Using Prairie Grass to Prevent Bird Strikes

Filed under Features

Conservationists are sure to give the thumbs-up to a new plan being implemented by Dayton International Airport in Montgomery County, Ohio, to plant prairie grass at airports in an effort to prevent birds colliding with airplanes. The reasoning behind the strategy is that large birds, such as geese, which can cause significant damage in a bird strike, tend to steer clear of tall grasses which may conceal predators, so planting prairie grasses in strategic places, such as takeoff and landing paths may keep the birds away from these areas.

Similar measures have met with some success at Dresden International Airport in Saxony, Germany, where grass has been left to grow long for most of the year. As they are unable to detect their prey in the longer grass, raptors no longer see the area as viable hunting grounds. Records reveal that there has been a notable and continuous decline in the number of bird species involved in bird strikes at Dresden International Airport.

In an effort to minimize noise pollution and for safety reasons, airports generally have large areas of unused land around their runways. Add to this the fact that airports are most often placed on the outskirts of urban centers, and it’s easy to see why they are attractive to birds, many of which may have been displaced by urban encroachment. Airport management teams around the world continue to investigate the best ways to prevent birds and airplanes colliding. Deterrent measures include recorded predator calls, sonic cannons or similar noise generating equipment to scare birds off, as well as trained falcons and dogs to take on the role of predator. Habitat modifying methods include using insecticides to kill off food sources that attract insect-eating birds (with obvious risks to the wellbeing of the birds), covering nearby ponds and wetlands with nets to discourage waterfowl, removing shrubs and trees that may provide nesting sites, and removing seed-bearing plants.

The Dayton International Airport plans to plant prairie grasses on up to 300 acres of its 2,200 acres of open space by the end of the year. Additional advantages of the prairie grass is its capacity for absorbing carbon dioxide, its ability to prevent water runoff and the fact that it only needs to be mowed every three years. Hopefully, these measures will achieve the desired results in preventing bird strikes.

Fascinating Tales at Carolinas Aviation Museum

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Dubbed the “Miracle on the Hudson” and described as “the most successful ditching in aviation history”* the story of US Airways Flight 1549 is legendary. On January 15, 2009, the Airbus A320-200 had 150 passengers and five crew members on board when it took off at 3:27 pm EST from New York City’s LaGuardia Airport en route to Charlotte/Douglas International Airport as a stopover before heading to Seattle-Tacoma International Airport. Just three minutes into the flight, on its initial climb out, the plane struck a flock of Canada Geese just northeast of the George Washington Bridge, resulting in a sudden loss of engine power. Thanks to the quick thinking of the crew, led by Capt. Chesley B. “Sully” Sullenberger, the airplane was ‘landed’ intact on the icy Hudson River with all on board being rescued by nearby watercraft and ferries as the Airbus slowly sank. Visitors to the Carolinas Aviation Museum can view the complete original airplane, as well as viewing videos detailing the rescue of passengers, the recovery of the Airbus from the Hudson River and its transportation from New York to the museum at the Charlotte/Douglas International Airport in Charlotte, North Carolina.

The Carolinas Aviation Museum focuses on the stories behind the various aircraft on display, an example being the CH46-D Sea Knight helicopter which was used in both Vietnam and the Gulf War. One of the remarkable accounts presented by the museum is of Medal of Honor recipient Marine Corps Aviation Private First Class Raymond Michael Clausen Jr. who, during the Vietnam War, ran across a mine field six times to rescue twenty Marines who had been injured crossing that very field. Clausen carried some, while those who could walk followed him, assuming that he knew where the mines were planted and how to avoid them. He didn’t, but was willing to risk his life to save the lives of others.

Other military aircraft on display include a Douglas A4 Skyhawk, Grumman F-14D Tomcat, Vought A-7 Corsair II, PT-17 Stearman, P-80, D-558-1 Skystreak, McDonnell Douglas F-4 Phantom II, AV-8 Harrier II and EC-120E Hercules. In the Civil Aircraft category, visitors will be able to view the historic Wright Flyer, the unique Ercoupe, the Savoia Marchetti single-engine biplane flying boat, and the most popular small single engine aircraft ever made – the Cessna 150.

