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These Air Force Falcons Don’t Play Football – They Save Lives

Written by on Monday, September 10th, 2012

There’s one aerial foe that has been plaguing the USAF for centuries, something more nefarious than missiles, flak guns, and other ground-to-air weapons. Birds. Yep, birds. Our feathery friends casually fly overhead without a care in the world, but they can spell serious trouble for pilots and their multi-million-dollar aircraft.

Many Americans are already well aware of the fact that US Airways Flight 1549 went into the Hudson River because of a close encounter with the bird kind. You think that’s bad? That collision was just in the first few minutes of flight. Imagine what a flock of birds would do to an engine in a 500 mph collision.

Helicopter Bird Strike

Image source: Cellar.org

Just to put this bird problem into perspective, there were 4,471 documented aircraft-bird strikes in 2011 alone, amounting to $13 million bucks in damages. Maj. Jeremy Fischman, a flight safety chief at McConnell Air Force Base, explained, “One strike, if the bird hits the wrong spot on a plane, could do $50 to $100,000 worth of damage.” Keep in mind that a chunk of that repair bill comes out of your pay check, my friend.

The US Air Force is prepared to fight fire with fire – that is, fight birds with birds. Sidewinder missiles and GAU-12 Equalizer 25 mm cannons may not be enough to keep pigeons and geese off of US airports, but Elaina, a Barbary falcon, and Jack, a Peregrine-Prairie hybrid, might do the trick.

Barbary Falcon

Image source: Pbase.com

These Air Force falcons might seem a little bit low-tech for the Air Force. After all, it wouldn’t be out of character for them to develop a several-million-dollar bird missile. This strategy has the advantage of being fairly cheap, easy to maintain, and humane. Introducing more predators to the environment might seem cruel, but it’s a lot better than destroying bird nests or shooting them out of the sky – techniques that have both been tried at other airports.

In fact, Germany made headlines with the same stunt back in 2010 when they used a falcon to scare off crows that kept striking their fleet of F-16 Fighting Falcons. It’s a bit poetic, isn’t it? Falcons protecting falcons. It has a similar profound meaning here in the States where the Air Force Falcons represent the USAF on the football field.

Birds Hit Airplane

Image source: Personal.psu.edu

We’re already accustomed to dogs who help soldiers track down IEDs, so could falcons be the best new pet for the USAF? It’s quite possible – these fierce-looking falcons may not be as cuddly as a tail-wagging German shepherd, but Maj. Fischman explained, “It is really easy for the program to pay for itself by preventing one bad bird strike.”

Now, if only we could train bald eagles to do the same thing. Bald eagles at every major US air base — that would truly be a sight, wouldn’t it?

Bald Eagle

Image source: Thelife-animal.blogspot.com

If you want advice about the world of military aviation, there’s no better people to turn to than men and women who have sat in the cockpit and flown some of the world’s most advanced aircraft. With over 50 current and ex-warfighters on call, Strike Fighter Consulting Inc. can give you access to up-to-date, first-hand technical and tactical expertise.

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