From ghoulies and ghosties / And long-leggedy beasties / And things that go bump in the night, / Good Lord, deliver us! – traditional Scottish poem
Though I’m fairly fearless now, I was definitely one of those `fraidy cat kids whose overactive imagination conjured all manner of noxious nighttime perils. Those little bumps in the night no longer set my heart pounding when I’m safe and sound at home, but it’s a different matter when I’m engaged in “after hours” aviation. That’s because I’ve seen and heard too many tales of close encounters with “long-leggedy beasties” rambling on runways after dark. As regular readers may recall, a fellow club pilot’s nocturnal encounter with deer on the runway a few years ago put our C-182 Skylane out of service for months. I had my own narrow escape a couple of years after that when, just after landing, the LED lights illuminated several Cervidae skittering across the runway just ahead.
And then there was the nighttime aerial bird strike. At 4,000 MSL over the Brooke VORTAC one calm summer night, a club partner and I were startled by the sound of a bump and the slight feel of a “thud.” We were instantly on high alert, scanning the gauges, gently testing the flight controls, and directing the flashlight to every part of the structure we could see. After landing, we found the fuzzy remains of a small bird smashed all over the lower section of the nose cowling. It was bye, bye, birdie for the feathered flyer, but we humans luckily escaped with nothing more serious than an unpleasant cleaning task.
What Can You Do?
The typical advice with respect to birds (at least those you can see) is to climb, since the bird’s instinctive reaction is to dive for greater airspeed. In the case of deer, however, there is probably little that you as the pilot can do to avoid collision if a deer decides to make a runway incursion while your airplane is using the asphalt for taxi, takeoff, or landing. But if you hear or feel something go bump in the flight, the most important thing you can do is, as always, fly the airplane and avoid any action that could lead to loss of control. The same advice holds for landing phase wildlife encounters. Evasive action attempts that result in loss of directional control can be more damaging – and sometimes more deadly – than impact at the relatively low speed of the landing roll.
In the sense of prevention through avoidance, you can certainly help by reporting wildlife strikes of any kind to the FAA. Reporting collisions with wildlife is crucial to helping the agency develop and use its wildlife strike database for a greater understanding of the problem.
Airport Wildlife Strike Summary and Risk Analysis Reports provide a summary of strike data for selected part 139-certified airports. These reports are primarily intended to provide a species risk analysis to help local officials set wildlife risk management priorities. However, you can search by airport, by FAA region, or by state to see what kind of wildlife strikes are most prevalent in your area(s) of intended operation.
Annual Bird Strike Report: The annual bird strike report for 2014, “Annual Report: Wildlife Strikes to Civil Aircraft in the United States (1990-2014),” summarizes analysis of data from the National Wildlife Strike Database for the 25-year period 1990 through 2014.
Trends in Reporting of Wildlife Strikes With Civil Aircraft and in Identification of Species Struck Under a Primarily Voluntary Reporting System 1990-2013 (PDF) This document shows that wildlife strike reporting for both commercial and general aviation airports continues to increase. Happily, though, strike reports show a decrease in the number of damaging strikes and in the number of damaging strikes within the airport environment.
While we can’t completely eliminate the risk of wildlife strikes, especially in the reduced visibility of the night hours, we can all use this information to enhance awareness. (FAA Safety Briefing – NovDec2015)