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Transportation Technology

For Airplane Safety, Trying To Keep Birds From Planes 368

Posted by timothy
from the they-hit-very-few-passenger-pigeons dept.
The Narrative Fallacy writes "Every year pilots in the US report more than 5,000 bird strikes, which cause at least $400 million in damage to commercial and military aircraft. Now safety hearings are beginning on the crash of US Airways Flight 1549, where a flock of eight-pound geese apparently brought down a plane, plunging it and 155 people into the frigid waters of the Hudson River. Despite having experimented with everything from electromagnetics to ultrasonic devices to scarecrows, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has yet to endorse a single solution that will keep birds out of the path of an oncoming aircraft." (More below.)
"The best bet right now is understanding bird behavior, although an intriguing old pilots' tale — that radar can scatter birds — may carry enough truth to ultimately offer a viable technical solution to a deadly problem. 'We need to find out, is that an urban legend or is there some truth to that?' says Robert L. Sumwalt, the vice chairman of the National Transportation Safety Board. The Federal Aviation Administration already has an extensive program in place for 'wildlife hazard mitigation,' but it seems ill suited to the problem that faced the US Airways flight, which struck geese five miles from the runway — too far for the New York airports to take action — at an altitude of 2,900 feet — too high for radars being installed around the country to detect birds. 'There's no silver bullet,' says Richard Dolbeer, a wildlife biologist and expert on bird strikes. 'There's no magic chemical you can spray or sound you can project that is going to scare the birds away.'"
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For Airplane Safety, Trying To Keep Birds From Planes

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  • by C_Kode (102755) on Wednesday June 10, 2009 @04:35PM (#28284811) Journal

    Dick Cheney will shoot them all in the face. :)

    • I'm not so sure. Now if we needed a plane full of RIAA lawyers dealt with he's the man to send in. If you're looking to get birds killed you'd have better luck with a slingshots and a bunch of bored teenagers than you would Dick Cheney.
      • by vlm (69642)

        Now if we needed a plane full of RIAA lawyers dealt with he's the man to send in

        Close, very close. The plan is to fly a plane full of lawyers in formation in front of civilian passengers to take out the birds. I'd almost say, like a human shield, however, the lead plane is full of lawyers...

    • by Locke2005 (849178) on Wednesday June 10, 2009 @05:50PM (#28285979)
      Only if they have law degrees. Gotta like that man; shoots lawyers and gets away with it AND he is in favor of gay marriage! Although with his enthusiasm for torture, you gotta wonder what sort of antics go on privately in his bedroom...
  • by Groo Wanderer (180806) <charlie@noSpam.semiaccurate.com> on Wednesday June 10, 2009 @04:36PM (#28284829) Homepage

    Most people don't realize this, but birds are very smart. They learn very quickly after getting hit by an airplane or being sucked into an engine, they NEVER do it a second time. People are usually not that smart, but birds learn quickly.

                -Charlie

  • by LWATCDR (28044)

    Just go back to Prop driven aircraft. The props will take care of the.
    Actually I fear that sort of just killing every bird that refuses to leave the area around the airport that there isn't a total solution.

  • USAF (Score:5, Interesting)

    by mcgrew (92797) on Wednesday June 10, 2009 @04:38PM (#28284889) Homepage Journal

    When I was stationed in Dover in the early '70s, a C-5A came in while I was working on the flightline with its windhield broken, a big bloody hole in it. It had hit a pretty large bird, IIRC a big duck, which decapitated the co-pilot. Bird strikes have been aviation's bane since there was such a thing as aviation.

  • Sharks (Score:2, Funny)

    With lasers on their heads.

    Best. Plan. Ever.

  • Cost factor (Score:5, Funny)

    by HikingStick (878216) <z01riemer@hDEGASotmail.com minus painter> on Wednesday June 10, 2009 @04:41PM (#28284919)
    Regardless of how much money they can throw at a technical solution, nothing will be as cost effective as paying a bunch of guys in blaze orange vests to shoot at birds near the airports.

    "What'd ya do today, Jake?"

    "Shot at pigeons."

    "Really? I thought the range was only open on weekends."

    "Not them pigeons. I got me a job with the airport. I'm shootin' real pigeons, plus geese and anything else with wings. I just wish that darn airport were closer to Sesame Street. I've always hated that Big Bird..."
  • Turrets! (Score:5, Funny)

    by P2PDaemon (723609) on Wednesday June 10, 2009 @04:45PM (#28284989)
    C'mon, no one's mentioned automatic turrets above every engine? I would pay money to have a window seat if turrets were installed...
    • by guruevi (827432)

      I wouldn't want a window seat if one of those birds gets through and hits the turret, bending it towards the window.

    • by Chabo (880571)

      Goose is sappin' mah sentry!

    • by Krneki (1192201)
      Even better, offer remote control to passengers for a premium price.
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by HaloZero (610207)
      Yes, but then you include metal rounds as a class of objects that likely will be SUCKED INTO THE ENGINE. If my options for aspirating something are a bird versus a bullet, I think the plane would fair better ingesting a bird. Not to mention the hazard of turning one falling (suckable) objects into many falling (suckable) objects.
  • by anonicon (215837) on Wednesday June 10, 2009 @04:45PM (#28285005)

    Are flocks too small to pick up on the plane's radar? If not, fly around them.

    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by vivek7006 (585218)

      "fly around them"

      Why not fly with them? If you cant beat them, then join them :)

    • by HaloZero (610207)
      Generally, yes, the flocks are difficult to pick up on radar, due to the small cross-section, and generally squishy nature of birds. The speed of an aircraft is also an issue - moving at 600mph (~880 feet per second) - means the flock (given radar / VFR issues) will probably already be upon you even before you have a chance to react. Even if you did have time to react, an Airbus A320 doesn't exactly (safely) turn on a dime.
    • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

      by Phasma Felis (582975)

      Yeah, it turns out meat doesn't show up on radar very well.

