USAF T-38C Downed by Bird Strike

USAF T-38C Downed by Bird Strike

On 17 August 2018, Northrop Grumman T-38C Talon 68-8206 of the USAF 71st Flying Training Wing, crashed in a field approximately 62 miles west of its base at Vance AFB, Oklahoma.

The jet trainer was the lead of a two ship formation performing low-level training. The USAF Accident Investigation Board report, released 20 March 2019, explains that:

While flying at approximately 1,000-1,500 feet above the ground and looking over his left wing at his wingman, the [pilot of the T-38C] heard a loud noise on the right side of the aircraft.

USAF Northrop Grumman T-38C Advanced Trainer from Lacland AFB, TX (Credit: USAF Master Sgt Lance Cheung)

USAF Northrop Grumman T-38C Advanced Trainer from Lackland AFB, TX (Credit: USAF Master Sgt Lance Cheung)

The pilot, an instructor and the sole occupant, then heard an audible fire warning, saw the right (number 2)engine fire light and detected indications of right-hand flight control hydraulic and right generator failures.

While initiating a climb away from the low-level route, the [pilot] experienced a degradation in aircraft controllability and his wingman reported seeing a visible fire…. The [pilot]  successfully ejected from the aircraft, sustaining minor injuries.

The aircraft was approximately 3,000 feet AGL, 195 knots, 10 degrees nose low, and with a descent rate of 3,500 feet per minute [with] approximately 60 degrees of right bank at the time of ejection.

The T-38C, valued at $11mn, was destroyed.

The investigation found the aircraft had ingested a Swainson’s Hawk, typically 0.9 kg (32 oz), into the number 2 engine.   The bird was identified by experts at the Smithsonian Institute.

Swainson’s Hawk (Credit: Dominic Sherony, CC BY-SA 2.0

Swainson’s Hawk (Credit: Dominic Sherony, CC BY-SA 2.0

Investigators say:

This bird strike caused the catastrophic loss of the engine and a fire in the forward engine bay. The fire melted through the aircraft skin, exposing the Flight Control and Utility Hydraulic Systems’ flexible hydraulic pressure and return lines to extreme heat, causing the degradation, and ultimate loss, of aircraft controllability. However, the fire and loss of flight control authority necessitated ejection…

Safety Resources

We have previously written:

About 8% US military of all Class A, B and C aviation mishaps from fiscal 2011 through 2017 resulted from wildlife strikes, according to data obtained by Military Times.

Aerossurance has extensive air safety, operations, airworthiness, human factors, aviation regulation and safety analysis experience.  For practical aviation advice you can trust, contact us at: