39th Airlift Squadron, Dyess Air Force Base, TX

By Staff Writer

THE CREW OF STOKE 11, 39th Airlift Squadron, Dyess Air Force Base (AFB), TX, earned the 2022 Air Mobility Command Aircrew of Distinction Award by displaying extraordinary airmanship and skill by averting disaster following a bird strike on May 26, 2022. The morning of the mishap, the C-130J Super Hercules departed Dyess AFB as the second aircraft in a three-ship formation conducting low-level, visual flight rules training. The crew commenced the planned training route at 210 knots of indicated airspeed (KIAS), 300 feet above ground level. While maneuvering, the crew spotted a flock of vultures along the aircraft’s flight path. The pilot in command (PIC) took immediate evasive action, banking the aircraft to avoid collision. Despite the efforts, a large vulture struck the aircraft’s center windshield, penetrating both panes of glass and creating a hole 6 inches in diameter. The impact caused the center windshield to explode, sending glass shrapnel and bird remains throughout the flight deck. The noise caused by wind entering the cockpit rendered communication nearly impossible.

The fractured windshield shook from the high-velocity airflow, throwing glass shards at the crew. Recognizing the risk of the windshield collapsing, the pilot reduced airspeed to 150 KIAS and configured flaps. This action reduced aerodynamic stress to the fractured glass and diminished the wind noise. The crew re-established communication and conducted a damage assessment. Both pilots received minor lacerations from glass, but the crew was otherwise uninjured. In a display of crew resource management (CRM), the pilot proceeded directly to Dyess AFB, the co-pilot declared the emergency to air traffic control, and the jump-seat pilot prepared the aircraft for landing by clearing the debris, obtaining destination weather, and calculating takeoff and landing data. The loadmasters reviewed the applicable Technical Order 1C-130J-1 emergency procedures, backed up the pilots to ensure checklist compliance, and coordinated with the Dyess command post.

While enroute to Dyess AFB, the crew discussed contingency plans should the windshield collapse. The crew chose to recover via a 10-mile straight-in approach to maximize stability. As the aircraft slowed, the PIC encountered throttle binding caused by glass fragments. Through forceful inputs, the pilot managed to free the throttles sufficiently. STOKE 11 touched down safely at Dyess AFB, taxied to parking, and the crew received first aid from emergency responders.

Through their decisive, timely actions and effective utilization of CRM, the crew of STOKE 11 saved the lives of five personnel and a $75 million aircraft.