A loud thud. A shower of purple-white sparks. This can’t be good.

An Air Force T-38A trainer over Texas. (USAF)

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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.

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