How Does the IAF Avoid Encountering Birds In The Sky? How Does the IAF Avoid Encountering Birds In The Sky?

“We learned how to fly alongside birds” How Does the IAF Avoid Encountering Birds In The Sky?

Meetings between birds and planes often lead to irreparable damage Since humans began flying in planes, they have shared airspace with birds. Often, meetings between the two end with serious accidents and even disasters. At the last ornithological conference, IAF Site caught a glimpse of this kind of meeting: “52 seconds after the birds hit, we were already on the ground”

Nadav Berger

Since the dawn of time, birds have dominated the airspace but around 111 years ago, manned aircrafts began to penetrate this space. Meetings between birds and planes often lead to irreparable damage and so humans must learn to live in peace with birds. “Over the years, the IAF has encountered problems in co-existence between our planes and the birds that share the airspace with us”, said Major General (res.) Herzel Bodinger, the 12th Commander of the IAF and Chair of the Fisher Institute for Air and Space Strategy, during the ornithological conference “The Legacy of the IAF and Other Birds”.

The conference was held in partnership with the Fisher Institute, Tel Aviv University, The Society for Environmental Protection, the Hoopoe Foundation, and the IAF. During the conference there were lectures and stories from the world of bird-watching, aviation and the connection between the two. The goal was to bridge the IAF and the world of bird-watching as they share a common airspace and any encounter between them may lead to loss of human life, aircraft and birds.

As the number of IAF aircrafts increased and increased their speed, the need arose to investigate how the aircrafts share the sky with birds. “We learned how to fly alongside birds and after research and tracking stations were founded and led the IDF to changes its practices, the number of accidents between birds and IAF planes almost completely disappeared”, said Major General (res.) Bodinger.Today, things are quite different. “Following the studies that have been conducted over the years, we have introduced a lot of procedures during the planning stages and during flights”, said Brigadier General David Barki, head of the Human Resources Department. “Nowadays, a pilot is alerted to the migration of birds in real time from an air traffic controller and if it weren’t for the research carried out we would continue to lose both pilots and planes”.

“We left the plane while it was still burning”

On October 6th, 2011, a two-seat F-15 fighter jet took off from the “Tip of The Spear” squadron in Tel Nof airbase for the purposes of an air-to-air combat exercise. A few moments after it took off, the two aircrew members identified a large flock of birds above them.

“We didn’t know about the existence of the flock and we didn’t receive word about it until the moment we saw it”, says Major Rotem, the pilot. With the detection of the flock, the crew took a left, without knowing that nearby there were several other birds from the same flock of pelican. “Despite our attempt to avoid hitting them, we passed through the flock of birds and our plane was hit by different birds”.

Fifty-two seconds transpired from the moment the plane was hit until it landed on the ground. “We heard a few faint hits, we realized the left engine had stopped and that the back of the plane had caught fire”, says Major Rotem. Later it turned out that one of the pelicans had penetrated the left engine, while another pelican had led to a rupture in the fuel pipe. “We went back to land on the runway we took off from and ultimately, we luckily left the plane while it was still burning”. Despite the heavy damage, the plane returned to the air after being repaired.