Losses and Aviation Safety

These Two Giant Holes are the result of a Scary Bird Strike Experienced by Thunderbirds Lead Solo during Practice Flight Demonstration in Colombia

Maj. Michelle Curran is the Lead Solo Pilot for the U.S. Air Force Air Demonstration Squadron, flying the No. 5 jet.

A massive bird stroke Thunderbirds Lead Solo Maj. Michelle Curran’s F-16C Fighting Falcon during a team practice flight demonstration in Colombia, South America, on Jul. 12, 2019.

The two giant holes left by the bird strike.

Curran said on her Instagram account:

‘I was recently asked about scary moments in the jet. Here’s the story of one of them. Last year during our Friday practice in Colombia I had a fairly major bird strike. The second photo shows the large bird on my GoPro right before impact. I was behind the show line at around 2000’ and 450kts rejoining with #5 for the solo rejoin to delta. There was no chance for me to see and avoid this bird. I saw a big flash of black go under my nose and heard and felt the impact. I immediately requested to terminate the practice and land. The jet handled normally and the engine didn’t falter. My crew chief SSgt. Dylan Stefani came up the ladder after I shutdown with a bit of shock on his face and informed me I had “two giant holes” in my jet. We were all in disbelief that a bird could punch holes clean out of the aircraft. The metal pieces were actually later found inside the jet…

The large bird on Curran’s GoPro right before impact.

‘Here’s where the really impressive part started. Our USAF Thunderbird maintainers got to work! We initially assumed the jet repair would be lengthy and we’d have to leave it behind when we left 3 days later. However, they pulled out the stops and worked with the Fuerza Aérea Colombiana (FAC, Colombian Air Force) to get sheet metal and patch the holes. They also found feathers in the engine and had to do a full engine swap. Everyone burned the midnight oil and I flew two shows in a spare jet. The work and networking that happened with minimal resources was amazing. 3 days later we flew my jet back to the States with no issues. We might get all the attention, but the team behind us works miracles to make the shows happen.’

3 days after the bird strike the jet was flown back to the US with no issues.

Maj. Michelle Curran is the Lead Solo Pilot for the U.S. Air Force Air Demonstration Squadron, flying the No. 5 jet. She majored in Criminal Justice at the University of St. Thomas and earned her commission in 2009 through Air Force ROTC. Prior to joining the Thunderbirds, she served as an F-16 instructor pilot at NAS JRB Fort Worth, Texas. She has logged more than 1,300 flight hours as an Air Force pilot, with more than 160 combat hours over Afghanistan in support of Operation Freedom’s Sentinel and Operation Resolute Support. She is in her second season with the team and hails from Medford, WI.

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Photo credit: U.S. Air Force

Dario Leone

Dario Leone is an aviation, defense and military writer. He is the Founder and Editor of “The Aviation Geek Club” one of the world’s most read military aviation blogs. His writing has appeared in The National Interest and other news media. He has reported from Europe and flown Super Puma and Cougar helicopters with the Swiss Air Force.

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