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Transportation Technology

The Tech Behind Preventing Airplane Bird Strikes 242

Posted by timothy
from the harder-than-it-seems dept.
the4thdimension writes "CNN is running an article covering the technology used at Sea-Tac for preventing airplane bird strikes, like the one that occurred weeks ago to the now famous Flight 1549. The hardware used ranges from low-tech pyrotechnics, to netting, to lasers, to avian radar. Using a combination of all these technologies, Sea-Tac believes they save hundreds of thousands of dollars per year in avoiding dangerous bird strikes."
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The Tech Behind Preventing Airplane Bird Strikes

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  • by RandoX (828285) on Wednesday February 11, 2009 @02:51PM (#26816563)

    We just need to build a fence to keep these Canadian terrorists out. Migrating, my ass.

    • by Ogive17 (691899) on Wednesday February 11, 2009 @03:13PM (#26816969)
      What about just building more wind powered generators. I've heard those are bad for migratory birds.

      Clean energy and less birds.. guess you could say that's killing two birds with one stone?

      *ducks* (or should I say geese?)

      Ok, I'm leaving now.
  • just putting some titanium chicken wire over the front of the intake so that a bird can't get in?

    • Re:What about (Score:5, Insightful)

      by John Hasler (414242) on Wednesday February 11, 2009 @02:57PM (#26816671) Homepage

      Then you'll get bird plus titanium wire in the engine instead of just bird.

      There just isn't a material strong enough. Any structure that would reliably keep the birds out would be unaccepetably heavy and would restrict air flow.

      • by mrops (927562)

        Wonder if braided carbon nano fiber wires would be strong enough and thin enough to slice these birds. After all, they are light and strong enough for space elevators!

        Light - Check
        Strong - Check
        Allow air flow - Check
        Commonly available - Not Check

        Last point, this is where ingenuity and innovation comes in. Further, now that I have this on slashdot, hopefully no one can patent this idea.

        • by mrops (927562)

          Ummm..... Correction, when I said Carbon nano fiber, I mean Carbon nanotubes material. The stuff for space elevators.

      • by MobyDisk (75490) on Wednesday February 11, 2009 @06:29PM (#26820015) Homepage

        If birds are so tough, how come we don't just make the whole plane out of birds?

    • So at high speeds instead of getting one big bird you get thousands of tiny pieces of bird... I'm not entirely sure thats better.

      Interesting timing on this article for me since I actually have to fly to Seattle\Tacoma airport next week...

      • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

        Interesting timing on this article for me since I actually have to fly to Seattle\Tacoma airport next week...

        You mean "have to fly most of the wayto Seattle\Tacoma airport next week."

        Wear warm clothes.

    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by JCSoRocks (1142053)
      I'm no aviation expert... but it seems to me that at those speeds that bird would just get sliced into many chicken-wire-hole sized pieces and still go through the engine. On the plus side "chicken" nuggets would be fresh for the next flight! Watch out for the beak!
    • Re:What about (Score:5, Informative)

      by dkleinsc (563838) on Wednesday February 11, 2009 @03:03PM (#26816785) Homepage

      Then you get birds stuck in the titanium chicken wire, and the engine has a good shot of now sucking in both the bird and the chicken wire. On top of that, even if that doesn't happen, you're still seriously impeding air flow into the engine which is needed to make the engine function.

      And according to Wikipedia [wikipedia.org] at least, a typical modern jet engine shunts dead bird parts through a bypass rather than through the engine.

      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        by c6gunner (950153)

        And according to Wikipedia at least, a typical modern jet engine shunts dead bird parts through a bypass rather than through the engine.

        Not quite. What they're talking about there is the difference between a turbojet and a turbofan.

        People seem to assume that "the engine" is the entire thing you see hanging off the wing. Really, the engine is a fraction of the diameter of what you're seeing - a lot of the rest is plumbing and bypass ducts. The big fan you see on the front does the same job as a propeller,

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by thesolo (131008) *
      The issue with a screen over the front of the engine is drag.

      It's been looked into extensively already, any screen fine enough to prevent smaller birds from getting sucked into the engine has a massive effect on the engine's performance.
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      Hang on if I'm understanding what everyone is saying. We're going to take hundreds of tons of metal, people, and highly flammable liquid, hurl them into the air at high speeds, not just once but thousands of times per day all over the country, and not expect shit to happen?

      Don't get me wrong, I understand we want to do everything in our power to make flight as safe as possible. But this is the first known incident of a dual flameout due to bird strikes in the history of commercial flight, right? I'd say
  • the secret? (Score:5, Funny)

    by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday February 11, 2009 @02:54PM (#26816627)

    Always fly over rivers wide enough to land on!

