Scientists channel bird brains to prevent aircraft collisions

To prevent collisions between birds and airplanes, scientists studied the visual systems of the interfering animals.

As seen during 2009's "Miracle on the Hudson," aircrafts, even the large commercial variety, are no match for the forces of wildlife. During that year's fateful US Airways flight, a bird strike killed both of the plane's engines shortly after takeoff, forcing the jet's pilot to make an emergency landing in the Hudson River.

Unfortunately, the 2009 bird strike wasn't simply a chance occurrence. Bird-airplane collisions are a common and significant threat to both civil and military aviation all over the world. And in addition to safety concerns, such strikes also result in major economic losses in the United States alone, costs are estimated to be as high as $614 million per year.

To combat this sometimes fatal threat, researchers have resorted to thinking like the birds themselves. In a recent study conducted by the United States Department of Agriculture, Indiana State University and Purdue University, scientists used their knowledge of birds' visual systems to develop methods of keeping the animals away.

By applying this information, the team was able to recognize the importance of lighting as a factor in preventing bird-aircraft collisions.

During their experiments, researchers focused on the visual systems of Canada geese, a species responsible for many airplane-damaging strikes. In a series of simulations with model planes, the group found that the geese reacted the fastest to an approaching aircraft with alternating pulsing lights and slower to aircrafts that weren't lit.

In response, the group recommended mounting lights on airplanes that emit ultraviolet light, a part of the electromagnetic spectrum not visible to humans but recognizable to the birds.

The full results of the study can be found in last week's issue of the Journal of Applied Ecology.

[via Ars Technica, LiveScience]

Image: Mike Licht/Flickr, David Watts/Flickr

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