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The Military Transportation United States

The Feathered Threat To US Air Superiority 195

Posted by Soulskill
from the curse-you-big-bird dept.
Hugh Pickens DOT Com writes "Mark Thompson writes in Time Magazine that Air Force pilots flying the T-38 Talon can rest easy, knowing that their cockpit canopy can survive hitting a 4-lb. bird at 190 mph. Unfortunately, the Northrop supersonic jet trainer has a top speed of 812 mph. 'To my knowledge, the training planes are the only ones in the Air Force fast enough to make a bird strike lethal, and with a windshield too flimsy to deflect one,' wrote one Air Force pilot. Midair collisions between birds and Air Force aircraft have destroyed 39 planes and killed 33 airmen since 1973. That's why the USAF is seeking comments to 'identify potential sources, materials, timeframe, and approximate costs to redesign, test, and produce 550 T-38 forward canopy transparencies to increase bird strike capability.' The move follows a T-38 crash on July 19 in Texas triggered by a canopy bird strike. 'The current 0.23 inch thick stretched acrylic transparency can resist a 4-pound bird impact at 165 knots which does not offer a capability to resist significant bird impacts, and has resulted in the loss of six (6) aircraft and two pilot fatalities,' the service acknowledged. 'Numerous attempts since 1970 were made to evaluate existing materials and redesign a transparency that could withstand a bird impact of 4 pounds at 400 knots.' Previous efforts have foundered because they'd require expensive cockpit modifications to the twin-engine, two-seat supersonic jet. 'Although it would increase the level of bird impact protection,' the Air Force said, 'the proposal was cancelled due to the high cost of the modification.'"
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The Feathered Threat To US Air Superiority

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  • All of those birds will be extinct in a few decades.

    • by bfandreas (603438)
      Way to wrest air superiority from those feathered commie bastards!
      We need a higher military budget to match their numbers for airborne crafts!
      • Way to wrest air superiority from those feathered commie bastards!

        We need a higher military budget to match their numbers for airborne crafts!

        R&D for Deflector Shields!

    • Somewhat ironically, the poster boy for bird extinction, the Dodo, would not have been affected by mid-air collisions with planes.

  • The T-X replacement program is currently in the pre-RFP stage, but replacement is expected within the next decade, so why are they even bothering to spend money on such an upgrade?

    • by couchslug (175151) on Wednesday November 06, 2013 @08:30AM (#45344343)

      Because replacement isn't likely to happen. The T-38 is a highly refined aircraft, and given the guarantee that a replacement will be grossly over-budget and the certainty the program will be mismanaged it makes sense to assume the Talon will be around a very long time.

      • by MightyYar (622222)

        Is "refined" the new word for "really, really old"? The newest one was built over 40 years ago. They keep reworking them, and they currently are expected to last until 2020 or so, but at some point the returns on refurbishing these things will start to diminish greatly. Perhaps they will outlast manned fighters, though.

      • by Richard_at_work (517087) <.moc.liamg. .ta. .ecirpdrahcir.> on Wednesday November 06, 2013 @09:25AM (#45344785)

        All the Talons are getting to the end of their service life, which means you either push them through a very costly life extension program, or you replace them.

        All of the Talon replacements are off-the-shelf systems, with little to no custom development required, and all are proven platforms (with one already being in USN service) so the cost for replacement is likely to be very manageable.

        So don't discount the fact that they are being replaced, its going to happen.

    • by schwit1 (797399)

      Never gonna happen. The resulting AC will be another camel deigned by committee. It will over-budget, over-weight and a decade late in delivery. It will also be designed for a 20th century mindset where human pilots actually flew the planes.

      The only way it will get through congress is if the manufacturer can find a way to have its parts made in all 50 states.

      The T38 with all its flaws is simple and effective.

      • Never gonna happen. The resulting AC will be another camel deigned by committee. It will over-budget, over-weight and a decade late in delivery. It will also be designed for a 20th century mindset where human pilots actually flew the planes.

        The only way it will get through congress is if the manufacturer can find a way to have its parts made in all 50 states.

        The T38 with all its flaws is simple and effective.

        I'd agree with you, but experience is that it only takes one pork-spreading Congressthing to foist an overpriced under-performing piece of military junk upon the nation. After all, anyone opposes it, not only do they hate Freedom, they're against people back in the home district having jobs!

      • Except that the USAF is not looking for a new developed aircraft for the Talon replacement, they want off the shelf solutions and the leading contenders have all got years of service already behind them.

