Migration watch saves Israeli jets from bird strike

Wed Dec 1, 2010 1:06pm EST
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By Thomas Krumenacker

TEL AVIV (Reuters Life!) - "Every instrument that could give bad news did: cracking metal, all alarms ringing," former Israeli Air Force pilot Israel Baharav said.

"I didn't need instruments to tell me the engine was gone and I was now sitting in a piece of scrap metal that had been a brand new fighter plane just seconds before."

Baharav ejected and survived to learn that what he had experienced was a devastating bird strike, a hazard for military and civilian air traffic that destroys planes and kills pilots across the skies, but most particularly in the sky over Israel.

The Jewish state combines one of the world's biggest air forces, busy commercial aviation traffic, a tiny air space and a surprising discovery about the natural world.

What nobody knew on that warm and clear February day in 1973 when Baharav took off to lead a training flight was that Israel, due to its location at the junction of Europe, Africa and Asia, is one of the busiest bird migration routes on the globe.

From 1990 to 2000 130 fighter aircraft from the air forces of 10 countries alone crashed and 41 pilots were killed due to collisions with birds, according to International Bird Strike Committee, an expert group on military and civil flight safety.

But the high incidence of bird strike risk over Israel was only unveiled after the Israeli Air Force began working with ornithologists to understand why incidents like the one Baharav experienced happened so often.

"When we started cooperation with the ornithologists we knew very little. We were aware of birds out there but the scale was completely unknown," said Asaf Agmon, head of the Israeli Air Force Association's Fisher Institute for flight security.   Continued...

<p>Migrating white pelicans swim in the water at the Hula Valley Nature Reserve, north of the Sea of Galilee, northern Israel November 11, 2010. REUTERS/Thomas Krumenacker</p>