A loud thud. A shower of purple-white sparks. This can't be good.
- By Randy Gordon
- AirSpaceMag.com, December 14, 2009
(Page 2 of 2)
By now I was several miles from the field. I figured many people would be wondering what that dumb solo student had done to his T-38 to create such a spectacular light show. Later I would find out that the huge fireball of sparks I made was visible for miles. Several people thought I had crashed.
The next most important thing our instructors had taught us after how to deal with an emergency was how to sound cool on the radio. This was extremely difficult: my heart was pounding and I had a lump in my throat the size of a golf ball. I keyed the microphone and used the word that up to that point in my life I had only said in training sessions: "Emergency!" This alerted everyone in the control tower and the instructors watching us students fly around to the seriousness of the situation. Everyone immediately offered their help to step me through the appropriate checklist and develop a recovery game plan. Slowly I started to realize that this was exactly the type of T-38 single-engine emergency I had practiced in the flight simulators. I knew exactly what to do, my training kicked in exactly when I needed it, and the aircraft behaved exactly as I had practiced. I went from the initial shock of the emergency to behaving like the US Air Force fighter pilot I was training to become, methodically handling the aircraft problem with his team of professionals. I was so focused on handling the emergency properly that the stress of making a good landing completely disappeared.
On my post-flight walkaround, it was so dark and the motor was so recessed in the fuselage that it was difficult to tell what had happened to the left engine. No obvious fuselage structural damage had occurred and the only clue that something unusual had happened was an intense acrid smoke smell. It wasn't until the next day, when maintenance had removed the left engine, that the damage was revealed. The entire front compressor section of the engine had numerous blades missing. Almost all of the remaining blades had large sections missing or huge nicks. The engine combustor section had over-temped, resulting in significant heat damage. The entire engine was totaled. Everyone who looked at it just whistled, shook their heads, and walked away.
Maintenance and airfield operations later recovered the remains of the culprit responsible for such a catastrophic failure: a bat, about the size your fist, that just happened to be at the exact wrong place at exactly the wrong time and was sucked down my left engine intake. It was bad luck for both of us, although more so for him. I’ve known many who have survived a birdstrike, but only a few who can say they’ve had a batstrike!
Major Randy J. Gordon is an experimental test pilot for the “Red Devils” of the 40th Flight Test Squadron at Eglin Air Force Base in Florida. He has flown combat missions over Iraq during Operation NORTHERN WATCH and over Afghanistan in support of Operation ENDURING FREEDOM.