Air Force fights aircraft bird strikes with falcons

Falcons have a history of keeping other birds out of a given area

air force falcon
The US Air Force said this week that it was contracting to use a pair of falcons to protect the skies over the McConnell Air Force base from dangerous bird strikes. The birds will apparently replace a dog that has been used to chase birds from around the facility.

There were 4,471 aircarft-bird strikes Air Force-wide costing the service $13,061,140. in 2011, according to a release issued by the Air Force.  "One strike, if the bird hits the wrong spot on a plane, could do $50 to $100 thousand worth of damage," said Maj. Jeremy Fischman, flight safety chief at McConnell. "It is really easy for the program to pay for itself by preventing one bad bird strike."

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According to the Air Force, Elaina, a Barbary falcon, and Jack, a Peregrine-Prairie hybrid, will provide smaller birds the motivation to move along.

According to the Air Force there are several other ways that bird and wildlife populations are humanely controlled around the airfield including fencing certain areas off, mowing the grass near the flight line to a prescribed height and draining puddles. Cannon blasts and noise makers can also be used to disperse unwanted flocks.

The idea of using falcons to keep birds away is unusual but not unheard of.  Until last year John F. Kennedy International Airport had used falcons for 15 years to disperse smaller birds that tended to flock near its runways. 

Form a Wall Street Journal article on the birds forced retirement: "The awkwardness of its location led JFK to become the first and only commercial airport in the U.S. ever to try falconry. The idea was to teach the local birds nesting in the sanctuary that a flight over the airport fence might turn them into lunch for a bird of prey.  Falconers became fixtures at JFK, roaming it with lots of publicity. That was before the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey's latest budget crisis. Now JFK's operator has cut short by a year its $3 million, five-year contract with Falcon Environmental Services Inc., of Ontario. It's negotiating (without bids) to award the job of banishing birds to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. The USDA doesn't employ falcons. Its main technique for getting rid of birds from airports isn't shooing but shooting-with shotguns."

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The Air Force too has at least experimented with using falcons to protect aircraft.  In 2010 we wrote about a US airbase in Germany, that used specially trained falcons to help eliminate at least some of the feathered threat to the F-16 Fighting Falcons and other aircraft.

The bird strike threat obviously isn't relegated to the military as there are a number of techniques from radio-controlled models to cannons deployed at just about every major air hub in the US and the world. 

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