Bird Strike

by HPA · November 2, 2013

Bird Strike

by Sarah Rovner (Commercial Pilot and FAASTeam Representative)

For a few weeks after my night engine failure and resulting accident, it seemed that I could not have an uneventful flight in a small airplane. As I started getting back into flying, I was looking for any and every way to build time to progress in my training. At the time I was still somewhat nervous in the airplane and this flight was my first time flying solo since the accident. I needed the cross country time for my instrument rating, and flying with Civil Air Patrol was one of the most cost effective ways of doing it. On February 21, 2012 I decided that I would commute from Lone Star Executive Airport in Conroe to West Houston Airport for my Civil Air Patrol meeting. Since I was a bit early to the airport, I figured I had enough time to turn the flight into a cross country so I could log it toward my instrument rating. I decided to fly from Conroe to Galveston and then head to West Houston Airport.

Before the flight, I received a weather briefing that predicted low ceilings along the coast but were not scheduled to form until later in the evening. After taking off from Lone Star, I headed south toward Galveston. I was receiving flight following services and about halfway to Galveston when the controller came on the radio and told me that clouds were forming at 500ft over the airport. At first they were few, then scattered, and I figured it was just a matter of time before it was broken or overcast and decided it would be best to skip the trip to Galveston. I decided to take the VFR corridor along I-10 from the San Jacinto Monument to West Houston airport. After I turned to follow the corridor, I looked down to see cars lined bumper to bumper on I-10 in rush hour traffic. As I passed downtown Houston, out of nowhere a bird hit the airplane. Its guts were splattered all across the windshield and my heart started to race. I looked down at I-10 again and thought to myself “I can’t land there”. I didn’t know if the bird had gotten into the engine cowling or intakes, and I am not enough of a mechanical person to know what that would have done. All I could think of was how I didn’t want another engine failure and told ATC I wanted to divert and make a precautionary landing.

ATC advised that Hobby Airport was closest as it was about 5 miles away. Being a regular visitor to Hobby in small planes, I thought nothing of it. Once again I relayed to ATC that it was NOT an emergency and that I just wanted to land and take a look at it. As I lined up for the runway, they cleared me to land on 12L. They had turned out the lights on all the other runways except 12L. On short final, I could see emergency vehicles approaching the runway. I told the tower that it was not an emergency, and the controller said they were just there as a precaution. After I landed, the fire department vehicles surrounded the airplane and drove around it in circles looking for a fire. I voiced my frustration to ground, saying that I had just hit a bird and wanted to look outside of the airplane for damage. Little did I know, I had just shut down Hobby airport. They finally came back and let me taxi to Million Air where I inspected the airplane. There was no damage and I cleaned the bird off after the Airport Environmental Operations Coordinator took a swab of the bird to submit for testing. It was nice to see how serious they took bird strikes, but I felt the response was a bit excessive considering the circumstances.

The FAA does request that pilots submit information on bird strikes for their Wildlife Strike Database. The link to submit a bird strike is: You have the option of submitting a new report, editing an old report, and even submitting remains of the bird for testing.

It is always a good practice to be cautious, and bird strikes can definitely be more severe than what I experienced. Many airports have developed their own programs to minimize the risk of wildlife encounters, ranging from birds to deer and hogs. Sarah Rovner However, it is still a very real danger and something pilots should be aware of. I’ve seen birds (and grasshoppers) as high as 9,000ft, and I would recommend all pilots be on the lookout and aware of their surroundings to minimize the risk of hitting wildlife. As always, fly safe!

Sarah Rovner is a commercial airplane pilot based in Houston, TX who enjoys flying her G1000-equipped Cessna 182 for personal and business travel. She is also active as a mission pilot in the Civil Air Patrol, a humanitarian pilot with Angel Flight, a tow pilot for a local glider field, FAASTeam Representative and EAA Young Eagles pilot. She enjoys flying to and exploring new places, and is currently working toward her CFI rating.