        "It will also be designed for a 20th century mindset where human pilots actually flew the planes." - well, thats going to be the case regardless, because the USAF are looking to keep manned aircraft around for the forseeable future in the F-22 and F-35, so of course they are going to need something to act as

  • Maybe the cranes from Siberia or swallows from Russia?

    • Siberia is a part of Russia.

      Ontopic.. it must be incredibly expensive to modify the aircraft, if it costs more to do that, than it does to buy new planes and train up new pilots each time a bird strike occurs. Just think how many millions they've lost already, and how much they're going to lose in the next decade. Though as someone said, military drones make much more sense than planes these days.

      • Nothing he said indicated Siberia was not a part of Russia. He just believes that only Siberian cranes are at fault, whereas the swallows hail from all over the country. Personally, I think it was a loon.

    • by bobbied (2522392)

      Maybe the (snip) swallows?

      African or European?

  • Too costly (Score:4, Insightful)

    by codeButcher (223668) on Wednesday November 06, 2013 @08:28AM (#45344335)
    I guess a new transparency is still more expensive than 6 aircraft and 2 lives (let alone training costs already spent on them).
    • Probably, yeah. But whatcha gonna do?

      • Probably, yeah. But whatcha gonna do?

        Well, isn't that America, where cost equations can easily be skewed by class action lawsuits, an increase in cost to recruit new pilots due to advertising ("Join the pilot training programme and die") or a million likes on Facebook? ;-)

    • by plopez (54068)

      We need all our money for an airplane that can't fly in the rain and which makes every squadron which adopts it immediately non-operational.

    • Those are sunk costs and should not be considered when comparing the cost of replacing the canopies to not doing it. However, they could still be used to extrapolate *future* costs of wrecked aircraft and killed airmen.

  • Maybe replace with (Score:5, Informative)

    by bobstreo (1320787) on Wednesday November 06, 2013 @08:32AM (#45344349)

    Transparent Aluminium
    http://phys.org/news167925273.html [phys.org]

    • Saphires are made off aluminum oxides http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sapphire [wikipedia.org] and they are already used in helicopter windows.

    • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

      by Hamsterdan (815291)

      "Hello Computer!"

    • by Thanshin (1188877) on Wednesday November 06, 2013 @09:40AM (#45344923)

      Why transparent?

      Put some goddamn cameras and project the image in the cockpit.

      But then ... Why have the pilot inside the plane? Project the images in a screen at the HQ and have the pilot sit comfortably while he sips his coffee.

      But then... Why have pilots at all? Send drones for intel and missiles for action.

      But then... Why go flying? Invest in better optics, put a satellite over the location and act upon your enemies by sending... ninja.

      • by bareman (60518)

        Bingo! Lose the humans in the craft and you can reclaim all that mass required for life support and either run lighter or with more fuel / payload and less restrictions on G-forces. The metal can take more punishment than the meat.

      • by neonv (803374)

        Put some goddamn cameras and project the image in the cockpit.

        Pilots look anywhere and everywhere when they fly, especially for close air support when the targets are on the ground. This is an advantage they have over Unmanned Air Vehicles (UAV), fast response to threats and quick updates to situational awareness. Projectors do not come anywhere close to replacing window capability and the USAF views windows as infeasible for that reason.

        But then ... Why have the pilot inside the plane? Project the images in a screen at the HQ and have the pilot sit comfortably while he sips his coffee.

        You hit the reason that the USAF is moving towards UAVs. They have quick response time and can direct the AV in a more stable man

        • by neonv (803374)

          and the USAF views windows as infeasible for that reason.

          I meant projectors are infeasible for that reason.

    • The problem hasn't been one with material sciences. The Air Force had wanted to preserve the "through-the-canopy" ejection option in the T-38, where the crew is shot through the canopy during the eject sequence. This makes low-level ejections faster because you don't have to wait for the canopy to separate before firing the ejection motors. However, this clearly makes it harder to make the canopy resistant to bird strikes. Other TTC systems destroy the canopy with embedded det cord but in a high-speed train

      • by 0123456 (636235)

        The Air Force had wanted to preserve the "through-the-canopy" ejection option in the T-38, where the crew is shot through the canopy during the eject sequence. This makes low-level ejections faster because you don't have to wait for the canopy to separate before firing the ejection motors. However, this clearly makes it harder to make the canopy resistant to bird strikes.

        I'm guessing the odds of a bird coming through the top or sides of the canopy, or the pilot ejecting out through the windshield, are quite small.

        Well, unless the pilot hits a tree and doesn't have their seat-belt done up...

