Monday, June 21st, 2010

Plastics Fly in to Control Bird Aircraft Strike Hazard

Among the many problems faced by today’s pilots, Bird Aircraft Strike Hazard (known among aviation professionals as BASH) ranks high on the list. The issue received a heavy dose of attention after the “Miracle on the Hudson” emergency jetliner landing in January 2009.  

The Federal Aviation Administration estimates the problem costs U.S. aviation 600 million dollars annually and has resulted in more than 200 worldwide deaths since 1988. In the United Kingdom, the Central Science Laboratory estimates that, worldwide, the cost of birdstrikes to airlines is around US $1.2 billion annually. Reported cases of bird-strike quadrupled in the U.S. between 1990 and 2008, according to the FAA.

A June 16th Wall Street Journal article covered the bird strike problem, and the continued challenges – well, actually failures - of control methods ranging from scarecrows and air horns to loud digital recordings of  birds’ danger calls played over speakers. 

Centering on newer, more advanced solutions, the article profiles robotic birds of prey that are dispatched by radio control to keep real flocks of  birds clear of airport runways. Like so many model aircraft enjoyed by hobbyists, plastics-intensive construction (usually nylon, fiberglass, polystyrene or PVC) factors heavily given that plastics’ lightweight characteristics and strength make an ideal fit for these applications. 

Bird Raptor Internacional SL, a company based in Spain,  is currently contracted to protect several South American airports with its Kevlar (a polymer five times stronger than steel) and foam robot. The remotely piloted Falco flies thanks to a retractable propeller in its nose and soars menacingly to scare off feathered pests. GreenX, a newer company based in the Netherlands, currently offers robotic bald eagles, falcons and hawks with flapping wings — an advantage, the company claims, because flapping wings inspire more terror in potential prey.  

There’s fantastic innovation taking place in addressing society’s problems –  and once again, plastics provide a crucial element of making the product a reality. That’s good news, since not every flier can count on a Chesley Sullenberger at the helm.

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