Birds Endanger Aircrafts in Hatzerim Birds Endanger Aircrafts in Hatzerim Birds Endanger Aircrafts in Hatzerim

Dealing with birds has always challenged the IAF Thousands of birds are currently blocking the busy runways of the Hatzerim airbase. Recently, there was an incident in which a bird crashed into a flight school plane

Noa Fenigstein

Every year, thousands of flights that take off from the runways of Hatzerim airbase are forced to share the sky with thousands of birds that arrive en masse at the airbase and pose a significant threat to the pilots and the cadets taking off and landing at the airbase. “The source of this phenomenon is location of two garbage dumps, which attract the thousands of birds to the area, in the vicinity of the airbase”, explains Brigadier General Nir Barkan, Airbase Commander.

As such, a few weeks ago, an incident took place, in which a bird crashed into a plane from the flight school. The instructional plane, of the “Grob G120” model, took off with an IAF Pilot course cadet and her instructor. During their flight, a bird crashed into the plane and breached the windowpane. The aircrew was not injured and safely landed.

The Haterzim airbase, which is close to Beer Sheva, operates a large number of operational jets and helicopters that are routinely part of training exercises and are at the heart of operational activity. In addition are the aircrafts from the flight school, which take off every day. This situation makes the aviation in the area especially busy.

“We were forced to cancel many flights and delay many takeoffs in order to deal with the situation, which has been getting worse in recent years”, says Brigadier General Barkan. “Nonetheless, in the case of operational activity, we are ready to take more risks and we are always on alert”.

Safely Taking off
Brigadier General Barkan knows the phenomenon all too well. 15 years ago, when he was on his way to a mission, with his jet flying 200 knots on the runway, a stork suddenly flew into the engine and created an explosion. Because the jet was still on the runway, the takeoff was canceled and the aircrew managed to stop the aircraft at the end of the runway.

“After that incident, the procedures regarding birds became stricter. Today the IAF invests a lot of resources to reduce the risk”, he explains. “We man the control towers with experienced air traffic controllers and we observe the runway during takeoff and during a landing but the risk is still real and it exists. The country’s authorities have to work together to deal with this issue. Ultimately, the flight school and the operational squadrons have to train and raise their alertness and do so safely”.

Three Killed In Encounters With Birds
Dealing with birds has challenged the IAF since its founding: in 2003 a “Black Hawk” helicopter took off carrying Moshe (Boogy) Yaalon, current Minister of Defense and then-IDF Chief of Staff. During his flight north of Hadera, a bird crashed into the left side of the windowpane of the helicopter and the engines began to shut down. The aircrew understood that it had to land the helicopter as quickly as possible and when they reached the ground they discovered that the engines had not been hit-the bird moved the switch of the fuel tap to “off” mode, which stopped the flow of fuel to the engine.

Sadly, however, some of the encounters in the air have not ended with a safe landing. Since the 1973 Yom Kippur War, three aircrew members have been killed in accidents following a collision of a bird with an aircraft. In October of 1974, the late Major Sefi Levin took off in a “Skyhawk A-4” towards the Golan Heights. When he flew over Kibbutz Hulta, a flock of pelicans took to the air from the fish ponds of Kibbutz and one of the birds hit the jet and caused the canopy to explode. As a result, the it crashed and Major Levin was killed on the spot.

Another serious accident occurred in August of 1995 and claimed the lives of two aircrew members: the late Captain Ronen Lav and the late Captain Yaron Vivante were on a training flight in an F-15 at a low altitude when a flock of storks hit the jet fughter. The F-15 crashed and the two were killed.