News / Science & Technology

    Feather Forensics Prevent Aviation Accidents

    Feather Forensics Help Prevent Aviation Accidentsi
    X
    August 29, 2013 6:47 PM
    Birds are a significant threat to aircraft, especially at take-off or low altitudes. The collisions - almost always fatal for the bird - can cause property damage and occasional loss of human life. While the majority of bird strikes go unreported, those 8,000 to 10,000 that are reported each year are largely investigated by a forensic team at the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History in Washington. VOA’s Rosanne Skirble has the story.
    Rosanne Skirble
    Minutes after U.S. Airways flight 1549 took off from New York’s La Guardia Airport in 2009, pilot Chesley Sullenberger radioed the control tower: 

    "This is cactus 15-49, hit birds, lost thrust in both engines returning back towards La Guardia.” 

    Sullenberger had few options and made an emergency landing in the Hudson River. The passengers and crew were evacuated safely. The plane had hit a flock of Canada geese.

    “The Canada goose is a beautiful bird. I love birds, but there is a place for birds and there’s a place not for birds and you do not want birds around the airfield, especially large-bodied birds,” said Carla Dove, director of the Bird Identification Lab at the National Museum of Natural History in Washington.
    Feather Forensics Prevents Aviation Accidents
    Feather Forensics Prevents Aviation Accidentsi
    || 0:00:00
    ...    
     
    X

    It was Dove who identified the birds that brought down Flight 1549.  As director of the Bird Identification Lab, she manages a reference collection of 620,000 bird specimens housed in floor to ceiling cabinets on the sixth floor of the museum. 

    “[The collection] is about 150 years old," Dove said. "We probably have about 85 percent of the diversity of birds of the world represented here. So there are 10,000 species. We have about 8,500 in our collection.”

    Feathers and debris scraped from airplane windscreens or wiped on a paper towel from the inside of an engine arrive here in plastic zipped bags, which Dove sorts through each morning.

    Each year, the lab analyzes some 10,000 cases.
    A Canada Goose, like those in the bird species collection at the Smithsonian, brought down an airplane in New York in 2009. (Rosanne Skirble/VOA)A Canada Goose, like those in the bird species collection at the Smithsonian, brought down an airplane in New York in 2009. (Rosanne Skirble/VOA)
    x
    A Canada Goose, like those in the bird species collection at the Smithsonian, brought down an airplane in New York in 2009. (Rosanne Skirble/VOA)
    A Canada Goose, like those in the bird species collection at the Smithsonian, brought down an airplane in New York in 2009. (Rosanne Skirble/VOA)
       

    “We are the only full-time lab that is dedicated to bird-strike identification," Dove said. "We receive feathers from all over the world, from military bases, commercial airfields As long as that material comes from an  American aircraft or lands in an airport where American aircraft land, we will accept that under our FAA [Federal  Aviation Administration] contract for identification.”

    In one day’s mail she’s sorts through feathers connected to an incident with an Air Force plane over Niagara Falls, New York, in July.

    “So we open these up. We can already see that we have some color and some pattern here," Dove said. "These are very beautiful feathers…This is a small bird. This is a tail feather from a small bird. So I have an idea of what I think it is.”

    Dove immediately turns to the cabinets behind her, pulls out a bird from one of the drawers and matches the feathers. 

    “Bird-strike solved," she said. "This is an American Kestrel.

    But it is not always so easy, even with 20 years on the job. Sometimes, Dove must look for clues in the feather structure under the microscope. She compares what she sees with a reference collection of micro slides for a positive match. And, if she has only tiny bits and pieces to go on, Dove turns to another tool for analysis.

    “We have a DNA library that we match up with our own sequences to the Barcode of Life library," Dove said. "Part of that library was made from specimens from this collection, from the tissue samples that we have stored from our specimens.” 

    DNA analysis has improved the ability to identify the species in bird-strikes by nearly 30 percent over pre-DNA years. Dove says knowing the bird culprit is the first step in addressing the problem.

    “Once you know what the birds are, the wildlife biologist will make recommendations to the airfields and the airports," she said. "The engineers will take data on the weights of the birds and they will use that when they design new engines and new aircraft parts to make those parts withstand certain bird parts at certain speeds.”

    Dove says with more flights than ever before and an increase in birds in the sky there is certain to be more collisions. However, her hope is that identifying the species will lead to changes in management that can save lives and property.

    You May Like

    Video Rubio Looks to Surge in New Hampshire

    Republican presidential candidate has moved into second place in several recent surveys and appears to be gaining ground on longtime frontrunner Donald Trump

    UN Calls for Global Ban on Female Genital Mutilation

    Recent UNICEF report finds at least 200 million girls and women alive today have undergone female genital mutilation in 30 countries

    UN Pilots New Peace Approach in CAR

    Approach launched in northern town of Kaga Bandoro, where former combatants of mainly Muslim Seleka armed group and Christian and animist anti-Balaka movement are being paid to do community work

    This forum has been closed.
    Comment Sorting
    Comments
         
    by: Yoshi from: Sapporo
    August 29, 2013 10:34 PM
    There is a place for birds to fly and not to fly. Umm, what shoud I say? Birds have rights to fly anywhere around the world, do not they? Anyway, we should help birds keep away from air ports and flight routes.
    In Response

    by: Jimmy from: Canada
    September 03, 2013 7:52 AM
    Logically it is absolutely right that birds instead of planes have the natural right of flying, but things become complex when emotion comes in. It would be really hard to confess that it is our fault when our family or friends were lost in an collision, while it is so easy to blame those birds who are not able to defend themselves by words.

