Close Encounters Of The Bird Kind

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Matthew Brinker, Special Op Support Mission Balad Iraq 2008

Special guest post from Matt Brinker. Matt is a Ret. FL. Army Guard H-60 driver CW2. He likes sci-fi, all sports, history, science & politics.  As Matt puts it, his only labels are: “Catholic, Brinker, American. Love GOD, freedom, and peace.”  Matt is from north Florida.

Here is his story about an animal encounter while serving our country while in Iraq.

One day in Iraq, I was flying a routine Baghdad ring-route mission in my UH-60A Blackhawk for Cco 1-244th (Privateers) Florida Army National Guard. Basically transporting military and civilian contractors from base to base in and around Baghdad. Great hours building missions for pilots but boring and worthless missions in our eyes. Even though it’s safer to fly then drive in Iraq. Those IED and ambush attacks on the highways are not very good.

On this summer day  in 2008 of about 110-120 degrees, a usual hot day, I’m lead aircraft on this two ship mission and I’m on the controls because I’m a stick hog (I like being and staying on the controls of the Blackhawk). We are at Baghdad International Airport (aka BIAP) with a normal load of passengers and bags ready to takeoff for Washington Pad or the US and International Embassy (aka Saddam Hussein’s house) for our last half of our day.

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Captain & Crew Chief next to damaged Blackhawk. Photo by Matt Brinker

We are cleared for departure for the 6 min flight to our next stop. We lift off to our airfield altitude of 50 feet or less (most of the time less!) and up to our cruising speed of 110 kts along the runway on the military side of BIAP until we are cleared of the airfield. Once we clear the airfield we turn left heading north and climb to our cruising altitude of 500 feet or less towards our reporting point. We get our “Up” call from our wingman, stating that they are up and in formation, we are a flight of two now. So with that, we call BIAP tower at the reporting point to change frequency to Washington pad while at the same time our wingman is calling Baghdad Radio to inform them of where we are and where we are going. Baghdad radio was just an army information center to maintain air traffic awareness and situation awareness of any enemy contact.

So with all communications done, the aircraft is as quiet as a screaming Blackhawk can be when the call over the radio comes in, “We’re hit!”

Nothing more.

At that moment my co-pilot and myself make eye contact, scared as hell. My co-pilot quickly responds, “Say again.”  I ask my crew chief and gunner to find our wingman and report. My crew chief reports from the left side, “I have visual… they are slowing down but maintaining altitude… something is wrong.”

I’m baffled and alarmed. “What?  What’s wrong?” At the same time I’m slowing down and making “S”- turn maneuvers. My co-pilot tries contact again and this time we get a response.  Wingman responds, “We took on a flock of pigeons. Our number two engine is making a really loud noise”.  And it was so loud we could hear it on the radio communication. They continue. “We are turning back to BIAP… can you contact the radios?”  We said we will and followed our injured wingman back to BIAP with no further issues.

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Soft-ball size damage to chin bubble of aircraft. Photo by Matt Brinker

Once landed and parked, we saw what happen.  Al Quaeda “secret air force” was out in numbers and they won. Our wingman hit, our best count, 12 pigeons. At our altitudes and with the gunnery skills of most Iraqi’s people, the bird’s were the most dangerous aspect of our mission.  Yet, two pigeons went directly into the number two engine and one in the number one engine. Their crew chief took a shot from one pigeon to the arm and its innards sprayed his face shield.  He was one bloody mess.

The chin Bubble on the pilot side (right side) had a softball size hole. With all that, the Blackhawk, with a little cleaning, did a one-time flight back to home base at Balad for maintenance. A 35-45 minute flight normally, that Blackhawk took an hour with a screaming number two engine, but it made it.

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The pigeon slid down the aircraft. Photo by Matt Brinker

Even though we made a joke of it, giving the crew double ace classification and rewards for taking on the “enemy” and coming out alive, the animal life there in Iraq were very dangerous to us in our mission. I went through two deployments and over 500+ combat flight time without a bird strike, but I had to bend that Blackhawk several times to avoid those damn Al Quaeda suicide fighter birds.  And we all learn a lesson from this; nature has right-of-way at all times, even in combat.  When we weren’t fighting nature in the air, we sure were in the sand. Camel spiders are no fun either! Thankfully I didn’t have to deal with the likes of them. Much.


Camel Spider. Photo courtesy Google images.

Matthew S. Brinker CW2 (ret)

Florida Army National Guard

If you would like to visit Matt on Twitter, you can find him at :

EDITORS NOTE: A very sincere “Thank You!!” to Matt, and ALL of our servicemen and women at home and abroad, ensuring our safety, freedoms, and the American way! We flat-out could not enjoy the autonomy and liberty that your sacrifices have given us and future American generations to come! We are aware of the enormity of those sacrifices that include family, life, limb, spirit, emotions and the mind even though we don’t necessarily always speak of these things. We appreciate our Armed Forces and are indebted to you!


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