The mission of the Carolinas Aviation Museum is to tell the stories of aviation pioneers, thereby inspiring future generations to write aviation’s next chapter. Visitors to the museum will no doubt agree that this is a mission accomplished.

*quote attributed to Kitty Higgins of the NTSB

Electric Taxi Service for Airplanes

Filed under Features

In the ongoing quest to cut costs, as well as reduce air and noise pollution, the aviation industry has been looking at using electric-powered vehicles to tow airplanes to a holding area at the start of the runway in preparation for takeoff. During this process, the airplane’s engines would be off, thereby reducing pollution, and cutting fuel and maintenance costs. In Frankfurt, Lufthansa is currently testing a vehicle dubbed the “TaxiBot”, an electric-powered tow truck developed by Israel Aerospace Industries, which fits under the nose wheel of an airplane and is controlled by the pilot in the cockpit just as he would if taxiing the plane. Once the airplane is positioned near the runway, the pilot starts the engines and prepares for takeoff, while the driver in the TaxiBot drives it back to the terminal for its next pickup.

The driver facilitates the coupling with the plane by sliding the TaxiBot under it and raising the nose wheel off the ground. After that the pilot and the TaxiBot’s navigation system take over to guide the airplane to the runway. Because the TaxiBot’s navigation system is familiar with the layout of the airport, it will automatically slow down when there is a sharp curve which is likely to reduce wear on the airplane’s brakes. Also, because number of hours of use are the basis for engine overhauls, airlines will save money on maintenance. Moreover, with airplanes not starting their engines at the terminal, the very real problem of litter being sucked into engines at this point will be minimized.

Director of marketing in the engineering unit of Lufthansa, Gerhard Baumgarten, notes that using a TaxiBot to tow a Boeing 737, for example, to the runway can save up to 35 gallons of jet fuel costing more than $100, while the savings on an Airbus A380 could be up to 130 gallons of fuel costing nearly $400.

A partnership between American conglomerate company Honeywell International and French aerospace company Safran is working on their EGTS – Electric Taxiing System – which reportedly has Airbus and Air France as their supporters. The EGTS was demonstrated at the Paris Air Show last summer, reportedly receiving a positive response. Using electric motors mounted on the airplane’s main landing-gear wheels, the EGTS backs the plane away from the boarding gates, allowing the pilot to use the plane’s tiller to steer it to the end of a runway. Make use of the EGTS should result in a fuel saving of up to 4 percent, according to the manufacturers.

While developers focus on the economic and environmental advantages of towing vs taxiing at airports, passengers will no doubt be pleased that listening to the roar of the airplane’s engines while still on the ground may soon be a thing of the past.

Dangerous Pastime Compromises Aviation Safety

Filed under Features

In February 2012, the act of aiming the beam of a laser pointer at an aircraft, or at the flight path of an aircraft, in the United States, became a criminal offense when President Barack Obama signed the FAA Modernization and Reform Act of 2012 into law. A recent FAA report reveals that the law has not had the desired effect in curbing this dangerous pastime, as in January this year there were 346 reported cases, compared with the 283 for the entire year of 2005. This is despite the fact that the FAA has endeavored to bring this problem to the attention of the public, including making provision on the FAA website for anyone to report a laser incident, anonymously if preferred.

Two incidents at LaGuardia airport on the night of October 15 are reportedly being investigated by the FBI’s Joint Terrorism Task Force, highlighting just how seriously authorities are taking this issue. These two incidents bring the total number of laser incidents at LaGuardia Airport this year alone to 54, with three of those occurring in October, and while no deaths have resulted from these incidents, a number of pilots have reportedly suffered injuries to their eyes. Thanks to the skill and dedication of the pilots, they have been able to land their aircraft safely, but the distraction of a laser pointer, which can and does cause temporary blindness, poses a significant threat to aviation safety.

