Report Finds Reason Birds Strike Airplanes
Birds strike a present and significant threat to aircraft safety. They can cause severe damage to the engine of a plane, and have resulted in numerous fatal and non-fatal accidents. New research has shown that birds react poorly to objects moving over 60 mph, a finding scientists say explains the animals’ collisions with airplanes.
Scientists at the Agriculture Department, Indiana State University and Purdue University used a video playback of approaching vehicles to test how brown-headed cowbirds respond to vehicles moving at different speeds. They experimented with three directions and eight speeds:
- 37 mph
- 56 mph
- 74 mph
- 93 mph
- 111 mph
- 130 mph
- 148 mph
- 222 mph
The study’s key finding: The birds did not try to fly away from the vehicle in enough time to avoid a crash – 0.8 seconds – when the vehicle traveled faster than 74 mph. This conclusion resembled one found separately in a study of turkey vultures, which had erratic avoidance responses to vehicles traveling faster than 50 mph.
The study also discovered:
- The cowbirds generally could avoid collisions with slow vehicles.
- Cowbirds appeared to use distance from vehicle, not speed, to judge when to fly away. They consistently took flight when the vehicle was 100 feet away.
- Vehicle size had no effect on escape response.
Vehicles traveling on highways often travel faster than 74 mph, while airplanes fly about 150 mph during takeoff and landing. The new research shows birds cannot avoid vehicles moving so fast and may explain the following:
- Airliners reported over 11,000 collisions with birds in 2013.
- Birds crashing into airplanes have killed at least 255 people since 1988.
- Also, in a famous nonfatal crash, a flock of Canada geese struck US Airways Flight 1549 on January 15, 2009, forcing the damaged aircraft to land in the Hudson River between New York and New Jersey
- Vehicle-bird collisions on U.S. roads kill at least 89 million birds a year.
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