  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday February 11, 2009 @02:57PM (#26816679)
    The secret to preventing bird strikes is to constantly gauge their needs and demands. As long as you regularly meet those needs without giving in too much, you can keep them from striking.
    • by interkin3tic (1469267) on Wednesday February 11, 2009 @03:06PM (#26816839)

      I prefer to bully the bird union leaders, and threaten to hire bird scabs in the event of a strike.

    • Oh yes... the deal. They get out of the way of our airplanes and we look the other way when they defacate on our statues.
    • by StikyPad (445176) on Wednesday February 11, 2009 @04:38PM (#26818367) Homepage

      I think we need some sort of high-tech bird monitoring network, complete with identity cards for each bird, so we can find the bad actors. Naturally we'll want to monitor their communications, so we'll need blanket audio coverage of the entire US, as well as several hundred miles in all directions offshore. We must systematically capture and detain any birds that hang out near airports, and any birds they may have associated or mated with. We should also build fences, very large fences to keep out the birds that aren't here natively, who wish to cross our borders undetected. We must screen any potential migrating birds for poor waste hygiene, erratic flight patterns, or impure thoughts. We should root our their nests of evil, and as a bonus, we can eat their unborn babies, perhaps in an omelet or in some sort of fried rice dish, or we can use them to improve the consistency of our baked goods. One thing is for sure: when the birds strike again, and you can be sure they'll try, the next time it will be OUR fault if they succeed. We had the warning. We have it within our means to stop them. We perhaps lack only the resolve and the patriotism required. God bless you, and God bless the United States of America, land of the free from birds, and the home of The Bravados.

  • Kill all birds.

  • falconers (Score:5, Informative)

    by qw0ntum (831414) on Wednesday February 11, 2009 @02:59PM (#26816717) Journal
    I read recently an article about how they actually use falcons at JFK to prevent bird strikes.

    This seems to be about that, though I'm not sure if it was the article I saw: http://www.nydailynews.com/ny_local/2009/02/01/2009-02-01_untitled__falcon01m.html [nydailynews.com]
    • by TheLink (130905)
      Would it help if they made airplanes look like falcons? Or look like a bunch of falcons?
      • by El Torico (732160)

        A 747 painted similarly to a Flying Tigers P-40 Warhawk? That would scare any bird that saw it.

    • by badasscat (563442)

      I read recently an article about how they actually use falcons at JFK to prevent bird strikes.

      This seems to be about that, though I'm not sure if it was the article I saw: http://www.nydailynews.com/ny_local/2009/02/01/2009-02-01_untitled__falcon01m.html [nydailynews.com]

      DiFulco said the PA doesn't use falconry at LaGuardia because it is "effective against gulls, not geese." He said gulls are "the primary birds at issue at JFK, but not at LGA," where geese pose the main threat.

      Then there are some counter-arguments made, but I can understand why they wouldn't be effective against geese. The geese that hit US Airways 1549 were apparently a flock of migrating birds at around 3,000 feet that just happened to wander into an airplane's flight path. They weren't "at" the airpor

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by Dog-Cow (21281)

        but I can understand why they wouldn't be effective against geese.

        Perhaps I'm being too simplistic, but I'd guess that falcons just don't hunt geese.

    • by Malc (1751)

      Toronto FC's home ground of BMO Field used to have a problem with seagulls. Bizarre considering it's a turf and not grass pitch. Then they got a hawk, affectionately named by the fans "Bitchy". There's no problem now.

    • by Hatta (162192)

      I read recently an article about how they actually use falcons at JFK to prevent bird strikes.

      Don't you think clearing birds with an F-16 [wikipedia.org] is a little overkill?

  • I have had another idea [yes, patent pending :-] ... why not a pyramid cone shaped cover protecting the air intake? The cone would extend enough to allow adequate air intake (from now the sides). I'm doing the math to determine if at the top of the cone it should be solid (not open) as that area of intake would be affecting air flow over the top of the wing (thus screwing with lift). Keep in mind that the air intake (where ever it happens) has nothing to do with being able to fly -- nor does the output (thr

    • by wcrowe (94389) on Wednesday February 11, 2009 @03:03PM (#26816787)

      This idea was invented by Shampoo...

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      A couple issues with putting a cone over the inlet of a subsonic engine.

      1) If you restrict airflow to only entering from the sides, you're going to have massive separation bubbles as that flow has to turn 90 degrees to enter an axial engine. That results in a loss of efficiency and significantly reduces engine performance.

      2) The added weight of this would kill the proposal for any aircraft manufacturer out there.

