Ellsworth Air Force Base in South Dakota is home to the 28th Bomb Wing. These bomber planes have the capability of extending America’s air superiority anywhere in the world. Now they have installed a new platoon of cannons along the runways of the base to protect the bombers from birds. Ellsworth location in western South Dakota makes it an important area for migratory birds to stopover.
In 1987, a 15 to 20-pound pelican struck and brought down a B-1B bomber which was traveling at 600 miles an hour. The bird ripped through a critical hydraulic line and started a fire at 3000 degrees Fahrenheit which doomed the jet. The crash killed three out of six crew members. In May 2016, a B-52 bomber crashed on the island of Guam after a bird strike. A total of 27 US Air Force planes and 36 airmen have died due to the collisions with birds. Ellsworth has relied on shooting pyrotechnics at the birds to scare them away. They also have airmen patrolling the base with shotguns.
The new network of 24 sound cannons creates shotgun-like booms without creating any projectile. The barrels are remote-controlled tubes wired to 20-lb tanks of propane. When the cannons are activated either remotely by an officer in the air control tower or via handheld devices, a small amount of propane is released, and then they ignite it to unleash a loud blast. The base spends $200,000 per year repairing aircraft damages that are caused by bird strikes. The newly installed system costs much less than that and only need $2000 per year for maintenance. This is a small price to pay to keep a wing of $317 million bombers and the birds safe.