How it Started

One of my best friends in high school, (Doug Gray) was a private pilot. He offered to take me up for a flight in a 1967 Cessna 150, N6228S. We took off from Calhoun, Georgia, and he took me on a scenic tour of the area, I was hooked. I later found out that my English teacher, (Jan Haluska) was also a flight instructor and the school was offering a ground school course the next year, which he taught, along with flight training with the goal of becoming a private pilot. I managed to talk my dad into funding the training, at the time the total cost was right around $500. Cessna 150 rental rates where $12 an hour, and the 172 we used for cross country was $15 an hour including fuel.

Training Begins

It started August of 1977. The fall semester rolls around, and I am enrolled in ground school, and if memory serves me, we met twice a week. First came the paperwork for my student pilot certificate, which at the time was included with the 3rd class medical. I loved ground school, especially learning navigation, plotting courses on the sectional, again this was before iPads and GPS, so we did a lot of dead reckoning and VOR navigation for cross countries. At the end of the course, I made an 83% on the Private Pilot written exam, remember this was before we had the question-and-answer books that on future test I would consume before taking a written.

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The fun really began on August 22, 1977, it was my first flight. To my surprise we used the same Cessna 150, N6228S that my friend Doug Gray had taken me for a ride in. The Cessna 150 had a standard VFR instrument panel, with one NAV/COM, and one VOR CDI. No intercom, so no headset, at the time I didn’t know what I was missing. I didn’t get my first headset until I started my instrument training in 2003. I was a big guy, I was 6’ 4” and weighed 245 lbs. but I do not remember being uncomfortable in the 150 even with the instructor in the right seat.

First flight lasted .8 hours, and we accomplished orentation, shallow turns, stability, and effects of flight controls. Over the next few months we added steep 720’s, slow flight, stalls, turns around a point, S-turns, emergencies, landings, (short field, soft field and normal).


At this point I want to talk about a training experience that still stands out. We were close to solo and were practicing takeoffs and landings. Turning base to final Jan got very upset at the way I was cross controlling the aircraft. Cross control is when you are in, say a left turn, and use opposite rudder to line the nose up with the runway. So, he had me depart the pattern and head east to the practice area, and climbing up to 5500 feet MSL, he had me slow down to just above stalling speed, start a left shallow turn and add right rudder. As the airplane stalled I had the strangest sensation, no roller coaster has ever come close, instead of blue sky in the windscreen I was looking at brown ground, and as far as I could tell we were upside down, through the terror of the moment Jan talked me out of the spin, controls neutral, oposite rudder, pull slowly out of the dive. As we leveled off he asked me what altitude we were at, as I remember it was around 2,800 feet MSL. Then he asked me what would happen if I experenced this on base to final in the traffic pattern. The answer was obvious, I would be a pile of wreckage off the end of the runway with a very short-lived aviation career. Needless to say this cured my cross-control tendencies.

Another training event the sticks out in my mind was the first time we did takeoffs and landings at the High School runway. The runway was 1,500 feet long, not sure of the width, but it seems like we had about 5 feet on each side of the wheels when on the center line of the runway. Landing from the south you also had to go between a cutout in the trees to be able to stop in time on the runway. After getting confortable landing here every runway since seemed huge. I remember landing at Chattanooga (KCHA) on a night cross country and commenting to Jan, that I felt like I could of landed sideways on the runway, it felt that large.

Very soon after this I started wearing old shirts to all my flight lessons, the reason for this occurred on February 8, 1978. The lesson that day was stalls, takeoffs and Landing. As we were taxing back in Jan told me it was time for my first solo. I was very excited, and after some last minute advice from Jan, including watch for floating on landing the plane will be light with him not in the right seat, complete 3 takeoffs and landings to a full stop. It was a blast, and at the end of my shirt was shorter in the back because Jan cut the tail out of it signed and dated my solo [an aviation tradition]. Total flight time accumulated on the day of my solo was 18.1 hours. I was now officially a pilot with solo priveleges.

In my next article I start cross country training, when Jan decided that it would be best accomplished this in the 172. Checking out in N5970R was like moving into a 747, this started a love affair with one of my faviriote planes to date. Since this time I have flown over 900 hours in many different models of the 172 and feel like I am stepping into an old friend every time.

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