What Happens If A Bird Hits A Plane Engine?

A bird strike – an unfortunate collision between a bird and an aircraft – is more common than many travelers realize. With over 40,000 bird strikes reported to the FAA each year in the US alone, every frequent flyer is likely to experience one during their travels.

If you’re short on time, here’s a quick answer to your question: While a single, small bird hitting one engine may not greatly affect a plane, a flock of large birds striking multiple engines can potentially cause engine failure and other serious issues.

In this approximately 3000 word article, we’ll explore the typical effects when birds collide with commercial jet engines and other key parts of an aircraft. We’ll look at some notable bird strike incidents, how airline pilots handle these situations, and the efforts by airports and aviation authorities to reduce dangerous encounters between birds and planes.

Understanding Bird Strike Impacts on Jet Engines

Typical Damage from Bird Strikes

When a bird collides with a jet engine, it can cause significant damage to the aircraft. The impact of a bird strike can result in the loss of engine power, engine failure, or even a catastrophic event.

Birds can be ingested into the engine, leading to damage to the fan blades, compressor, or turbine. The force of the impact can also cause dents, fractures, or punctures in the engine components. In extreme cases, bird strikes have even caused fires and explosions.

The extent of damage caused by a bird strike depends on various factors, including the size and weight of the bird, the speed and altitude of the aircraft, and the engine’s design and construction. Larger birds, such as geese or vultures, pose a higher risk as they can cause more severe damage compared to smaller birds.

According to a study conducted by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), the most common types of engine damage resulting from bird strikes are blade fractures, blade bending, and foreign object damage.

These types of damage can significantly impair the engine’s performance and lead to costly repairs or even engine replacement.

Engine Design and Testing for Bird Impacts

Engine manufacturers are well-aware of the risks posed by bird strikes and have implemented various design features and testing procedures to mitigate the potential damage. Jet engines are designed to withstand bird strikes to a certain extent, with the inclusion of protective measures such as wire mesh screens or grilles at the engine inlet.

Engine manufacturers also conduct rigorous testing to ensure their engines can withstand bird strikes. These tests involve firing bird-like projectiles at high velocities into the engines to simulate real-world scenarios.

The engines are then evaluated for their ability to withstand the impacts and continue functioning safely.

Additionally, advancements in engine materials and technology have further improved the engines’ resistance to bird strikes. Composite materials and more robust turbine alloys are used to enhance the engines’ durability and reduce the likelihood of catastrophic failures.

Effects of Engine Failure from Bird Strike

An engine failure resulting from a bird strike can have serious consequences for the aircraft and its occupants. In some cases, the pilot may be able to safely land the plane with only one functioning engine.

However, in more severe cases, a bird strike can lead to the loss of multiple engines, making the plane more difficult to control and increasing the risk of a crash.

The aviation industry has implemented strict safety protocols and procedures to minimize the risks associated with bird strikes. Airports often employ bird control measures, such as bird deterrence systems and habitat management, to reduce the presence of birds in the vicinity of runways.

Pilots are also trained to react quickly and appropriately in the event of a bird strike, following established emergency procedures.

Notable Bird Strike Incidents in Aviation History

The Hudson River Landing

One of the most famous bird strike incidents in aviation history is the Hudson River landing, which occurred on January 15, 2009. US Airways Flight 1549 struck a flock of Canada geese shortly after takeoff from New York’s LaGuardia Airport.

Both engines were disabled, forcing the pilot, Captain Chesley “Sully” Sullenberger, to make an emergency landing on the icy waters of the Hudson River. Miraculously, all 155 passengers and crew members on board survived, thanks to the quick thinking and skill of the pilot and crew.

Emergency Landings Saved by Redundant Engines

Many bird strike incidents have been prevented from turning into disasters by the presence of redundant engines on aircraft. In 1988, British Airways Flight 5390 experienced a bird strike when a windscreen panel was blown out, partially sucking the captain out of the aircraft.

However, the first officer managed to keep the captain from being completely ejected and safely landed the plane with no fatalities. Similarly, in 2016, a bird strike caused an engine fire on a Southwest Airlines flight, but the plane was able to land safely due to having multiple engines.

Catastrophic Crashes Caused by Multiple Bird Strikes

While most bird strike incidents result in minor damage or inconvenience, there have been a few catastrophic crashes caused by multiple bird strikes. One notable example is the 1960 crash of Eastern Air Lines Flight 375.

The plane struck a flock of birds shortly after takeoff from Boston’s Logan International Airport, causing both engines to fail. The plane crashed into the Boston Harbor, resulting in 62 fatalities. Another tragic incident occurred in 1998 when a military aircraft in the Netherlands collided with a flock of birds, leading to the death of all 34 people on board.

It is important to note that bird strikes are relatively rare and aviation authorities have implemented various measures to reduce their occurrence. Airports often employ wildlife management programs to deter birds from nesting or foraging near runways, and aircraft manufacturers continue to develop technologies and materials that can better withstand bird impacts.

