Chicken Gun Collaboration

This summer as you fly to your holiday, or return to work, you can sit comfortably knowing that the Chicken Gun keeps you safe. This is an innovation that everyone who travels on a plane benefits from, but mostly don’t know about.

The airline industry has benefited from a decades long commitment to continuous improvement and innovation.

 We learn in the book “The Norm Chronicles - Stories and numbers about danger” by Michael Blastland and David Spiegelhalter, from Plan Crash Info shows that

"In the safest 30 airlines, there is a fatal accident on average every 11 million flights, and since there is a chance of surviving, the odd of being killed are around 1 in 29 million.”

We know that “the threat posed by bird-impact strikes to aircraft dates back to the very beginning of flight. In fact, the Wright brother recorded bird strikes in their journals during thir 1900’s experimental flights."

 The primary vulnerability in a modern jet lies in birds being injested by the jet engines,  and wreaking enough internal damage that the engine fails. Or it can shatter, sending enough debris back into the fuselage, potentially destroying the plane in a matter of seconds.

In the book “Future Perfect” by Steven Johnson, we hear the curious tale of the Chicken Gun.

Chicken Gun Collaboration


The Chicken Gun “is an exemplary case of government regulation, [that being] dead birds being shot out of a pneumatic cannon are your tax dollars at work.”

A chicken gun is a large-diameter, compressed-air cannon used to test the strength of aircraft windscreen and the safety of jet engines. The chicken gun is designed to simulate high-speed bird impacts. It is named after its unusual ammunition: a whole, dead, standard-sized chicken, as would be used for cooking. This has been found to accurately simulate a large, live bird in flight. The test target is fixed in place on a test stand, and the cannon is used to fire the chicken into the engine, windshield, or other test structure.


In the famous plan crash on the Hudson River in New York, (which also was a massive catalyst for the use of twitter in emergencies – but that’s another story), we saw the following scene play out.

"US Airways Flight 1549 was an Airbus A320-214 which, three minutes after takeoff from New York City's LaGuardia Airport on January 15, 2009, struck a flock of Canada geese just northeast of the George Washington Bridge and consequently lost all engine power. Unable to reach any airport, pilots Chesley Sullenberger and Jeffrey Skiles glided the plane to a ditching in the Hudson River off midtown Manhattan. All 155 people aboard were rescued by nearby boats and there were few serious injuries.

The incident came to be known as the "Miracle on the Hudson", and a National Transportation Safety Board member described it as "the most successful ditching in aviation history." Source: Wikipedia

What, we hear less about, was the decade of continuous improvement culminating in “fly by wire” that contributed to this good outcome.

 “The extra-ordinary landing was a kind of duet, between a single human being at the helm of the of the aircraft and the embedded knowledge of the thousands of human beings that collaborated over the years to build the Airbus’s fly-by-wire technology”.

“There is also an urban legend that train companies borrowed the chicken gun for testing windshields for high-speed trains, and were shocked and confused at the amount of damage the gun did - the projectiles were not only breaking through the windshields but embedding themselves into seats farther down the train. When they asked the lenders what they were doing wrong, the reply came, "Gentlemen, thaw your chickens."  Source: Wikipedia

 Watch MythBuster’s take on this challenge.

 This is a classic example of innovation practice, “ Exaptation” which is “kind of borrowing” which is the process which evolutionary biologist in 1971 defined as

“An organism develops a trait optimised for a specific use, but then the trait gets hijacked for a completely different function.” 

Source: Steve Johnston “Where Good Ideas Come From”.

How might “Chicken Gun” innovation through continuous improvement help you?

What collaborations could you use to create products your customer's love?

Paul Wilson can help you act on your ideas, get concepts to market faster, engage customers and be more profitable. Get in contact