Indiana State University Newsroom

ISU part of USDA and FAA research on bird strikes

January 25, 2010

Eliminating airplane bird strikes continues to be on Indiana State University's radar.

Indiana State University will participate in an investigation of bird-detecting radar at airports to help lower the number of airplane bird strikes. Steven Lima, biology professor, will lead Indiana State's involvement in the multi-agency research, which includes the U.S. Department of Agriculture's National Wildlife Research Center Ohio Field Station, Federal Aviation Administration, National Center for Atmospheric Research and Purdue University.

As a researcher at ISU, Lima studies anti-predatory behavior in birds.

"Fundamentally, my research is about how birds avoid things, and in this collaborative project I am extending my work to aircraft avoidance" he said.

Lima previously worked with the USDA on a study involving airplane lighting and bird detection, which showed rapidly blinking lights on planes helped to deter birds from flight paths.

From looking at differences that can be made in the air, now the research will become more grounded.

"The project will characterize whether the available radar systems (modified marine radar units) can effectively detect birds at airports in "real time" applications," he said.

Although such radar can detect birds, there are many unknowns about using radar, Lima explained. The project will determine accuracy and detection capabilities related to range, altitude, target size and the effects of weather on avian radar systems.

"We'll use real birds and radio-controlled aircraft in different conditions to predict where birds are in real time," Lima said.

The goal is to decrease the number of bird strikes that occur within the United States, such as the incident with the U.S. Airways plane that landed in the Hudson River in January 2009.

Since 1990 about 82,000 wildlife strikes have been reported to the Federal Aviation Administration. National Wildlife Research Center Field Station and Project Leader Travis DeVault said the number of strikes grows steadily grow each year. In 1997, 3,458 strikes were reported while in 2007 that number had risen to 7,666.

"We estimate that only 20 percent of all wildlife strikes are reported to the FAA," the ISU alumnus said.

About 4 percent of the reported strikes result in substantial damage to aircraft.

"Over the past 20 years worldwide, 182 people have died and 185 aircraft have been destroyed as a result of wildlife collisions with aircraft," he said.

In the United States, wildlife strikes result in more than 550,000 hours of aircraft down time and costs civil aviation more than $625 million every year. Costs to the US military are estimated at more than $100 million each year.

Increasing population sizes in the larger birds along with increased air traffic have led to the increased collisions between birds and planes. DeVault also pointed out there is another factor in the strike increases.

"Modern planes are faster and quieter than they were decades ago, and thus birds have less time to avoid being struck once they detect the approaching aircraft," he said.

Research should begin this summer with the evaluation of a radar system in Colorado. Then during the fall, the researchers will flock to the National Wildlife Research Center Field Station in Sandusky, Ohio, to study the radar system in simulated airport conditions.

"In conjunction with Purdue, we'll also study whether birds can somehow see radar waves," Lima said. "Birds can detect magnetic fields and there are some vague observations that they might see radar in some way. My guess is that they won't be able to do so unless it's an intense radar beam."

Contact: Steven Lima, Indiana State University, professor of biology, at 812-237-3677 or

Writer: Jennifer Sicking, Indiana State University, assistant director of media relations, at 812-237-7972 or


Cutline: Steve Lima

Story Highlights

Indiana State University will participate in an investigation of bird-detecting radar at airports to help lower the number of airplane bird strikes. Steven Lima, biology professor, will lead Indiana State’s involvement in the multi-agency research.

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