      • by geekoid (135745)

        the answer is simple.
        The cockpit is all one pieces that you use a crane to put into the aircraft. So the pilot gets in, it's life into place.
        This way you can eject the whole section.

  • Is the 4lb bird that they designed for thawed or frozen?

  • I've never read about any bird strikes using aircraft with anti gravity power plants. Maybe the math for this should be developed?
  • 33 casualties in 40 years. Quick, does anybody have the airman cancer death statistic at hand?
    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by Anonymous Coward

      Yes. The number of airman deaths from cancer caused by hitting birds in flight is 0.0/year.

    • Airmen are different from pilots, and planes are expensive.

  • "Mark Thompson writes in Time Magazine that Air Force pilots flying the T-38 Talon can rest easy, knowing that their cockpit canopy can survive hitting a 1.8 kg bird at 300 km/h. Unfortunately, the Northrop supersonic jet trainer has a top speed of 1307 km/h. 'To my knowledge, the training planes are the only ones in the Air Force fast enough to make a bird strike lethal, and with a windshield too flimsy to deflect one,' wrote one Air Force pilot. Midair collisions between birds and Air Force aircraft have
    • by Inda (580031)
      Thanks translation dude!

      "crash on July 19 in Texas"

      We would not say that though. We would say:

      "crash on the 19th [of] July, in Texas"
    • Why are they flying supersonic at altitudes where birds commonly fly anyway? Take it up a mile or two before you engage the afterburners.

      Stay in the bird-danger zone only for take-offs and landings, and then your 190mph-resistant-to-turkey-carcass canopy is fine.

      Which was probably the reasoning the engineers used when developing the Mach-1 trainer in the first place.

      • by NatasRevol (731260) on Wednesday November 06, 2013 @09:47AM (#45344989) Journal

        http://www.stanford.edu/group/stanfordbirds/text/essays/How_Fast.html [stanford.edu]

        Migrating birds in the Caribbean are mostly observed around 10,000 feet, although some are found half and some twice that high. Generally long-distance migrants seem to start out at about 5,000 feet and then progressively climb to around 20,000 feet ... Perhaps the most impressive altitude record is that of a flock of Whooper Swans which was seen on radar arriving over Northern Ireland on migration and was visually identified by an airline pilot at 29,000 feet.

      • It's not unusual to see birds up to 10,000 feet. Less common, but they have also been seen as high as 20,000 feet. Rarer still, airline pilots have encountered them almost as high as 30,000 feet.

        The bird-danger zone is everywhere.

      • Bird strikes at supersonic speeds are not the issue. You will notice that the intended refit doesn't make the canopy handle supersonic bird strikes, only bird strikes up to 400 knots, or a reasonable cruising speed. The problem they are facing is hitting birds while cruising at much slower speeds than supersonic, much closer to the ground.
      • While bird strikes can happen at 10,000ft+, they occur with much much higher frequency near takeoff and landing where airspeeds are lower. Plus bird strikes can lead to disastrous consequences when the occur on other parts of the aircraft, such as engines or control surfaces, not just the canopy. Is there any evidence to suggest the track record of the T-38 is significantly worse than the rest of the Air Force fleet? There are finite resources to marshal and a great many things that could be improved in

  • We should be intercepting the commie birds with lasers!
  • by dcw3 (649211) on Wednesday November 06, 2013 @08:56AM (#45344499) Journal

    From http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bird_strike#Incidents [wikipedia.org]

    The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) estimates the problem costs US aviation 400 million dollars annually and has resulted in over 200 worldwide deaths since 1988.[40] In the United Kingdom, the Central Science Laboratory estimates[6] that, worldwide, the cost of birdstrikes to airlines is around US$1.2 billion annually. This cost includes direct repair cost and lost revenue opportunities while the damaged aircraft is out of service. Estimating that 80% of bird strikes are unreported, there were 4,300 bird strikes listed by the United States Air Force and 5,900 by US civil aircraft in 2003.

    • by rwise2112 (648849)
      Many of those are strikes on other parts of the planes. Even at much slower speeds, serious damage to wings/engines [abovetopsecret.com] etc can cause problems. another example [abovetopsecret.com].

      Neither of those planes could go above 200 knots.

  • The summary was painful to read so I checked the article and found it a direct copy. As an example:

    “To my knowledge, the training planes are the only ones in the Air Force fast enough to make a bird strike lethal, and with a windshield too flimsy to deflect one,”

    I know it's a direct quote from a "one-time Air Force pilot" but you need to exercise some editorial control and clean that shit up. How about:

    "To my knowledge, the training planes are the only ones in the Air Force with a windshield t

  • Think of it as evolution in action.

