by Airman 1st Class Ned T. Johnston
6th Air Mobility Wing Public Affairs
2/21/2014 - 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
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.