Sunday, April 27, 2008

F-111 almost downed - by a pelican

AN F-111 was left "shredded" and incapacitated and was forced to make a spectacular emergency landing after hitting a pelican. The jet was flying at 900m on a test bombing raid at Evans Head, northern NSW, when a pelican struck the fibreglass nose and was sucked into an engine. The two RAAF crew are being hailed as heroes by their colleagues for their skilful recovery and landing on April 11. The damage, included a hole in one wing. Aviation experts said flying the plane would have been extremely difficult because the aircraft would have been unstable. An RAAF spokesman admitted the 30-minute flight path back to the Amberley base, 50km west of Brisbane, was over built-up areas. The nation's air combat chief, Air Commodore Neil Hart, said the jet's predicament and "precautionary emergency landing" was not serious enough to alert the public. ". . . No one was injured and there was no structural damage," Commodore Hart said. "One engine was working fine, while the other was at reduced power." He described the circumstances of the incident, which happened between 10am and noon, as near freakish. "It's a surprise thing at 3000ft to have a bird strike," he said. "It's certainly not the way we want to operate all the time. The boys did a great job in getting it home." Repairs to the F-111- one of 21 active jets - are expected to cost hundreds of thousands of dollars. Initially the pelican bounced off the nose before being sucked into an engine. Its impact completely smashed the fighter's radome before causing an immediate engine failure. The damaged aircraft is expected to be flying again within a month. The F-111 fleet, built in 1974, will be retired in 2010 when an expanded fleet of new Super Hornets is introduced. At the time of the incident the F-111 was cruising at more than 550km/h. The Air Chief played down fears the damaged aircraft endangered homes across the region, though he conceded there were homes in its flight path. The pilot and air combat officer in the plane were both "reasonably experienced" flight lieutenants, he said. An Airservices Australia spokesman said the organisation was aware of the incident and granted clearance for the trip from Evans Landing to Amberley.


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