February 13, 2011

Smash hits: Pilots’ close encounters with large wildlife

Main story

Deer, coyotes and turkeys, oh my! Large wildlife pose persistent, under-reported danger to Wisconsin pilots

Interviews and government databases recount dramatic stories of wildlife-plane collisions in Wisconsin. Frequent motifs: Animals that come out of nowhere or head toward the plane. Click to expand each example below.

Plane hits deer, tips over, lands on prop
“Had started my takeoff roll when at least three deer ran onto the runway. I immediately closed the throttle, applied brakes and full back on the yoke. The airplane skidded though I maintained directional control. One deer passed under my left wing. At the end of the skid, the airplane tipped forward, causing the propeller to contact the runway and the airplane rested on the prop. Afterwards I learned that it has happened several times when deer have been on the runway. I believe the brush and grass should be removed or mowed for some distance from the runway. Further, a tall fence may help.”

— Source: Aviation Safety Reporting System (ASRS) anonymous report, February 1995, at Blackhawk Airfield, 10 miles east of Madison. The FAA directory still warns pilots of deer, turkeys, brush and trees.

Winner: Most costly reported strike in Wisconsin
“Hit 2 deer. Nose gear doors both curled back on leading edges, left main landing gear door was ripped off hinges, right wing leading edge dented, right wing flap buckled beyond repair … radome (radar enclosure in nose of plane) cracked and damaged; had to be replaced.”

— FAA Wildlife Strike Database account of a January 2001 hit involving a Learjet at Reedsburg Municipal Airport that caused $110,000 in damage.

Plane vs. coyote: coyote loses
“Coyote was seen on left side of runway during landing rollout. Coyote darted to the right and was struck by the nose gear. No damage, just a big mess to clean up. This could have been more serious if there were more than one coyote or if we were departing.”

— ASRS report of a July 1996 incident at Waukesha County Airport.

Turkeys, en masse, make bad decision
“Just after takeoff, 20-25 turkeys suddenly appeared just above the runway from left to right. Three were hit, mostly by strut and leading edge of wing.”

— FAA report of a September 2004 incident at Adams County Legion Field.

Deer punches hole in airplane wing
“We were landing, we never even saw the thing. We heard it. … He hit the plane lights. We were on the ground, and it was dark out. We got back to the hangar … and I thought, ‘Boy, something doesn’t look right on the flap.’ … It had punched a hole on the wing and then it must’ve hit the ground and bounced up and came up on the flap. … The propeller got (the deer) and it basically decapitated it. … We didn’t even know it was deer, because it happened so quick. We had thought it was geese.”

— Interview with Jim Retzlaff, West Bend Municipal Airport manager, on a collision with two deer about 10 years ago

Instructor takes over plane in a hurry
“I was flying with a customer. … I was the instructor pilot with him. And out of the corner of my eye, I caught two deer charging right at the airplane at dusk as we landed. And the pilot flying actually didn’t see the deer — they were coming up my side of the aircraft. So I took over control of the airplane and told him, ‘I have the airplane.’ … I tried to avoid them, missed one of them but got the other one.”

— Jeff Baum, Watertown Municipal Airport manager, on a crash there about six years ago