A Close Encounter with an Emu
A few weeks ago, I posted a video of a near-miss “bird strike” when a frightened emu ran onto the landing strip as the aircraft touched down.
Warning: Entirely Justified Coarse Language is Used in this Video
When I found out the pilot had posted to the Professional Pilots’ Rumour Network, I couldn’t resist getting in touch with him to find out more about the video.
Here’s what he told me:
Every year myself and some mates go for a trip to Queensland to hunt pigs. I grab a plane from work, either an Aerostar or a Chieftain, depending on numbers, and we fly up to a friends farm in central Queensland. Its a 200,000 acre farm (roughly 809 sq kilometres. It takes 2.5 hours to drive from one end to the other) that raises cattle. Wild pigs are all through it, and cause farms all sorts of trouble here. They spread disease, kill young calf and kill native wildlife, so we head up and do our part. The nearest town is 3 hours by road or 1 hour by air so it is quite remote and completely free from artificial light.
The station owner has carved out an airstrip next to his house (he used to fly, but now only me and the Royal Flying Doctors use it) that is 1100 metres long and dead flat with hard clay surface. Normally, we radio ahead, someone will go drive down the strip, shoo away any cattle or wildlife that are on it, then we will land. This happened this time, and the guy on the ground shot a pig on the runway and dragged it off to the side. If you look carefully, you can see a black/brown lump on the right hand side just on touch down. That’s fresh bacon!!
The country is mostly low scrub with some tall eucalypts, and there are some water courses and grass plains. One such plain was named by the farmer’s daughters when they were younger, calling it Pretty Plain. It is 3 miles from the runway threshold in line with it, and we usually do a fly over it just to have a look at it.
I have been flying there a couple of times a year, since about 2000. Sometimes we get there at night and land in the dark. There is no runway lighting, and no light other than the moon, so the farmer marks the runway for me in the following way.
This is my rendition of the runway at night. Bet you didn't know I was an artist!
I hope I’ve done this right. The squares are cars on a 45 degree angle on on the runway edge threshold with the lights on. The volcanoes are meant to represent paint tins full of rags and petrol, set on fire. This lights up the threshold and the runway, allowing an approach at night. Amazingly, he tells me that they’ve never seen anything run out when landing at night.
But out here, you can’t always have it your own way. I touched down 80 metres from the threshold and was just letting it roll out (save the brakes and undercarriage on the rough strip) and the speed had just dipped below about 90kts. Approach on the PA-601 is about 100. As you can hear, we were discussing the state of strip, which used to be very wide, but the grass is narrowing it further each year. An emu was sitting on the side unseen in the bushes and we obviously startled it, and it bolted from cover in front. One of my passengers yelled out, and I jumped on the brakes, hard, and washed off about 40 knots in about 3 seconds! The emu went in front of us and lost his footing on the loose dust, just as the wing passed harmlessly over him! Cue much celebration!
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