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Israeli Air Force officers search for new bird strike solution

OFFUTT AIR FORCE BASE, Neb. -- Searching for ways to improve their bird strike prevention program, two officers from the Israeli Air Force visited Offutt Air Force Base Dec. 19, to learn about Offutt's Bird Aircraft Strike Hazard program, particularly its use of the MERLIN Aircraft Birdstrike Avoidance Radar System.

The bird radar helps prevent bird strikes, which are incidents where birds and planes collide causing damage to the aircraft, by providing real time bird strike risk information to the supervisor of flying and air traffic control tower through a display of bird activity and strike risk alerts.

Israel, being located between Europe and Africa, sees heavy activity of birds migrating from one continent to another depending on the season. This activity has caused problems for aircraft flying over the small country.

"We have a tiny airspace crowded with a lot of aircraft and a lot of birds," said Israeli Air Force Maj. Oded Ovadia, chief of the IAF BASH program.

This small, crowded area leads to a huge problem of bird strikes for the IAF, he added. On average, the IAF has approximately 200 bird strikes yearly, with less than 5 percent of those strikes causing damage to the aircrafts.

To help prevent bird strikes, Offutt, like air forces around the world, utilizes a robust BASH program. In particular, Offutt has employed and maintained the bird radar since 2009 which has changed the way daily flights and training missions are managed.

"[The bird radar] has changed how we actually fly," said Lt. Col. Alex Bruzzano, chief of safety for the 170th Operations Group, an Air National Guard unit at Offutt. "It allows us to see birds at night. It gives us the ability to keep our aircraft out of harm's way when they are flying at night. It gives us a much better look at when the birds are migrating through the area, so that we are able to maximize the flight hours for the operations group."

The IAF has been exploring options to help prevent bird strikes, and their Offutt tour enabled them to see another possible approach to this problem.

Even though Offutt's climate is very different from Israel, especially during the winter months, Ovadia states, "Pilots are pilots, ATCs are ATCs and birds are birds. We all are doing the same job, we have the same problems and we look for the same solutions."

Currently, the IAF is using weather radars to help track birds, as well as biologists and border collies to help deter the birds away from major bases. However, within the next year or so the IAF hopes to employ a radar system similar to Offutt's.

The bird radar is now in its fourth year of operation and has decreased bird strikes at Offutt by 25 percent. Its success as well as Offutt's BASH program has struck interest in other foreign countries, as well as other U.S. Air Force bases and even the Federal Aviation Administration.