The IAF inquiry into the emergency landing performed Thursday by an F-15 crew determined that the pilot and the navigator's resourcefulness prevented the jet from crashing.
The inquiry found that around 11 am the F-15 took off from the Tel Nof Air Base for a routine training flight. Once airborne, the crew spotted a flock of pelicans flying in their direction and changed their course so not to collide with the birds.
Unfortunately, five pelicans still hit the aircraft, with some hitting the F-15's engines directly. The jet's right engine sustained some damage but remained operational, while its left engine caught on fire and malfunctioned.
Disaster averted. An IAF F-15 (Photo: Reuters)
"In most cases, the pilots abandon the jet and it crashes; especially in a case like this, when a jet is carrying a full load of fuel," Lt.-Col. Tomer, commander of the Spearhead Squadron, the IAF's 106 airborne squadron, explained.
"The pilots made the decision to release one of their fuel tanks to ease some of the weight off the jet and then made a split-second decision to land, despite the fact that the rear of the jet was on fire."
The crew was able to land safely at Tel Nof. The inquiry found that the two were able to land and exit the aircraft within 50 seconds of the engine catching fire.
"They demonstrated impressive resourcefulness, kept their cool and worked as a team," Tomer added.
According to the squadron commander, the fact that the two were flying an F-15 – which unlike other fighter jets, like the F-16, has two engines – contributed greatly to the successful landing. "Had it been a jet with only one engine, the result would have been entirely different," he said.
The F-15 has been grounded for repairs and is expected to become operational again within a few months.
Bird strikes, or BASH (Bird Aircraft Strike Hazard), are considered a significant threat to both civilian and military flight safety; but the Israel Air Force has known only a few cases which were so severe. Still, military sources said that bird-strikes are rather common, especially during migrating seasons.
In order to minimize and prevent BASH incident, the IAF monitors migrating seasons closely, especially in areas where it is known that flocks of birds cross the path of airstrips. Such flocks are usually detected by a special radar system as well.
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