Thursday, January 15, 2009

I know what happened: US Airways Flight 1549

Okay, this one has nothing to do about music but I just had to write it. Had this situation turned tragic, there is no way that would I post this entry. But since things turned out so well, I just couldn’t sit still and let this one pass—I happen to be a pilot as well as a musician.

We all know by now that US Airways Flight 1549 appears to have ingested some large birds, perhaps Canadian Geese, in its engines yesterday afternoon. This caused the engines to shut down, turning the Airbus into a lumbering glider. The quick-witted flight crew set up for a near-flawless ditching in the Hudson River. Keeping an Airbus in one piece during a water landing is no minor feat, let alone evacuating all aboard in 90 seconds or so. This flight was extremely lucky, but that luck wouldn’t have meant anything if they hadn’t executed their emergency procedures so well. Kudos on top of kudos to the Captain and crew.

Okay, but aren’t these jet engines tested to withstand ingesting birds? Sure, engineers are reputed to use dead chickens and turkeys to test engine fault tolerance. But I think the answer lies in a very old joke. Now, keep in mind that it has been wickedly cold in New York for the last number of days. I’m thinking cold birds. Follow the old joke to its obvious conclusion:

“The US Federal Aviation Administration has a unique device for testing the strength of windshields on airplanes. The device is a gun that launches a dead chicken at a plane’s windshield at approximately the speed at which the airplane flies.

The theory is that if the windshield doesn’t crack from the carcass impact, it’ll survive a real collision with a bird during flight.

It seems the British were very interested in this and wanted to test a windshield on a brand new speedy locomotive they were developing.

They borrowed the FAA’s chicken launcher, loaded the chicken and fired.

The ballistic chicken shattered the windshield, broke the engineer’s chair, and embedded itself in the back wall of the engine’s cab. The British were stunned and asked the FAA to recheck the test to see if everything was done correctly.

The FAA reviewed the test thoroughly and had one recommendation:

‘Use thawed chicken.’”

[Reputedly first printed in “Feathers,” the publication of the California Poultry Industry Federation]

Ryan Michael Galloway