Friday, July 13, 2012

Air force jet taken out by turkey vulture

A turkey vulture has sidelined one of the Canadian Forces’ VIP Challenger jets after a mid-air collision between the two severely damaged the plane.

The Ottawa-based aircraft was on its initial approach for landing at MacDill Air Force Base in Florida on May 24 when it collided with the turkey vulture, according to defence sources.

The multi-million dollar aircraft landed safely but was damaged so badly that it was grounded in Florida for a month and a half. It returned to Canada on Tuesday, July 10.

The Royal Canadian Air Force has confirmed the incident. But air force spokeswoman Capt. Jill Strelieff noted that the type of bird the plane hit is not known at this point although she added that it “was very large.”

Turkey vultures can have a wingspan of nearly two metres and a weight of a little more than two kilograms.

A defence source said the aircraft was severely damaged and may not be returned to service.

Strelieff stated in an email that the bird strike damaged both the radome and a forward bulkhead on the plane. “Due to the extent of the damage to the aircraft, a course of action for its repair has not yet been determined,” she noted. “We do not have a timeline yet for this decision.”

There are no estimates yet on what it will cost to repair the aircraft.

A Transport Canada team flew down to Florida to conduct a temporary fix that allowed the plane to be flown back to Canada.

The aircraft was travelling to Florida to pick up Brig.-Gen. Denis Thompson, head of Canadian special forces, as well as allied special forces officers and return them to Canada for a high-level meeting.

Strelieff stated that Thompson and his staff had flown down to a special forces conference in Florida on a commercial flight but that no such flights were available that would have allowed them to return to Ottawa in time for what she called “a critical meeting.”

“As well, being flown on the Challenger enabled sensitive and classified conversations to take place between BGen Thompson and the senior Allied SOF personnel during a tight schedule,” she added.

A second Challenger was sent to pick up Thompson, senior special forces officers from the other undisclosed nations as well as the aircrew from the damaged Challenger.

According to the University of Washington’s Conservation magazine, the turkey vulture is one of the leading causes for plane collision-related costs for the U.S. air force. As an example, it said that since 2006, three planes have hit vultures at the Marine Corps air station in South Carolina.

The University of Georgia notes that more than 450 incidences of aircraft collisions with turkey vultures have been recorded over the decades.

Citing U.S. air force statistics it notes that between 1985 and 2002 there have been more than 52,000 collisions between birds and military aircraft, costing more than $30 million a year.

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