Vulture Strike: Iberia Airbus A350 Hits A Huge Bird Near Madrid

A vulture came off second best after colliding with an Iberia Airbus landing in Madrid. However, the incident caused serious damage to the jet’s nose and serves as a timely reminder about the potential perils of a bird strike.

An Iberia Airbus A350-900 collided with a large vulture on approach into Madrid on Wednesday. Photo: Iberia

Vulture punches holes in Iberia A350

According to a report in The Aviation Herald, the incident occurred on Wednesday, October 27, when the Iberia Airbus A350-900 was just 90 seconds out from Madrid Barajas Airport. Images posted on social media show the dead vulture had cracked the jet’s nose, with the bird’s remains clearly visible.

The Airbus involved in the incident was EC-NDR Juan Sebastian Elcano. The plane was only delivered to Iberia in May 2019. This is the first recorded significant incident the jet has been involved in.

The aircraft was descending through 1,000 feet after operating a nine-hour plus flight from Bogota. Aircraft tracking website has the Airbus landing in Madrid at 13:39 on Wednesday.

According to The Aviation Herald, the Airbus was on final approach to Madrid’s runway 32L when it collided with the bird, later identified as a vulture. The plane continued in and landed safely.

A Sam Chui report notes this type of black vulture (Aegypius monachus) has a wingspan of up to two and a half meters and can weigh up to 12 and a half kilograms. The cracked Airbus nose illustrates the damage done when a plane collides with a 12 and a half kilogram bird.

According to Iberia, the cracked nose is replaced easily enough, and passengers did not feel the impact. But if the bird collided a meter or two higher, it could have struck the cockpit proper and caused all sorts of problems.

Big birds like vultures heighten bird strike risk

Bird strikes are relatively common. While potentially dangerous, large modern aircraft are built to withstand them. Jet engine manufacturers famously throw frozen chickens into engines to ensure they are sturdy enough to handle ingesting foreign objects like birds.

But big birds can make a big visual impact, as Wednesday’s Iberia incident attests. And yesterday’s incident highlights the difference between a bird strike involving small birds and a bird strike involving bigger birds.

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A similar incident occurred at Iberia in 2012 when an Airbus A340-300 struck a vulture after taking off from Madrid. Like Wednesday’s incident, the bird collided with the aircraft’s nose. The 2012 incident did more substantial damage than Wednesday’s bird strike.

As well as causing structural damage to the aircraft’s nose, the bird damaged the aircraft’s pitot systems and sent it out of service for several weeks. The risks are even more significant for smaller planes. In 2012, a twin-propeller plane in Nepal crashed and killed all 19 onboard after striking a vulture.

Simple physics come into play during a bird strike incident. The kinetic energy caused by the collision is proportionate to mass time velocity squared. Thus, even a relatively small bird can create enough force to set off a chain reaction of failures throughout the aircraft. For a big bird like the vulture involved in yesterday’s incident, the risks become even greater.