There are many legitimate uses for lasers and other bright lights being shone into the sky, and it is generally agreed among safety experts that a pilot being distracted during cruising does not pose an undue risk. The real danger is during the phases of flight that are classed as ‘critical’ – takeoff, approach, landing and emergency measures. Low-powered lasers are readily available to the public, and some of the effects these could have on a pilot’s vision include what has been described as: ‘distraction and startle’ where the pilot is startled by the bright light and temporarily distracted, particularly as he or she does not know if another brighter light may follow; ‘glare and disruption’ is caused by an increase in the brightness of the light dispersed across the airplane’s window and interferes with vision; and ‘flash blindness’ where night vision is temporarily lost and afterimages of the light remain in the pilot’s vision for a time. Anyone who has had their photograph taken with a flash in the dark will be familiar with this.

While the type of lasers that could do permanent damage to a pilot’s vision are not available to the public, the run-of-the-mill laser being used by pranksters puts unnecessary pressure on pilots who carry the responsibility for the safety of their crew and passengers. Hopefully, the very real possibility of being tracked down by authorities and landing up in jail will be some sort of deterrent to people engaged in this dangerous activity.

Ongoing Research Addresses Bird-Strike Problems

Filed under Features

The recent bird-strike that caused American Airlines Flight 289 to turn back to Chicago’s O’Hare Airport has highlighted the ongoing issue of wildlife and aviation safety. Soon after taking off for Shanghai the crew reported experiencing a problem which was later described as a bird strike. Fortunately, the airplane landed safely and none of the 236 passengers and 15 crew members on board was injured. The fact that this particular incident was widely publicized may lead readers to think that this was a rare occurrence, but an investigation by NBC5 discovered that there have been more than 430 incidents involving birds and other wildlife colliding with airplanes at O’Hare and Midway International Airports since the beginning of last year, with 103 of those occurring in the first six months of 2013.

The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) maintains a database of bird and wildlife strikes nationwide, and the data reveals than an average of 6,000 strikes are reported annually. However, reporting is not mandatory and it is estimated that less than forty percent of incidents are reported. Nonetheless, with the increase in air traffic and development encroaching on the habitats of wildlife, there has been a fivefold escalation in incidents in the last two decades. The majority of bird strikes do not cause damage or injuries, with others causing minor damage to airplanes, but no injuries to passengers and crews. But then there are those that result in significant, and expensive, damage to planes and injury or loss of life to those on board.

Due to their size and their behavioral patterns, geese are of particular concern to scientists and researchers engaged in the business of preventing bird strikes, as a collision with a flock of geese is very likely to be disastrous. Referred to as ‘Dr Goose’ – a reference to his expertise in the behavior of Canada geese, Professor of Biology (and pilot) Dr Philip Whitford is a certified wildlife hazard management consultant for the FAA and the developer of the GooseBuster. This sonic repellent device uses recordings of alert and alarm calls of Canada geese to repel the birds from the targeted area and discourage them from returning. Other means of repelling birds include the use of 3D balloons imitating the eyes of predators, or animated replicas of predators such as coyotes and eagle drones.

Repelling birds and other wildlife from airports is a daunting, but essential, task. As each area has its unique challenges, there is no one-type-fits-all solution, but researchers continue to devise ways to improve aviation safety by preventing bird-strikes.

Air Traffic and Noise Pollution on the Rise

Filed under Features

The fact that reduced engine noise in new aircraft is viewed as a selling point, highlights the problem of noise pollution in highly populated areas. As air travel becomes more accessible to more people, and the number of airplanes landing at and taking off from airports continues to increase, noise pollution caused by this upsurge in air traffic is causing a very real problem in many areas.

London’s Heathrow Airport is a case in point, and as far back as 1996 authorities set up a ‘Day Noise Insulation Scheme’ to assist homeowners living within the boundaries of the airport’s flight paths. The scheme subsidizes the installation of secondary glazing, ventilation and loft insulation in an effort to subdue the noise level in people’s homes. The Heathrow Noise Action program even offers eligible homeowners assistance to relocate if they wish to do so.