      And not to be pedantic, but the inlet and thrust has a lot to do with whether something flies or

    • by edittard (805475)
      What a stupid idea. Why not just make the air-intakes face backwards?
      • I'm guessing that the faster you go, the less "air" there is going to be behind the engines, since you're more or less creating a vacuum behind it by moving through it, right? Which is why motorcycles can do whatever they do behind semi trucks going ~60MPH on the freeway.
    • by CompMD (522020)

      Because engines don't work like that. You need a LOT of air to run a jet engine. The intake has much to do with being able to fly. By blocking the front of the engine and trusting you can get enough air in from whatever limited space to the sides you have created, you'll force a compressor stall very quickly, if you can get enough air into the engine to start it at all.

      There's a reason why there is little variation in jet engine design.

      Anyway, putting a cone in front of the engine far enough will generat

  • Falcons (Score:5, Informative)

    by Frosty Piss (770223) on Wednesday February 11, 2009 @03:06PM (#26816843)
    Here at McChord, we've found the most effective methods involve a combination of ground cover control (eliminate food that the birds eat) and a 24 / 7 team of falcon handlers. But then, we don't have as much traffic as Sea-Tac...
    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by TheLink (130905)
      How about make the planes look like huge falcons- paint eyes on them, paint the undersides and wings so they look a bit like soaring raptors from below.

      Or paint some falcon pics/silhouttes on various parts of the plane fuselage.
      • How about make the planes look like huge falcons- paint eyes on them, paint the undersides and wings so they look a bit like soaring raptors from below. Or paint some falcon pics/silhouttes on various parts of the plane fuselage.

        Well, they like to clear the birds BEFORE the planes are in the air...

  • by 140Mandak262Jamuna (970587) on Wednesday February 11, 2009 @03:07PM (#26816873) Journal
    The pilot of 1549 was saying his view was completely filled with birds and he ran into a whole flock of birds. All these techniques to buzz/fry one bird is not going to cut it. But the birds do have a motive in avoiding the plane as much as the plane wants to avoid hitting the bird. So if we just let the birds know a plane is on collision course they will move away. They are a lot more agile than an airliner.

    Most birds use parallax to get their 3D cues. Think about it, for something that lives in full 3D space, most birds do not have stereoscopic vision. Their eyes are wide apart facing opposite directions with very little overlap. If the plane approaches the birds in such a way that the bearing (direction, angle) of the plane as seen by the bird is constant, the bird thinks the plane is part of the background, it is at infinity! That is why they don't take evasive action. If we put a series of LED lights along the length of the plane and turn them off and on to produce streaks of lights running from nose to tail, it will interrupt their visual cues and make the plane stand out from the background. That will give cues to the birds about the real position of the airplane. They will avoid us, we don't have to avoid them.

  • They also throw flocks of dead birds and chickens into jet engines during engine testing. Check out this cool video of birds getting cut to shreds by a jet engine in slow motion. Birds slowly chopped by jet engine [youtube.com]
    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by clem (5683)

      With a special attachment, the engine also makes julienne fries!

  • by sobachatina (635055) on Wednesday February 11, 2009 @03:10PM (#26816927)
    Let my armies be the rocks and the trees and the birds in the sky.
    • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

      by Itninja (937614)
      You almost forgot that was Charlemagne, not Henry Jones Sr.
      • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

        by idontgno (624372)
        Dr. Jones (the elder) did in fact properly attribute, but I'm sure Charelemagne never downed a BF-109 with seagulls. Implementation is as important as specification.
  • by paskal (150433) on Wednesday February 11, 2009 @03:15PM (#26816999)

    Oh wait nevermind, SeaTec!

  • All they need to do is paint a bunch of owl silhouettes on the side of the air plane and that should keep the birds away.

  • Wind farms (Score:4, Funny)

    by internerdj (1319281) on Wednesday February 11, 2009 @03:19PM (#26817073)
    Just surround the airport with wind power sites and the problem is solved...
  • by Greyfox (87712) on Wednesday February 11, 2009 @03:19PM (#26817079) Homepage Journal
    I've gained notoriety
    And caused much anxiety
    In the Audobon Society
    With my games...

    They call it impiety
    And lack of propriety
    And boy.. a variety
    Of unpleasant names

    But it's not against any religion...
    To want to dispose of... a pigeon...

  • they wouldn't go on strike...
  • Pointless (Score:5, Interesting)

    by PPH (736903) on Wednesday February 11, 2009 @03:30PM (#26817249)

    Great effort on the part of SeaTac to keep birds off the runway. But it wouldn't have made a damned bit of difference to Flight 1549. From what I've seen online (not quite the official FAA report, but probably close enough), the bird strikes occurred several miles from the runway at around 3000 ft altitude.