Nonetheless, bird strikes remain a concern for pilots and airline operators, and ongoing research and vigilance are necessary to ensure aviation safety.

How Pilots Respond to In-Flight Bird Strikes

Immediate Actions After a Bird Strike

When a bird strikes a plane engine, pilots are trained to respond quickly and effectively to ensure the safety of everyone on board. The first thing they do is assess the situation and determine the severity of the bird strike.

If the bird strike is minor and doesn’t cause any immediate issues, the pilot may continue with the flight as planned. However, if the bird strike is more severe and affects the operation of the engine, the pilot will take immediate action.

The pilot will first reduce the engine’s power and run through a series of checklists to determine the extent of the damage. They will also notify the flight attendants and passengers about the situation and reassure them that the situation is under control.

In some cases, the pilot may decide to divert the flight to the nearest suitable airport to have the engine inspected and repaired.

Communicating with Air Traffic Control

After a bird strike, pilots must communicate with air traffic control (ATC) to inform them about the situation and request any necessary assistance. ATC plays a crucial role in coordinating with other aircraft in the vicinity and ensuring a safe landing for the affected plane.

The pilot will inform ATC about the bird strike, the engine’s condition, and the planned course of action. ATC will provide guidance and instructions, such as assigning a new flight path, coordinating emergency services on the ground, and ensuring that other aircraft are kept at a safe distance from the affected plane.

Effective communication between the pilot and ATC is essential in managing the aftermath of a bird strike and ensuring the safety of all parties involved.

Troubleshooting Engine Issues in Flight

When a bird strike affects the engine, pilots are trained to troubleshoot the issue while the plane is still in flight. They rely on their extensive knowledge of aircraft systems and their experience to diagnose and address any engine problems caused by the bird strike.

Pilots may consult the aircraft’s operating manual or contact maintenance specialists on the ground for guidance on troubleshooting procedures. They will closely monitor the engine’s performance, looking for any abnormal vibrations, fluctuations in temperature or pressure, or unusual sounds.

If necessary, they may also adjust the aircraft’s speed or altitude to minimize the stress on the damaged engine.

It’s worth noting that modern aircraft engines are designed to withstand bird strikes to some extent. Engine manufacturers conduct rigorous testing to ensure the engines can withstand the impact of birds or other foreign objects without catastrophic failure.

Despite this, pilots are always prepared to respond quickly and effectively in the event of a bird strike to ensure the safety of the aircraft and its passengers.

Reducing The Risks of Bird Strikes

Airport Management of Wildlife

Airports play a crucial role in reducing the risks of bird strikes by implementing effective wildlife management practices. This includes conducting regular inspections of the airport premises to identify and mitigate potential bird habitats.

By keeping the surroundings clear of vegetation, waste, and other attractants, airports can make their premises less appealing to birds.

Additionally, some airports use bird deterrent systems such as bird distress calls, pyrotechnics, and lasers to discourage birds from entering the airport’s airspace. These measures help in reducing the chances of bird strikes and ensuring the safety of aircraft and passengers.

For more information on airport wildlife management, you can visit the website of the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA).

Aircraft Design Improvements

Aircraft manufacturers continuously strive to improve the design and construction of airplanes to minimize the risks posed by bird strikes. One of the key aspects of aircraft design improvements is the incorporation of bird strike-resistant materials and structures.

Engineers use advanced composite materials and reinforced structures to make engines more robust and resilient to bird impacts. These enhancements help prevent engine failures and reduce the severity of damage caused by bird strikes.

Furthermore, aircraft designers also focus on improving the aerodynamics of the aircraft to reduce the likelihood of birds colliding with critical components such as the windshield and wings. By optimizing the aircraft’s shape and surface, the chances of bird strikes can be significantly reduced.

For detailed information on aircraft design improvements related to bird strikes, you can refer to the website of the Boeing Company.

Pilot Awareness and Reporting

Pilot awareness and reporting are crucial in mitigating the risks of bird strikes. Pilots undergo extensive training to recognize and react appropriately to potential bird strike hazards. They are trained to report any bird sightings or strikes to the relevant authorities for further analysis and preventive measures.

By promptly reporting bird strikes, pilots contribute to the collection of valuable data that helps researchers and aviation authorities understand bird behavior and patterns. This information is essential for developing effective strategies to minimize the risks of bird strikes in the future.

Furthermore, pilots are trained to take necessary evasive actions when encountering birds during takeoff, landing, or in-flight. This includes changing altitude or direction to avoid collision with birds and reduce the likelihood of bird strikes.

To learn more about pilot awareness and reporting practices, you can visit the website of the Bird Strike Committee USA.


While advancements have been made, collisions between birds and planes remain an ever-present danger in aviation. Quick-thinking and well-trained pilots are key to saving lives when bird strikes affect engines or flight control surfaces.

Through continual improvements in engine durability, wildlife management procedures, and aircraft bird strike mitigation technologies, the aviation industry strives to limit the impacts when the paths of birds and planes cross.

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