A recent report noted that the plan to build a third runway at Heathrow is likely to increase passenger numbers at the airport to 130 million a year. This proposal has been put forward in one form or another in recent years, and has been rejected by residents and the mayor of London, Boris Johnson. He is in favor of building new airports away from highly populated areas, or extending Stansted airport, rather than opening up ways for even more aircraft to land at Heathrow. Management at Heathrow have noted that the expansion at the airport will reduce the number of people affected by the noise, partly because of the demolition of houses that would need to take place to build the runway and extra terminal. It has been reported that the three options being considered will call for the demolition of between 850 and 2,700 properties and that homeowners can expect compensation greater than market value.

Across the Atlantic, New Yorkers in the borough of Queens are also up in arms about airplane noise as the FAA has approved increased use of the so-called ‘Flushing Climb’ from La Guardia Airport in an effort to ease congested airspace. Residents are complaining that they were never consulted and that the noise has become unbearable. The FAA notes that as more airlines comply with precision GPS navigation, technology that will reduce emissions and fuel consumption, the problem of noise pollution will decrease as aircraft ‘glide’ in to land, rather than approaching with engines in full power. But people living with the noise every day are unhappy about waiting for airlines to catch up with technology and a number of citizen groups have arisen to object. It remains to be seen what solutions will be offered by airlines, airport authorities and national authorities in the issue of airplane noise pollution.

Wildlife Hazards and Aviation Safety

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With recent FAA data revealing that aircraft bird strikes in the United States continue to pose a significant threat to both civil and military aviation, the services of the Bird Strike Committee USA are more necessary than ever before. Formed in 1991, the Bird Strike Committee USA is a volunteer organization with members from the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), US Department of Defense, and US Department of Agriculture, as well as representatives from the aviation industry, airlines and airports. Among the organization’s goals is to facilitate the collection and analysis of accurate data regarding wildlife strikes; facilitate the exchange of information between the various aviation industry sectors; promote the ongoing development of new technologies for dealing with wildlife hazards; advocate high standards of conduct and professionalism in wildlife management programs, including the appropriate training for bird control personnel; and liaise with similar organizations based in other countries.

Together with Bird Strike Committee Canada, the Bird Strike Committee USA meets once a year to discuss matters pertaining to their stated goals. Taking place over a period of three-and-a-half days, the conference program includes field training and classroom sessions covering wildlife control at airports in both civil and military aviation. Also on the agenda is the presentation of technical papers, with exhibits and demonstrations by suppliers of wildlife control equipment, and a field trip at the host airport to observe firsthand the current management programs and the specific habitat issues faced by authorities responsible for aviation safety. The last meeting of the Bird Strike Committees was held in September 2011 in Niagara Falls, Ontario, Canada, and the 2012 event is scheduled to take place in Memphis, Tennessee, USA, on 13-16 August.

Among the topics covered at the annual meeting are wildlife strike reporting; bird control techniques; new technologies for reducing wildlife hazards; wildlife management training at airports; environmental issues; aircraft engine performance and standard specifically related to wildlife hazards; migratory patterns of birds; and remote sensing to detect, and predict, bird movements and numbers. Attendance at the annual meetings is open to anyone interested in environmental management at airports and the reduction of wildlife hazards in aviation.

Bearing in mind that reporting wildlife strikes in civil aviation is not compulsory, and many incidents likely go unreported, statistics reveal that about 10,000 bird and other wildlife strikes were reported in 2011 for civil aviation in the USA, and about 4,500 were reported by the USAF. Thanks to quick-thinking pilots and sound equipment, hundreds of potential disasters have been averted -the historic landing of Flight 1549 on the Hudson River in January 2009 being an example that readily comes to mind. Nonetheless, more than 221 people have been killed as a direct result of bird strikes worldwide since 1988, highlighting the need to continue to seek solutions to the ongoing problem of bird air strikes.

Rockford Airfest 2012

Filed under Events

Chicago Rockford International Airport is the venue for the rock Airfest 2012 on June 2-3. Promoted as a “Celebration of Freedom” this family-fun event will be featuring the spectacular US Air Force Thunderbirds. Other highlights on the program include the US Army Golden Knights Black Team, Black Diamond Jet Team, KC-135 Stratotanker, Nalls Aviation Sea Harrier, Aerostars, and Bill Stein AirShows.