      Clearly we need robot birds.

  • Scarecrows (Score:5, Funny)

    by EvilToiletPaper (1226390) on Wednesday June 10, 2009 @04:51PM (#28285081)
    How about two giant aerodynamic scarecrows on each wing?
  • Falcons (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward

    Here in Brazil, they are training falcons to scare birds away from airport zones.

  • by 2obvious4u (871996) on Wednesday June 10, 2009 @04:55PM (#28285139)

    The planes velocity is too fast to move birds out of the flight path of planes. What needs to happen is make the planes capable of hitting a Canadian goose at 400 mph...

  • Maybe we should add a warning signal for the birds. Like a really loud noise.
  • duh (Score:3, Funny)

    by n30na (1525807) on Wednesday June 10, 2009 @05:06PM (#28285279) Journal

    "The best bet right now is understanding bird behavior, although an intriguing old pilots' tale â" that radar can scatter birds â" may carry enough truth to ultimately offer a viable technical solution to a deadly problem. 'We need to find out, is that an urban legend or is there some truth to that?'

    Isn't that what the mythbusters are for? c'mon guys.

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by Locke2005 (849178)
      Not an urban legend; I've personally seen flocks of migrating waterfowl fly over the BMEWS radar screens, and just start circling aimlessly. If their direction sense is water based, I can see why some high power microwave radiation might cause a problem.
  • Why can't aircraft engine manufacturers retrofit engines with a sturdy 2 inch mesh screen over the air intakes of their engines? That would keep birds from being sucked into the intake manifolds.

    • by HaloZero (610207)
      Psh. Your puny mesh screen isn't going to stop the bird; it just means his death-by-CF6 [wikipedia.org] sentence is commuted, only instead to being put through a fine mesh screen [imdb.com].
    • by T Murphy (1054674)
      If the mesh is too fine it will restrict airflow too much, and if its too coarse it will just shred the birds. They do have the giant fan blade that acts as a blender. If the minced bird is too much for the engine to handle then maybe the actual engine intake could be momentarily blocked so the former bird just gets routed around with the air that cools the engine. A sensor on the fan blade should be able to pick up any worrisome impacts to get the timing right.

      I would be more concerned about the exposed
  • I believe this first started to be recognized as a significant hazard after WW II on Pacific island air bases. Gooney birds would nest near runways and impact aircraft. An impact with a B-29 wasn't that big a deal and did not affect the engines. Impact with a much faster jet aircraft was a problem and with fighter planes could easily bring down the aircraft.

    I recall reading about this a long, long time ago. They tried everything they could to discourage the birds from nesting by the runways. Loudspeake

  • How about birds with friggin laser beams on their heads.. or a friggin laser beam on the head of the plane?

  • Planes fly much faster than the birds.
    Planes have far less maneuverability than the birds.
    Radar isn't that good on a couple pounds of flesh, so detection range is limited right now.
    Even if the radar on the planes was improved to easily detect birds, the range would still have effective limits because birds move and change course.
    By the time the birds detect the plane, they don't have much of a chance to avoid it.
    There is a whole lot of sky to cover, the only feasible method is to cover controlled areas
  • by clickety6 (141178) on Wednesday June 10, 2009 @05:42PM (#28285839)

    I quite agree with the FAA here. They should never have let women qualify to become pilots in the first place...

    Oh wait...ah, I see... never mind...

  • Natural selection will take care of it eventually.

    Just keep murdering birds with airplanes until all the ones that don't get out of the way of planes have been removed from the gene pool off.

    Not a real quick fix, you understand, but probably incredibly effective!

    And develop planes that are better suited to simply take a duck in the face at 150 knots. If as a result, the bird strike does no serious damage to the plane, then you can let my previous proposal work.

  • by Locke2005 (849178) on Wednesday June 10, 2009 @06:01PM (#28286153)
    Birds are deathly afraid of snakes... has anyone yet tried Snakes on a Plane?
  • Cats (Score:5, Funny)

    by CopaceticOpus (965603) on Wednesday June 10, 2009 @06:14PM (#28286299)

    Birds hate cats, so simply mount a few dozen cats outside the plane near the engines. Don't forget to mount the cats with their feet pointed down, or the plane will flip when you try to land.

    Chaff rounds packed with bird seed could also work, but the cats should be more cost effective.

  • Life and Risk (Score:5, Insightful)

    by yoshi_mon (172895) on Wednesday June 10, 2009 @06:35PM (#28286509)

    What strikes me most about a subject like this is what I see as a mass denial by many: life is inherently risky.

    At some point there may be a method to keep birds away from aircraft. Or aircraft might operate such a different way that birds are not a threat to them. But that is not the point. Rather so many people seem to think that life should be totally risk free.

  • Shield (Score:3, Funny)

    by sexconker (1179573) on Wednesday June 10, 2009 @07:51PM (#28287245)

    Why not stick a shield in front of the engine?

    No, not a disc, but a grid of thin spikes (parallel to the plane), ahead of the engine.

    Everyone bitches about not being able to dodge the birds because the plane moves straight and can't turn quickly.

    Use that to your advantage. Put a little frame of thin metal poles far enough ahead of the engine that it doesn't block the airflow. If a bird is on a collision course with the engine, it'll hit the spikes and get stuck. Make the spiked long enough to stack several birds. If it breaks, it breaks. You survived a bird attack, and that spiked grid will just fall to earth and hopefully impale some people.

Somebody ought to cross ball point pens with coat hangers so that the pens will multiply instead of disappear.

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