  • No prob. You rarely find birds above 4,000 feet. Just put another placard in the plane "stay under xxx knots below yyyy feet in peacetime".

  • They should get in touch with these guys: http://www.aviation-glass.com/ [aviation-glass.com]

    These guys specialize in very thin, very strong layered glass that is virtually indestructible.
    Here's a demo video on a glass pane of just 1.8mm (0.07") thick: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=H80PkGPE0uc [youtube.com]

    • Which is great for light impacts. What is really needed is thicker, very strong glass (or composite).

      That's a cool video, and probably near the useful limit of the glass (within standard factors of safety), but the energy of impact was a 1.3lb (approx) ball at 11mph (4' drop accelerating at 32.2fps). A 4 lb bird strike at 811MPH has 16,500X the energy at impact. I'm not sure off the top of my head whether energy absorption is squared or cubed for a sheet (it's squared for steady state forces), but that stil

      • by scsirob (246572)

        I'm not so sure you can compare the energy levels and claim that it is therefor impractical . A steel ball is solid, and its impact is on a very small surface area. A bird, although heavier, will absorb part of the impact energy, and the impact is spread over a much larger area. I agree that just the sheet in the video will not withstand a bird strike at that speed, but 10 layers or so will do an amazing job. Having a curved surface also helps in taking the impact.

        Perhaps also interesting, the goal is not s

  • the Sapphire glass should go out and give them a few free Canopies. That's the same outfit that is building a facility for Apple in Arizona to produce iPhone and iPad "glass" faces. Of course,it's kind of cool that it's an actual artificial gem!!!

    Next, some company could "Bedazzle" the jet aircraft, seeing as how it's . I see a "Bratz Girlz tie-in" as well. If allowing private companies to advertise to kids in our schools to subsidize things is OK ... whatever is good for the goose is good for the gander at

  • Energy goes as velocity squared, so a bird strike at 600 mph has 16x the energy of a strike at a 150 mph takeoff speed where most bird strikes occur. At these higher impact velocities and without the metal airframe surrounding the entire windshield like on an airliner, the only way the canopy can survive an impact is by deforming enough to spread out the impact over time, but not so much that it hits the pilot's head.

    There's a beautiful film of a high-speed bird strike test on a F16 canopy that I saw in
  • by Animats (122034) on Wednesday November 06, 2013 @01:48PM (#45347541) Homepage

    This is the T-38 trainer. It's not a combat aircraft. The T-38 is fast and modern looking, but the first flight was in 1961. Back then, one in five fighter pilots died in accidents, without any help from the enemy. In the 1950s and 1960s, fighter pilots were viewed as expendable. It's not a career choice for the timid.

    The T-38 has killed many pilots. [ejection-history.org.uk] Good ones. Four astronauts, four of the USAF Thunderbirds. Yet fighter jocks like to fly it. It's not as bad as it used to be - the original engines were unreliable.

    The ejection seat has saved many T-38 pilots. The T-38 ejection seat blasts through the canopy to get the pilot out. There's a big spike on top of the seat to punch through the canopy.Here's the 1990 redesign for a canopy that will resist bird strikes. [dtic.mil] "The seat mounted cutting blade is virtually ineffective in cutting through materials which comply with Bird collision resistance." So toughening up the canopy meant a new ejection system. Fighter planes, which have tougher canopies (they're expected to be shot at) have such systems, which usually involve explosives shattering or releasing the canopy. The T-38 is just a trainer - no armor.

    The T-38 later got an ejection seat upgrade with zero-zero capability (you can eject while parked on the ground, which is useful if you have a fire during engine start or a bad landing), and that seems to have a new canopy disposal system. They had to give up the tiny bit of luggage storage the T-38 had. One of the original Mercury astronauts (they were issued T-38s as personal transportation) was able to find a case that would just fit the T-38's space under the seat. But for a few weeks, he wouldn't tell the other astronauts where he got it.

    • by k6mfw (1182893)

      This is the T-38 trainer. It's not a combat aircraft.

      there is the F-5 which is an export fighter. Northrop developed the F20 (same as F5 but with big engine), supposably this was submarined by other companies. I remember back in 1980s on ABC or NBC or CBS about debate on F20 vs. F16, couple of the panelists were getting into this argument, "they came up with the J79 engine to ram this program down the Air Force's throat..." and all this other stuff that is very esoteric to viewer unless they are involved with aviation or regularly read Aviation Week.

      astronauts (they were issued T-38s as personal transportation)

      Michael C

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