Nearly one year after a B-52H Stratofortress bomber crashed shortly after takeoff at Andersen Air Force Base in Guam, the U.S. Air Force has finally identified the culprit: a flock of goddamn birds, military officials announced Monday.
An investigation by Air Force Global Strike Command concluded that the incident, which took place during a routine training mission on May 19, 2016, occurred “after birds on the runway struck the aircraft’s engines and caused thrust failure,” Stars and Stripes reports.
The initial release by the Accident Investigation Board initially attributed the crash to a “bird sighting,” stating that the pilot had “analyzed visual bird activity and perceived cockpit indications as a loss of symmetric thrust required to safely attain flight.” But crew members’ accounts of the incident in the full Global Strike Command paint a distinctly more “Miracle on the Hudson” picture. From Stars and Stripes:
In a summary of the incident, the report stated the pilot of the aircraft from the 69th Expeditionary Bomb Squadron, 5th Bomb Wing assigned to Andersen, observed birds at wing level seconds after the pilot announced the plane was committed to takeoff procedures.
The co-pilot then felt “a couple thuds” on the right side of the aircraft as three of the four engines began “spooling back,” or slowing down, according to the report. A spike in oil pressure indicated likely failure in the fourth engine as the plane yawned to the right, which pointed to loss of thrust, the report stated.
The pilot began aborted takeoff procedures by shutting off outboard engines and applying brakes as the co-pilot deployed a drag chute to slow the aircraft as it quickly approached the end of the runway.
That’s when things got out of control: According to Air Force Times, the B-52’s drag chute failed to inflate, leaving the aircraft to exceed the upper limit of its brakes and skid off the runway. After coming to a halt 300 feet beyond the runway, the fuselage quickly burst into flames, prompting the crew to bail.
Only one of the seven crew members aboard the B-52H suffered minor injuries, but the resulting fire completely destroyed the $112 million aircraft, one of 102 that entered service starting in May 1961. Boeing produced 744 total B-52s for the Pentagon starting in 1955.
Interestingly, the AFGSC report still leaves ambiguous whether birds actually struck the B-52 despite the proximity of the bird sighting and “thuds” reported by the co-pilot. The investigation found “no evidence of any organic material being processed through the engine,” so far that “all of the debris found in the engine consisted of pieces of coral, dirt, and grass that was processed through the engines when they contacted the ground.”
“I don’t think they found any evidence, but the plane was burned up,” Global Strike Command spokeswoman Carla Pampe told ABC News, assuring them that the various mechanical issues surrounding the aircraft’s drag chute and brakes “do not indicate any larger issues among the B-52 fleet.” (Good thing the Pentagon’s fleet of Vietnam-era B-52s is slated for a much-needed modernization plan.)
We look forward to watching Clint Eastwood’s film adaptation of the incident.
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