The incredible ditching of a US Airways Airbus A320 has been all over the news, and the pictures are truly dramatic. I feel relieved, and amazed, in that no one died on board that flight. I admit I also feel lucky, in that I wasn’t on that plane — New York to Charlotte is a route I’ve flown more than once, and usually on US Airways. Yet, seeing the plane in the cold water of the Hudson River, with passengers standing on the wings or floating in rafts, I feel a strange sense of comfort. A plane went down, and everyone survived. That’s really incredible.
While it’s way too early to definitively describe what happened, the early reports are pointing to a bird strike in both engines. Lucky passengers, unlucky birds.
I’ve gotten some questions about a bird could take down such a big plane. I’m no expert on aircraft engines, but from what I can gather, the impact of a bird on the engine’s turbine fan blades can knock the blades off-track, damaging smaller parts inside the engine. The cascade of destruction can lead to a shutdown.
The force of a bird in flight, when hitting an aircraft engine, is astonishing:
A 12-pound Canada goose striking an aircraft going 150 mph at lift-off generates the force of a 1,000-pound weight dropped from a height of 10 feet, according to Bird Strike Committee USA.
Large aircraft are certified to be able to keep flying after impacting a 4-pound bird, however 36 species of birds in North America weigh more than this, according to the committee. Even smaller birds, such as starlings, can cause engine failure.
The first minute of the following video details how a bird strike can look in real-time. It’s a Thomsonfly Boeing 757 taking off from Manchester, hitting a pair of herons on the ascent. Thankfully, everyone was okay in this instance as well.