Wildlife strikes on the ground and in the air are an ever-looming threat to airfield personnel and can occur at any point, from takeoff to landing, resulting in damage to aircraft windshields, engines, and fuselages. Engine ingestions may result in sudden loss of power or engine failure while windshield strikes have the potential of causing confusion and disorientation in pilots while exacerbating loss of communications and aircraft control problems.
The National Business Aviation Association (NBAA) reports show a 97.5% of wildlife strikes involve birds. Terrestrial mammals account for 2.1% of strikes, followed by bats and reptiles at 0.3% and 0.1% respectively.
The FAA wildlife strike database reports that approximately 63% of bird strikes happen during the day, 8% at the hours of dawn and dusk, and 29% at night. The landing phases of flight are when 61% of bird strikes occur, and the take-off run and climb phases are when 36% of strikes occur, with the remaining 3% occurring when aircraft is en-route.
Although these strikes can be just as dangerous, the good part is ,wildlife strikes at airports can be prevented.
How do the airports then, accomplish this?
Bangers and Screamers : Airports around the world, and particularly in the US, use pyrotechnics daily to drive the birds away. Bangers and screamers make a loud explosion, others make a whistling sound, while some emit sparks. Different birds respond to different things and some even take flight at the mere sight of the wildlife vehicle.
The flash, bang kind of stuff immediately gets their attention and pushes them away says Michael Begier, national co-ordinator of the airport wildlife hazards programme at the US Department of Agriculture.
Bird distress signals are yet another effective way of repelling species that cause these problems- according to David Randell- the director of Scarecrow, which provides systems to 20-30 British airports. Speakers mounted on a car emit the sounds of up to 20 different species, operated by a driver using a tablet-style device.
Eliminating vegetation removes a food source for birds and deters them from settling.
Grasshoppers, gnats and armyworms attract rodents which in turn attract raptors.
The lights on aircraft could be used to increase their visibility to birds. The idea is to manipulate the characteristics of the light by varying the pulse rates and wavelengths in the electromagnetic spectrum and tune these changes to specific bird species. The lights would provide an earlier warning so the birds can detect and avoid the aircraft. Some of these changes to the light might be imperceptible to humans.
The Dutch air force is using a bird detecting radar that could eventually be adopted by civil aircraft
We’ve known since WWII that radar can see birds, when they were coming across the Channel and they figured it was birds and not German bombers says Begier.
Collisions of landing and departing aircraft and animals on the runway are increasing and are not just limited to rural airports.
From 1988 to 2018, wildlife strikes killed more than 280 people and destroyed more than 260 aircraft globally. The annual cost of wildlife strikes is estimated at $150 million to $500 million in the United States and around the world.
Reportedly, a promising new research by the FAA, suggests UV lights mounted on helicopters and planes could possibly drive birds away from aircraft and danger.
The technology inverts the customary approach of pilots avoiding or maneuvering around birds and rather, focusses on alerting the birds better so that they themselves move out of the paths of oncoming airplanes and helicopters.
Birds have tetrachromatic color sensitivity, which means they can see red, green, blue and ultraviolet colors. Dan Dellmyer, who is an engineer in the FAA’s Software and Systems Branch, experimented with replacing the landing lights found on most general aviation aircraft landing gear with a pulsing ultraviolet LED light that birds can detect.
The FAA tested the UV sensor on a Air Tractor 802 owned by Rodney Shelley- owner of and pilot for his crop-dusting company Whirlwind Aviation in Fisher, Ark. The testing saw the plane fly for roughly 80 hours over the course of several weeks subjected to various scenarios, such as takeoffs and landings with the UV light on and off, diving, and hard banking.
The Air Tractor 802 used for LED testing | FAA
With the lights on, I could circle the field … the ducks would take off and leave me alone. They wouldn’t stay in the field with me like they normally do. They would turn and go the opposite way immediately. It was pretty interesting.
Rodney Shelley and his Air Tractor 802 | FAA
He also noticed that when the UV LED lights were turned off, the birds returned quickly.
According to Dellmyer, the plane with the UV LED lights on were spotted from as far as 166 yards away, compared to 108 yards away without the lights on- giving the fowl plenty of time to roll out of harm’s way. He also believes that the UV LED light “is the better technology now.” and additional benefits include a simple and inexpensive installation process, and easy-to-do maintenance.
If the birds see that light, they will move away. I believe it actually does work.
This potentially game-changing technology is touted to significantly reduce the chances of birds striking general aviation aircraft.