One moment American private pilot, Robert Weber, was cruising through Florida’s sunny skies on autopilot, the next he was crying fowl. Within a split second, the calm of a Saturday afternoon flight aboard his Piper-PA Saratoga was shattered, as a bird smashed through the windscreen scattering feathers, scraping his head, and sending his glasses flying.
'I put my hand out and it was all covered in blood. I told the tower I just needed to get in real quick,’ he said. ‘If the bird had come all the way in, who knows, it would’ve knocked me unconscious,’ he added.
After the bird struck, Weber was about 1,000 feet in the air and flying at 170 mph with no windshield. He swiftly made a Mayday call and took the plane off autopilot. A few minutes later he was making an emergency landing at Page Field airport near Fort Myers, lucky to escape with nothing more than a scar on his forehead.
To limit the risks on commercial planes, plane windscreens are increasingly robust. They must be able to withstand the impact of 3.96 lb (1.8kg) projectile at a speed of 370 mph (600km/h).
But this kind of run-in, recorded back in 2014, is far from rare. Around 5,000 to 6,000 incidents involving mid-air impact on planes are recorded every year around the world, according to recent data from French civil aviation authorities.
Weber's accident would have been worse if the bird had hit his engine - an Achilles' heel for many commerical airliners, as seen in the 'Miracle on the Hudson' involving a US Airways A320 and a flock of Canada geese in 2009. In an attempt to raise awareness about the hazards of the wildlife strike threat to aircraft operational safety, and enhance reporting of such incidents, the ICAO (International Civil Aviation Organization) will be holding an international symposium later this month (16-18 May) in Montreal.