MACDILL AIR FORCE BASE, Fla. — Sharing the skies with different species of wildlife is a constant challenge for the Air Force. We stop at no end to ensure the safety of our aircrew, aircraft and all wildlife on and around the installation.
Typically, we associate “sharing the sky,” with birds and other wildlife that belong in the air. However, the men and women with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration have a different perspective on what type of animals they need to look out for on takeoffs and landings.
September 10, 2013, will forever live in infamy for Lt. Cmdr. Nick Toth, NOAA pilot, and for everyone else involved in the first recorded “fish strike,” in the history of NOAA at MacDill that occurred that morning.
At roughly 10:50 a.m., Toth and the rest of the aircrew were cleared for takeoff and started their roll in their Gulfstream GIV.
“We were nearing the point in the takeoff where we needed to rotate, or raise the nose of the airplane off the ground, when an Osprey with something in its claws flew in front of our aircraft,” explained Toth. “We saw that the Osprey did not gain enough altitude, and that it passed underneath the centerline of the aircraft.”
The crew heard a thud, and assuming that they had hit the Osprey, aborted the takeoff. Following the aborted takeoff the aircraft was taxied back to Hangar 5 for inspection.
Airfield Management and Operations and Wildlife Management responded to what was still being referred to as a “bird strike.”
“We swept the runway, but we didn’t find any remains of the bird,” said Lindsey Garven, 6th Air Mobility Wing Bird Aircraft Strike Hazard contractor. “We continued our search and were surprised to find a 9-inch sheepshead lying near the end of the runway.”
Wildlife Management collected the specimen from the runway and DNA from the aircraft and sent the samples to the Smithsonian Feather Identification Laboratory in Washington, D.C., for comprehensive analysis.
Results concluded the Gulfstream GIV did in fact strike the sheepshead upon takeoff.
“At first, we didn’t believe the test results,” exclaimed Toth. “There was no way we hit a fish during takeoff. I mean, how does something like that even happen?”
Wildlife Management and NOAA’s aircrew suspect that the Osprey was perched on the runway eating its catch upon departure of the NOAA Gulfstream GIV. The bird must have taken off, because it saw the NOAA aircraft approaching. The bird barely got away and probably would have struck the aircraft, if not for dropping its catch.
“As comical as this event is, the underlying lesson is that vigilance with regards to wildlife on and around the runway is necessary to keep all aircrew and aircraft safe and to maintain our goal of mission readiness,” stated Garven.
by Airman 1st Class Ned T. Johnston
6th Air Mobility Wing Public Affairs