Check Out This Crazy Shot Of A C-17 Ingesting A Big Bird On Takeoff At The Avalon Air Show

Even the Air Force’s mightiest jets are far from immune from the danger posed by low-flying birds.

byTyler Rogoway|
Australia photo


The biggest air show down under was underway last week and it always draws an exciting mix of military aircraft from around the region and beyond. A USAF C-17A Globemaster III from March Air Reserve Base in California was on hand to show off its unique abilities for the crowd of tens of thousands of people. During its takeoff roll for its Saturday demonstration, the muscular airlifter's outboard right wing engine sucked in a big bird that was flying low over the runway. The ingestion resulted in a loud bang and large fireball prior to the C-17 crew executing a rejected takeoff procedure. The C-17 safely came to a stop on the runway moments later.

The C-17 involved in the incident, tail number 05-5140, hadn't flown the following day so it may have received some damage or required more detailed inspections before it could take to the skies again. 

Aviation photographer Mitchell Getson took the awesome shot seen at the top of this story. Here's his firsthand account of the incident:

"Throughout the day there had been birds congregating around the end of the active. A RNZAF C-130 almost had a strike with a large flock of birds early in the day's displays. 05-5140 lined up for departure, it commenced it's takeoff roll and ingested a large bird into the 4th engine (two flew across, only one was ingested). The crew immediately rejected the takeoff roll and returned to the apron. The C-17 didn't fly again for the remainder of the show."

Mitchell Getson

Here is an amazingly detailed video of the bird strike: 

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The danger birds present to aircraft isn't insignificant. The public is well aware of that after the Miracle On The Hudson incident. The military in particular takes the risk of bird strikes very seriously. It has led to the Bird Aircraft Strike Hazard (BASH) program, which you can read all about in this previous piece of ours

Birds pose an especially elevated risk to military aircraft flying at air shows because the aircraft are often operating at very low altitudes—deep in the high-risk zone for bird strikes—and at the edge of their performance envelopes where margins for recovery can be slim to none. And these strikes do happen. Just look at this Blue Angel F/A-18 Hornet ingesting a bird during its routine. 

The C-17s Pratt & Whitney F117 high-bypass turbofan engines have been, like all modern engines, tested rigorously for bird ingestions. Certain threshold requirements exist for different weights of birds being ingested at different speeds while still allowing the engine to keep operating or at least contain a catastrophic failure. Below is a video of one of these kinds of tests. 

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Clearly, the F117 on the C-17's wing contained any damage caused by the strike to the engine itself. And it's not like the jet is in some remote place with no support in case repairs have to be made. The Royal Australian Air Force operates their own fleet of C-17s, so it's not as if help is far away. 

Still, the image is yet another reminder of the danger posed by mother nature's winged creations to even the Air Force's biggest jets.

Thanks again to Mitchell Getson for sharing his great picture with us. You can check out more of his work on Flickr linked here.

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