    In the case of SeaTac, approach and departure altitudes like these are seen as far away from the airport as 20 miles. On a few occasions, I've been watching little Piper Cubs/Cessnas/whatever buzzing around over my house at 3 to 5000 ft altitudes and seen a 747 fly in on approach to SeaTac underneath them. And I'm more than 20 miles from the airport. Its not likely that the FAA can keep the air clear of Canadian geese, bald eagles and other such birds over an area of more than 1200 square miles.

    The only solution to preventing another 1549 incident is to keep commercial aircraft at higher altitudes for as long as possible.

    • Re:Pointless (Score:5, Informative)

      by fructose (948996) on Wednesday February 11, 2009 @06:09PM (#26819775) Homepage
      They already do. The problem is traffic management.

      Airlines would love to save gas by going right up to the point where they can cut the engines to idle and then coast in to the airport. But since everyone wants to do that it would create a traffic nightmare. They need a way to line everyone up on the same runway so they can space them out properly. And if it's cloudy, you need a way to make sure you can be lined up on your runway when you come out of the clouds. So they make instrument approaches that use navigation aids on the ground or GPS.

      This works well at small airports, but busy ones have too many planes coming in so they make these things called a Standard Terminal Arrival Route (STAR). Everyone flies to one of these routes and then they join up to an instrument approach to land.

      Airlines would love nothing more than to save gas by doing exactly what you suggest, and people on the ground would also like to not have airplanes buzzing their house at all hours of the day, but it's not even close to practicable.
  • by jellomizer (103300) on Wednesday February 11, 2009 @03:36PM (#26817329)

    We know birds hate Snakes.

    Lets put Snakes on the planes. That way birds will avoid the plains to avoid the snakes.

    I got that idea from a movie, I forgot what it was called.

  • by knappe duivel (914316) on Wednesday February 11, 2009 @03:36PM (#26817331)
    It was a plane strike. Birds have feelings too, you insensitive clods!
  • So, remember my darling, When spring is in the air, And them bald-headed birds, Are whispering everywhere, When you see them walking southwards, In their dirty underwear, It's the Tennessee Bird Walk.
  • what about audio? (Score:2, Insightful)

    by mapkinase (958129)

    What's the audio reception spectrum of birds? Can we add some sound that we do not hear and they hear?

    • by FooAtWFU (699187)
      Airplanes already make a significant amount of noise. What good do you really think adding some supersonic whatevermajig will do?
  • Now unemployed (Score:5, Insightful)

    by DoofusOfDeath (636671) on Wednesday February 11, 2009 @03:49PM (#26817569)

    Maybe if we just posted Cheney at the end of the runway with a shotgun...

  • I would imagine that most flocks, or even single birds, could be detected well in advance of impact by using radar or some other imaging device.

    Perhaps using that technology, and some sort of explosive shell (think fireworks), they could clear a path through the flock (at least for the engines).

    If the shell was powerful enough, it could actually use the force of the explosion to force the birds out of the flight path. If not, at least it would have the potential of scaring the flock into changing course.

    • by corsec67 (627446)

      If the shell was powerful enough, it could actually use the force of the explosion to force the birds out of the flight path. If not, at least it would have the potential of scaring the flock into changing course.

      Plus it would give the people inside the plane an exciting ride, going through a concussion wave like that.

      and some sort of explosive shell (think fireworks)

      Like Ack-Ack?

      • by jhfry (829244)

        That's assuming that the concussion was near enough to be felt.

        Obviously, with a larger concussion, the explosion would need to take place further ahead of the aircraft.

  • by Guysmiley777 (880063) on Wednesday February 11, 2009 @04:14PM (#26817973)
    The bird strikes did not occur near the airport. They occurred 2 minutes after takeoff at an altitude of 3,000+ feet. The aircraft was miles from the airport when it lost power.

    The techniques they use are valuable because they reduce the bird density right around the airfield, and having a multi-engine failure like what happened with 1549 had would be MUCH less survivable if it occurred immediately after takeoff.
  • IPv6. NOW! (Score:4, Funny)

    by Piranhaa (672441) on Wednesday February 11, 2009 @04:17PM (#26818015)

    If we FINALLY move to IPv6, there won't be nearly as many people using: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/IP_over_Avian_Carriers [wikipedia.org] , and thus, less birds hitting planes.

  • the technology used at Sea-Tac for preventing airplane bird strikes,

    All this technology, and it didn't work..

I bet the human brain is a kludge. -- Marvin Minsky

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