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My night bird strike: I was ready to key the radio to call for the downwind turn when we were shocked by the explosive sound of an impact to the aircraft.

We had launched from Mayport, Fla., for a routine proficiency flight. On takeoff, the city lights to the south and west of the airfield seemed fainter than on previous nights. We headed north along the coastline.

I was a new helicopter-aircraft commander (HAC), with barely 25 hours under my belt in that role. The helicopter second pilot (H2P) was new to the squadron, and this was our first flight together. I finished the after-takeoff checklist from the left seat, as we continued north. We turned east over the pitch-black sea, intent on rebasing our night Dopplers and conducting SAR training near some of the lighted buoys. The winds were light and favored the east, so we set up for our Doppler approaches to 80 feet. We quickly appreciated just how dark it was as we stared into the black ness and rode the aircraft into an 80-foot hover.

After working in the area for about an hour, we departed from our last Doppler hover and climbed toward 500 feet. It felt much better to be climbing away from the water and turning back toward the dimly lit horizon to the west. We reached Mayport and flew a pattern entry to sharpen our nighttime skills in the landing environment. I flew the first approach to the numbers. After a quick stop-and-go, I accelerated to 80 knots and climbed over the runway, finally leveling off at 500 feet.

I was ready to key the radio to call for the downwind turn when we were shocked by the explosive sound of an impact to the aircraft. Wind roared through the cockpit, and I felt something hit my left hand as I gripped the collective. We had hit something, and I could see white streaks down the left side of the aircraft, starting just above the chin bubble in front of me.

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Instinctively, I lowered my chin to cover my throat and protect my eyes in case anything else hit the aircraft. I scanned the engine instruments to make sure the aircraft still was flying, and the engines were not FODed out. I then looked back at my flight instruments to make sure we were straight and level at 500 feet. Everything seemed to be operating well. After a moment of silence, I was interrupted by the roaring sound of wind and a few swirling papers from my kneeboard. I banked the aircraft to enter downwind and called tower to let them know we'd just had a bird strike, and we were turning downwind for a full stop.

The aircraft flew and handled well as I made the turn. Once established in the turn, I again scanned the instruments. I called for a swap of flight controls to the H2P. Something had hit my left arm, and it was time to see what it was. I looked over to the side and saw a large triangular hole in the window. The ventilation scupper had been torn out, along with a large piece of the window. White streaks marked the window where a bird had slid along the glass and disrupted the fine layer of salt encrusted along the aircraft from our previous Doppler approaches. I looked at my hand and then the floor and found a large shard of broken Plexiglas. It was clam-shelled around the edge and sharp as a razor on all sides. I then looked at my wrist where it initially had fallen and noticed a clean, straight cut.

The H2P flew the precautionary-emergency landing as I finished up the checklists and talked to tower. We taxied into the line with no further incidents. Tower sent a safety truck to the departure end of the runway to look for the bird and the scupper that had been torn off the aircraft. They searched for awhile but found neither. Maintenance did a FOD check on the aircraft, and besides a few feathers inside the cockpit, they did not find anything else wrong with the aircraft.

While bird strikes are not uncommon to naval aircraft, I never had heard of one happening at night. Apparently, birds do indeed fly after the sun goes down, and they can be flying in the traffic pattern with you.

By complete chance, I had my clear visor down to protect my eyes. To be honest, I had made a habit of pulling my clear visor up when the sun goes down because it shows so much reflection from the console lights, not to mention all the scratches and chips I have to look through. The one thing I had failed to do was to put my gloves back on after my Doppler approaches. I had taken them off while over water and did not remember to put them back on. If I had worn them, I would not have received the cut on my wrist that night. While it was only a scratch, it could have been much worse, and my gloves could have offered me needed protection.

Finally, I learned that the Plexiglas in some of our aircraft windows of is not shatterproof, and if it breaks, it can be quite sharp. I do not know if the actual glass windscreen in front of me was shatterproof or not, but I do know I don't want to learn the answer by way of another bird strike. To this day, I leave nothing to risk: I fly with my gloves on and my visor down, day or night.

LCdr. Garrett flies with HSL-37.

Information on reporting and submitting bird remains to the Smithsonian Bird Identification Lab and incident reporting procedures can be found in Lt. Tarver's article in this issue, "United States Navy Bird Aircraft Strike Hazard Program (BASH)," p. XX--Ed.
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Title Annotation:BASH: Bird Animal Strike Hazard
Author:Garrett, Jason
Publication:Approach
Article Type:Personal account
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Jan 1, 2009
Words:956
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