Date: 2-3 June 2012
Venue: Chicago Rockford International Airport
City: Chicago
State: Illinois
Country: United States

Airplanes Add to Snowfall at Airports

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Researching and studying the holes that are made by aircraft in clouds, referred to as canals or hole-punches, has revealed very interesting facts for researchers. A team of researchers concentrated on six airports in particular, including the very busy Seattle-Tacoma International Airport. By looking at the effect that aircraft had on the clouds, it was found that their disruption of the clouds could lead to either snowfall or rain within a sixty mile radius around the airport. The unusual holes can therefore set off a reaction to create additional rain or snow.

Leader of the study and the author of related research paper, Andrew Heymsfield (National Center for Atmospheric Research – Bolder, Colorado), commented that this unintended weather phenomenon occurred approximately five percent of the time these hole-punches were created and this increases in winter from between ten to fifteen percent. To understand how this reaction happens, it is important to remember that airplanes take-off into the wind. Clouds generally have an average temperature of between zero to minus forty degrees Celsius. At these temperatures clouds are filled with cooled water droplets that are held in suspension. An aircraft then moving through these clouds is able to seed ice crystals, which in turn creates snowfall.

Seeding these droplets is a reaction created when the jet engines of the airplane force the clouds to expand, and with the air rushing either through the propellers or underneath the aircrafts wings, the air is cooled even further, which then cools the suspended droplets, making them heavier and therefore creating either rain or snow. With propeller aircraft the hole-punching formation occurs at about minus ten degrees, and at minus twenty degrees Celsius for jet planes. Aircraft that are fitted with propellers are six percent more likely to seed clouds, while jet aircraft only two to three percent.

Heymsfield went on to say that even though they now know and understand how cloud seeding works, and there is a possibility of altering rainfall and snowfall, airplanes trigger this effect purely accidentally and it does not occur each time.

Western Antique Aeroplane & Automobile Museum

Located in a picturesque setting alongside the Hood River at the Oregon airport, the Western Antique Aeroplane & Automobile Museum (WAAAM) is home to an impressive collection, including more than 80 aircraft and over 130 automobiles, motorcycles, tractors and military jeeps, the majority of which are still in good working order. With over two acres of indoor hangar displays, a visit to the WAAAM is not dependent on the weather and is a great venue for a family outing. Moreover, on the second Saturday of every month the displays get mobile, with planes taking off and landing, and antique vehicles cranking up to go.

The restoration and upkeep of the Museum’s airplanes and vehicles is carried out by gifted and dedicated volunteers who make sure that not only are the engines in working order but they are kept in peak condition. Instead of gathering dust in a showroom, the majority of the aircraft, whether purpose built for recreation, work or military use, are regularly taken out and put through their paces in the sky.

The Museum’s ‘Crown Jewel’ is the Curtiss JN-4D. Commonly referred to as ‘Jenny’, the Curtiss JN-4D was the military training aircraft of choice during WWI and was used by both England and the United States. Following the war, the Curtiss Airplane Company refurbished the military airplanes for civilian use, where they became popular as barnstorming airplanes – travelling from town to town to entertain the locals with acrobatics and wing-walking. Other antique airplanes at the museum include a 1928 Boeing 40C, a 1929 Curtiss Robin, and a replica of a 1912 Curtiss Pusher.

The antique military vehicles at the WAAAM are often used in parades, while the military aircraft perform ceremonial flybys on special occasions. Visitors to the center on the second Saturday of the month may get the opportunity to take a drive in one of the military vehicles, with the driver ready to share a war story or two with his passengers. Among the antique military vehicles are the standard all-purpose Willys Jeep and Ford GPW, along with the two-wheeled Bantam trailer.

The pride of the antique civilian automobiles is undoubtedly the 1927 Ford Model T which was one of the last Model T’s to be built before production of this distinctive little car came to an end in May 1927. Other vehicles on display include a 1933 Harley Davidson and a 1925 Ford Model T 1-Ton Truck, which has quite a story attached to its discovery and subsequent restoration.

So pick a date, plan an outing and visit the Western Antique Aeroplane & Automobile Museum (WAAAM) Website for more information.

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