Future Tech May Reduce Bird-Plane Collisions

February 6, 2009

"Hit birds we lost thrust in both engines. … We're gonna be in the Hudson."

Those words—from a transcript of January 15 communications with air traffic controllers released yesterday—could have been U.S. Airways pilot Chesley "Sully" Sulenberger's last.

Luckily the "hero of the Hudson" managed to gude his jet to a miraculous landing on the Hudson River off New York City.

To protect future flights, scientists are hard at work on ways to keep birds away from planes.

Most of today's anti-bird-strike efforts are ground-based, focusing on making airports less inviting to birds by removing ponds, exterminating the bugs birds eat, firing noise cannons, installing artificial owls, and so on.

(Reated: "Falconry Used to Secure North American Airports" [March 25, 2003].)

But the next frontier in bird-strike prevention is the sky.

Bird-disturbing radar, pulsing lights, and reflective coatings may someday make aircraft more visible to birds, so they have time to dodge oncoming planes, according to Bradley Blackwell, a wildlife biologist and bird-strike expert at the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) National Wildlife Research Center in Sandusky, Ohio.

"We have to play within their realm of sensory perception and try to exploit that," Blackwell said.

Painful Radar?

The most fanciful concept is using radar to alert birds to approaching aircraft.

Anecdotal evidence suggests that birds sitting on a runway will suddenly scatter when an airplane's weather radar is engaged—leading some scientists to consider using radar to actively drive away birds.

Continued on Next Page >>




NEWS FEEDS     After installing a news reader, click on this icon to download National Geographic News's XML/RSS feed.   After installing a news reader, click on this icon to download National Geographic News's XML/RSS feed.

Get our news delivered directly to your desktop—free.
How to Use XML or RSS

National Geographic Daily News To-Go

Listen to your favorite National Geographic news daily, anytime, anywhere from your mobile phone. No wires or syncing. Download Stitcher free today.
Click here to get 12 months of National Geographic Magazine for $15.