The Point Mugu base (these days formally part of Naval Base Ventura County, which also includes Port Hueneme and San Nicolas Island) is literally right on the ocean, in a stretch of marsh land between the Pacific Coast Highway (US Route One) and the water. Given the sensitive nature of the ecosystem there, they take care to help out the local critters as much as possible. In large part, this means birds.
Unfortunately, birds and airplanes don’t always mix together well. A bird strike between a five-pound seagull and a Cessna 172 at 120 knots is capable of taking out the plane, or at least shattering the windshield and causing serious injuries to the pilot and passengers. (I’ve been there, a flock of them scared the crap out of me during training out of Whiteman.) Given that there are much bigger birds (pelicans can be up to fifteen or twenty pounds) and much faster planes (jet fighters out can be cruising at 400 knots or more, even at low altitudes) it’s not hard to see that this could be a serious problem.
Ask Captain Sullenberger and the passengers of US Airways Flight 1549.
While sitting at the front of the flight line yesterday at Point Mugu, this pair of turkey vultures was circling overhead.
They’re beautiful birds, huge, with wingspans of better than five feet. They’re a little less beautiful circling five hundred feet up, a hundred yards from a runway where planes are flying by at 450 knots.
During some of the pauses between flight demonstrations the airshow announcers had mentioned the bird issue and had talked about some of the methods used by the base to control them and drive them away. Then mentioned using raptors as a safe, harmless, and ecologically friendly method. (There are a lot of large airports that do this.)
So two or three times later in the day, I saw this guy flying around and was wondering if he might be “on duty,” so to speak.
Click on one of these pictures, particularly the first one, to see it full sized. See just behind the left wing, those two strings? I’m no expert on falconry, but aren’t those called “jesses” and they’re part of how falcons are trained?
Also a most gorgeous creature (I’m a sucker for raptors) but I’m glad to see that a few laps around the airport kept his large cousins out of the way of my friends and our large, fast, metal birds!