Bird Strikes With Military Helicopters Studied
March 4, 2014

US Military Helicopters Face Threats From Bird Strikes

Lee Rannals for - Your Universe Online

A new study by published in the Wildlife Society Bulletin shows how US military helicopters are vulnerable to getting hit by birds.

Apache and Chinook helicopters play important roles in military services, but the latest study shows just how vulnerable rotary-wing aircraft are to wildlife strikes. Estimates show that these wildlife strikes cost the aviation industry $1.2 billion per year globally, but these predictions did not include US military records.

“Although rotary-wing aircraft operations comprise important mission components within all 4 military services, no assessment of wildlife strikes to military rotary-wing aircraft has been conducted,” the team wrote in the report.

The team set out to conduct a comprehensive analysis of data available from all military services regrading wildlife strikes with helicopters. The researchers used records from the Army, Navy, US Air Force and the Coast Guard to try and identify statistical trends in wildlife strikes. They found 2,511 strikes in all across all the services, but states like Florida, New Mexico and Georgia had the most incidents.

Only 812 of the records actually included the type of animals involved, and 91 percent of those incidents involved birds. According to the study, warblers, perching birds and bats were the wildlife groups most commonly struck by the Air Force, while gulls, seabirds, shorebirds, raptors and vultures were most commonly struck by naval aircraft. Raptors and vultures were commonly associated with wildlife strikes that caused damage to aircraft.

The researchers discovered that strikes were most common between September and November, which counted for 41.6 percent of all strikes. The winter months, December, January and February, accounted for only 10 percent of the collisions.

Each of the wildlife strikes cost the military between $12,184 and $337,281 in money, but the incidents have also resulted in eight injuries and two fatalities.

"This study is part of the first formal evaluation of the impact of wildlife-rotary wing aircraft collisions to be conducted," Dr. Brian Washburn from the Wildlife Research Center and leader of the study said in a statement. "Findings from this research are being used by the U.S. Department of Defense to increase the awareness of this issue, mitigate the problem, and increase the safety of pilots and aircrews."

The researchers said they hope to use this study to provide recommendations to reduce the frequency and negative impacts of these strikes.