Sunday, January 18, 2009


The best job I ever had as a doc was as a Flight Surgeon. From time to time I got to climb in the back of a pointy-nosed jet and experience high G loads and pretend-combat.

As part of my duties I had to teach the ejection-seat lecture and tell the pilots about what stuff to keep with 'em if they had to punch out (it varies depending on environmental factors, and a survival kit and all kinds of crap is both on the pilot's suit and in the seat-pan), what to do on the way down, and how to position their bodies on ejection.

During my time with my squadron we had one ejection, it was because of a bird strike. I don't know what genus-species the 'turkey buzzard' is but that's what crashed our plane. The pilot was lucky as the big beast got sucked into the engine and did not hit the canopy (windshield) as the canopy-strikes often kill the pilot immediately or render him unconscious (and there's no 'auto-eject'). Bad way to go.

The video above demonstrates a bird-strike to an F16. If you watch closely you can see the bird get sucked into the intake which flames-out the engine and, more often than not, restarting it does not work. The pilot in the video has only twenty seconds or so till he has to hit the silk and he did a great job getting his jet away from houses etc...

After getting the feel of military combat aviation (I puked a few times which the pilots loved because they could razz me in the ready room and I had to clean up if I messed up the cockpit BUT they never GLOC'ed me (made me unconscious from high Gs)) I lost my fear of all the zipping around stuff, but the birds. Jesus H. Christ on a popsicle stick I almost died one day and I will never forget it.

We were 'in the pattern' at about 300 knots. We were descending and ZAP! I caught a blip off the nose at two o'clock. I knew right after it passed about ten feet above my head that it was a turkey buzzard... looked like a bowling ball in the sky. My pilot then came on the coms and told me we were lucky bastards (but I knew that already).

A flock of Canadian Geese brought down the NYC aircraft and I still can't believe that no one died. Let me beat PETA to the punch here and express my sympathy to the families of the geese killed in the accident and call for the President-elect to move with all haste to outlaw bird-unfriendly aircraft. Some of their incredible recent work is included below (emphasis and peanut-gallery comments mine).

2002 - Wisconsin Town Cancels Its Goose Hunt
Janesville residents bombarded PETA with calls and letters about the
hunting of Canada geese in their city's public parks. Several activists were arrested while attempting to stop hunters, and despite offers from animal protection groups to work with the city to resolve the goose issue, the city refused to declare a cease-fire. PETA sent a letter to Janesville's city manager asking him to halt the war on the Canada geese and accept offers from PETA and other groups to assist Janesville in developing an effective and humane goose-control program. We posted an action alert encouraging our members and supporters to do the same. In September, Janesville finally ended the goose hunt until alternatives could be explored. (SUPER!)

2002 - Colorado City Becomes a Bird Sanctuary
Thanks to a committed team of activists and PETA, pigeons and many other birds in Boulder, Colorado, will no longer suffer and die at the hands of humans. On October 1, the Boulder (WOW, Boulder?Awesome!) City Council voted unanimously to pass an ordinance declaring the city a bird sanctuary that protects all wild birds. Migratory songbirds are federally protected under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act, but the Boulder ordinance protects birds left off the federal list, such as pigeons, English house sparrows, and certain kinds of starlings, cowbirds, blackbirds, grackles,and geese.


  1. Wow. Just holy freaking wow.

  2. pigeons, English house sparrows, and certain kinds of starlings, cowbirds, blackbirds, grackles,and geese.

    The beauty of this from an ecological standpoint is that all of the newly protected birds are alien species. (Only the canada goose is native.) Some of these birds wreak havoc on the natural environment, such as the cowbirds which have had a dramatic impact on native songbird populations. And those lovely rats with wings that are vectors for what 200 diseases or so?

    Of course PETA could give a crap about actually helping the ecology of wild places and would much rather see animals endowed with unalienable rights.

    It's like my relative who likes to buy animals at pet shops and release them into the "wild." He just doesn't get it when I explain that he is killing more animals by spreading diseases in wild populations that have never been exposed.

    At least PETA can rest comfortably in the knowledge that the animals starved to death free while bringing their versions of smallpox to the natives.

  3. boulder left birdbrains off the list

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  5. Hey 9-11, you figured it out yet?? What?? Who's the Best...

  6. As someone living rurally, I can tell you the Canada goose is a freaking nuisance. A flock of geese in your fields can eat as much as 10 extra cattle. They're noisy and they crap everywhere.

    I didn't know they were talented enough to take out an airbus though. I almost suspect the little buggers of planning it.

  7. "I don't know what genus-species the 'turkey buzzard' is..."

    Cathartes aura

  8. PETA is an ecoterrorism group. Fools.

    I like birds...I even feed them in my back yard. I even like geese, but they are OUT of control!

  9. 9-11,
    I was trying to drum up a little Med Blog rivalry, sort of East Coast/West Coast with Stethescopes...I forgot you were an AIR FORCE Flight Surgeon, so that clever "Top Gun" reference went right over your pointy head... How bout' that Volleyball Scene tho...gotta run, patterns full.

    Frank "Iceman"

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  11. I love planes and military fighter jets are just saw awesome!

    Great story must have a lot of good military ones.

    I can't believe no one died in the Hudson Miracle (in my opinion). The pilot's skill...seeing that plane seemingly glide through the water on it's tail end before landing horizontally reminded me of dolphins skimming the water.

    I wonder how many passengers had epiphany moments of what they should've done in life or still could? A moment like that could sure highlight what is most important in life.

    And it was amazing how all those boats were able to come in and rescue.

    No ones time was up that day and angels must've been helping.

    Flying in a fighter jet HAS to be one of the most exciting things. :)

    P.S. Darn birds! I am sorry they get hurt... but still... don't want people to.

  12. Since no one's told this story, I guess I will. Urban legend, maybe, but good.

    Apparently there is a pressure cannon used to simulate bird strikes. You go to the supermarket, buy some whole chicken or turkey
    carcasses, load up the pipe and fire them at sample windshields, running engines, whatever, to test your materials.

    Well, this is (of course) a homegrown US invention, and other countries would like one or two for their own uses. So someone in Britain - a builder or an RAF rep - manages to procure one and sets it up at a test field. Goes to the supermarket, buys some birds, sets up a fighter canopy and loads up the cannon.

    First bird goes right through. Bird's not moving at anywhere near normal closing speed, so it shouldn't have gone through. Loads up another one, and another one, and every bird punches through the canopies, no matter what.

    The guy calls the company in the States, and tells them everything. Settings, test conditions, pressure, the works.

    The engineer in the States asks, "where did you get the birds?"

    "At the market," replies the Brit.

    "Did you thaw them?"


  13. dear anon,
    heard the same story. not sure if it's true. hope it is.

  14. Myth busters did the frozen chicken in a cannon. They also shot off a turkey. Perhaps its in their archives.

  15. Yep, the Turkey Vulture is Cathartes aura. True story: a work colleague hit a Turkey Vulture at highway speed and it came right in through the windshield, showering the cab with the most awful, putrid, puree in the known universe, leaving the driver puking on the side of the road. The insurance company totalled the truck as there was no known means of getting that mess out of the upholstery. I imagine they just crushed it, as in that scene from "Pulp Fiction."