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FOR THE BIRDS - Falcons run off smaller birds to protect bigger ones

This peregrine falcon is similar to one of the falcons that will be used for the McConnell AFB, Kan., bird aircraft strike hazard program. (Courtesy of the National Geographic Society)

This peregrine falcon is similar to one of the falcons that will be used for the McConnell AFB, Kan., bird aircraft strike hazard program. (Courtesy of the National Geographic Society)

MCCONNELL AIR FORCE BASE, Kan. (AFNS) -- It seems counterintuitive to think a 2-pound feathered bird can protect a metal one weighing nearly 300,000 pounds fully loaded, but that's exactly what's happening here.

The 22nd Air Refueling Wing bird aircraft strike hazard program is being overhauled with new contractors employing the use of a falcon to keep skies clear from avian adversaries that threaten the KC-135 Stratotanker.

The BASH program is put in place to reduce bird strikes by introducing a natural predator into the area to ward off smaller animals. McConnell is actually changing the type of predator used from a dog to a pair of falcons.

Elaina, a Barbary falcon, and Jack, a Peregrine-Prairie hybrid, will be McConnell's new solution, capable of providing smaller birds the motivation to move along.

"One strike, if the bird hits the wrong spot on a plane, could do $50 to $100 thousand worth of damage," said Maj. Jeremy Fischman, 22nd ARW flight safety chief. "It is really easy for the program to pay for itself by preventing one bad bird strike."

There were 4,471 bird strikes Air Force-wide in 2011. These incidents cost $13,061,140.

While the fields and ponds surrounding McConnell are inviting habitats for birds, the falcons will be introduced as a predatory species. The birds instinctively know that it is too dangerous to seek food and shelter once they note the presence of the falcons.

Preventing bird strikes also maintains safety by not putting Airmen in a situation where they have to maneuver aircraft damaged in flight.

Having falcons will help disperse the birds, and hopefully, there will be less of a bird strike concern for the KC-135s.