I saw tumbleweeds going across flight path in El Paso, TX and it made me wonder, especially after seeing what birds can do.

Would a tumbleweed ingested by a jet engine on takeoff cause serious problems?

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    $\begingroup$ To the tumbleweed? Then yes. (sorry, I couldn't resist..., but I like your question ;-)) $\endgroup$
    – PerlDuck
    Mar 12, 2017 at 13:11
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    $\begingroup$ It's not uncommon for some vegetative material to be sucked into engines. Most civil jet engines are high-bypass engines so the great majority of the air (and anything in it) goes through the fan rather than the engine core. If you look at the fan of an engine that's been in service for awhile, you'll see nicks (most of them dressed out hopefully) from harder material that's gone through them. My guess (emphasis on guess) is that a large engine could take a small tumbleweed without serious problems, but lowering that ratio would increase the probability of trouble. $\endgroup$
    – Terry
    Mar 12, 2017 at 20:47
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    $\begingroup$ @PerlDuck: Given that a tumbleweed is already dead when it tumbles, serving merely as a seed-dispersion mechanism, being sucked into a jet engine might actually be very good for it, given that (assuming most of it goes through the bypass duct, which it probably will) the tumbleweed would be disintegrated and its fragments scattered far and wide by the jet blast! :-P $\endgroup$
    – Vikki
    Feb 5 at 15:16

1 Answer 1


Luckily tumbleweed rolls and doesn't fly [like some geese].

I tried to check how much an average one weighs, I couldn't find out. But it will cause some degree of damage. The engine can fail, but if it's just one tumbleweed then it's just one engine, it'll be serious but not dangerous. Airliners can fly with one engine inoperative, they are designed for it.

If it happens before the airplane reaches what's called a V1 speed, the flight crew can just abort the takeoff.

I didn't find any occurrence/report of it happening before. And it hasn't been tested before (they test using chicken guns).

Airport tower controllers and ground staff are vigilant in spotting such things, as this story shows:

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Escorted back for questioning!


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