more than a month away; so I was fairly confident it wasn't Rudolph. Not to mention, the engine had bird matter all around the inlet and, upon post flight inspection, in the bypass duct on the back side. Even with all that damage, the T-1 continued to fly without any perceptible handling anomalies.

We ended up climbing on our wingman's jet after buttoning up our aircraft and proceeded home to Randolph.

I was a little late getting to my fini-flight celebration, but, hey, safety first. It just goes to show, it ain't over 'til it's over. ...
At the time of this incident, Major Cranston was a T-1 pilot assigned to the Air Education and Training Command Flight Safety Division at Randolph AFB, Texas. He has since moved to the 99th Airlift Squadron at Andrews AFB, Md., where he flies the C-20 Gulfstream IV, providing executive airlift around the world. Cranston earned an AETC Well Done Award for his actions in handling the in-flight emergency.