Ellsworth Air Force Base Uses Cannons to Prevent Bird Collisions

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A B-1 takes off to participate in Combat Raider 19-1 at Ellsworth Air Force Base, S.D., Oct. 17, 2018. (U.S. Air Force photo/Jette Carr)
A B-1 takes off to participate in Combat Raider 19-1 at Ellsworth Air Force Base, S.D., Oct. 17, 2018. (U.S. Air Force photo/Jette Carr)

RAPID CITY, S.D. — An Air Force base near Rapid City has unveiled a new cannon system designed to prevent costly collisions between bombers and birds.

The Ellsworth Air Force Base has implemented a new $150,000 bird abatement system, which is comprised of a rotating cannon and a 20-gallon propane tank, the Rapid City Journal reported. Igniting a small amount of propane into the cannon produces a shotgun-like sound, which scares birds off.

Some of the new units also have speaker systems to blare the distress calls of eight bird species.

Related story: Need for New Tech Grows as Air Force's Bird Strike Mission Expands

"Birds are a huge problem for our aircraft operations," James McCurdy, a flight safety officer with the 28th Bomb Wing. "In the middle of our migration season (October, November, April and May), it's not abnormal for us to hit and kill a bird at least once a week. They cost us hundreds of thousands of dollars a year."

Each B-1B bomber costs about $400 million and is capable of speeds close to 1,000 mph.

The base's new system has 24 cannon units that are spread out along the aircraft runway and are operated using computers in the base's flight tower or by remote, handheld devices.

McCurdy said the base's past bird-deterrent strategy was "one or two individuals with a shotgun out there with pyrotechnics."

He said the new technique is "a more reliable, safer system for the birds and the aircraft" that "cuts down on the workload for the individuals involved."

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