    Featured Videos

    Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
    German Artists to Memorialize Refugees With Life Jacket Exhibiti
    X
    Hamada Elsaram
    February 05, 2016 4:30 PM
    Sold in every kind of shop in some Turkish port towns, life jackets have become a symbol of the refugee crisis that brought a million people to Europe in 2015.  On the shores of Lesbos, Greece, German artists collect discarded life jackets as they prepare an art installation they plan to display in Germany.  For VOA, Hamada Elrasam has this report from Lesbos, Greece.
    Video

    Video German Artists to Memorialize Refugees With Life Jacket Exhibit

    Sold in every kind of shop in some Turkish port towns, life jackets have become a symbol of the refugee crisis that brought a million people to Europe in 2015.  On the shores of Lesbos, Greece, German artists collect discarded life jackets as they prepare an art installation they plan to display in Germany.  For VOA, Hamada Elrasam has this report from Lesbos, Greece.
    Video

    Video E-readers Help Ease Africa's Book Shortage

    Millions of people in Africa can't read, and there's a chronic shortage of books. A non-profit organization called Worldreader is trying to help change all that one e-reader at a time. VOA’s Deborah Block tells us about a girls' school in Nairobi, Kenya where Worldreader is making a difference.
    Video

    Video Genius Lets World Share Its Knowledge

    Inspired by crowdsourcing companies like Wikipedia, Genius allows anyone to edit anything on the web, using its web annotation tool
    Video

    Video Former Drug CEO Martin Shkreli Angers US Lawmakers

    A former U.S. pharmaceutical business executive has angered lawmakers by refusing to explain why he raised the price of a life-saving pill by 5,000 percent. Martin Shkreli was removed from a congressional hearing on Thursday after citing his Fifth Amendment right to stay silent. Zlatica Hoke has more.
    Video

    Video Super Bowl TV Commercials are Super Business for Advertisers

    The Super Bowl, the championship clash between the two top teams in American Football, is the most-watched sporting event of the year, and advertisers are lining up and paying big bucks to get their commercials on the air. In fact, the TV commercials during the Super Bowl have become one of the most anticipated and popular features of the event. VOA's Brian Allen has a sneak peek of what you can expect to see when the big game goes to commercial break, and the real entertainment begins.
    Video

    Video In Philippines, Mixed Feelings About Greater US Military Presence

    In the Philippines, some who will be directly affected by a recent Supreme Court decision clearing the way for more United States troop visits are having mixed reactions.  The increased rotations come at a time when the Philippines is trying to build up its military in the face of growing maritime assertiveness from China.  From Bahile, Palawan on the coast of the South China Sea, Simone Orendain has this story.
    Video

    Video Microcephaly's Connection to Zika: Guilty Until Proven Innocent

    The Zika virus rarely causes problems for the people who get it, but it seems to be having a devastating impact on babies whose mothers are infected with Zika. VOA's Carol Pearson has more.
    Video

    Video Solar Innovation Provides Cheap, Clean Energy to Kenya Residents

    In Kenya, a company called M-Kopa Solar is providing clean energy to more than 300,000 homes across East Africa by allowing customers to "pay-as-you-go" via their cell phones. As Lenny Ruvaga reports from Kangemi, customers pay a small deposit for a solar unit and then pay less than a dollar a day to get clean energy to light up their homes or businesses.
    Video

    Video Stunning Artworks Attract Record Crowds, Thanks to Social Media

    A new exhibit at the oldest art museum in America is shattering attendance records. Thousands of visitors are lining up to see nine giant works of art that have gotten a much-deserved shot of viral marketing. The 150-year-old Smithsonian American Art Museum has never had a response quite like this. VOA's Julie Taboh reports.
    Video

    Video Apprenticeships Put Americans on Path Back to Work

    Trying to get more people into the U.S. workforce, the Obama administration last year announced $175 million in grants towards apprenticeship programs. VOA White House correspondent Aru Pande went inside one training center outside of Washington that has gained national recognition for helping put people on the path to employment.
    Video

    Video New Material May Reduce Concussion Effects

    As the 2016 National Football League season reaches its summit at the Super Bowl this coming Sunday (2/7), scientists are trying to learn how to more effectively protect football players from dangerous and damaging concussions. Researchers at Cardiff and Cambridge Universities say their origami-based material may solve the problem. VOA’s George Putic reports.
    Video

    Video Saudi Arabian Women's Sports Chip Away at Stereotypes

    Saudi Arabian female athletes say that sports are on the front line of busting traditions that quash women’s voices, both locally and internationally. In their hometown of Jeddah, a group of basketball players say that by connecting sports to health issues, they are encouraging women and girls to get out of their homes and participate in public life. VOA’s Heather Murdock reports.
    Video

    Video A Year Later, Fortunes Mixed for Syrians Forging New Lives in Berlin

    In April of last year, VOA followed the progress of six young Syrian refugees -- four brothers and their two friends -- as they made their way from Libya to Italy by boat, and eventually to Germany. Reporter Henry Ridgwell caught up with the refugees again in Berlin, as they struggle to forge new lives amid the turmoil of Europe's refugee crisis.
    Video

    Video Zika Virus May be Hard to Stop

    With the Zika virus spreading rapidly, the World Health Organization Monday declared Zika a global health emergency. As Alberto Pimienta reports, for many governments and experts, the worst is yet to come.