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It's Supposed to Fly in Nuclear War. A Bird Took It Down

'Hulking' E-6B Mercury aircraft temporarily grounded after bird gets sucked into engine
By Jenn Gidman,  Newser Staff
Posted Oct 18, 2019 10:42 AM CDT
Updated Oct 20, 2019 6:42 AM CDT
In this 2010 photo, birds that were feeding on grass near the runway swarm upward as a Navy E-6B plane makes touch-and-go landings at the Fort Smith Regional Airport in Fort Smith, Ark. A bird strike...   (AP Photo/The Southwest Times Record, Kaia Larsen, File)

(Newser) – A military "doomsday" aircraft that's supposed to serve as a command post during nuclear war got brought down by something much simpler than a nuke earlier this month: a bird. Per the Navy Times, an E-6B Mercury was trying to land at Maryland's Naval Air Station Patuxent River on Oct. 2 during maneuvers when a feathered not-friend flew into one of the aircraft's four engines, grounding the plane temporarily and causing at least $2 million in damages. No one was injured during the incident, and the engine was replaced. It's not clear what type of bird hit the aircraft. The E-6B Mercury, referred to as "America's most terrifying plane," is part of the Navy's "Take Charge and Move Out" initiative, a system of communications links designed to keep key decision-makers in touch during a nuclear attack.

But despite what the Washington Post calls its "hulking" design and ability to fly thousands of nautical miles at a clip, at speeds of up to 600mph, the aircraft, like all other planes, "does not come equipped with a foolproof defense against birds." This has been classified as the fifth "Class A" mishap—one that comes with at least $2 million in damages, or that causes death or permanent disability—involving bird strikes in 10 years, including another one involving an E-6B aircraft last year. Live Science notes that a variety of bird-strike prevention programs have been implemented to cut down on the thousands of incidents like this that happen to both military and civilian aircraft each year. (Read more bird strike stories.)

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