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Less than a year later, in September 1995, Colonel Scott heard about an Awacs radar warning jet that crashed in Alaska after hitting a flock of geese, killing all 24 crew members.
Their 10 birds fly every day for about 10 minutes each on a regular schedule between sunrise and sunset. October, April and May are the busiest months, when migratory patterns bring more unwanted birds through the base's airspace. The falcons return to their falconer at the sound of a whistle and the sight of a lure, two wings with meat attached, which the falconer swings in the air. When Monty finished his flight, he devoured a defrosted quail breast, ripping the red chunk of meat apart with gusto.
The mere presence of the falcons does more to keep nuisance birds away from the field and, more important, away from planes than loud noises or fireworks, their handlers say.
As he spoke, he put a leather hood back on Monty to calm him. The bird stretched his wings, eager to continue flying, but it was time for him to return to his indoor perch.
Of the falcon program at McGuire, he said: ''Nature has a way of handling the situation. Most birds know that when there's a new sheriff around, you stay away.''
A quarter mile away from the falconer standing on the airfield, a fast swirl of starlings, perhaps 200 strong, circled and pulled closer together, spread apart and then regrouped.
''He knows that the easiest food in town comes from us, and he doesn't have to spend the next hour or so looking for food,'' said Mr. Feairheller, who once drove all the way to Atlantic City chasing one rookie bird who was not yet used to the routine.
''You can put down to luck the difference between a damaging air strike and a catastrophic air strike,'' said Mr. Rossell, who says he is terrified of flying.
Monty, a peregrine falcon described by his handlers as ''everybody's favorite,'' was at work just being himself, taking a spin above the runways of McGuire Air Force Base. Spotting him, birds within a mile radius, including the starlings, kept their distance, some heading for the safety of trees and bushes. At risk of being chased or eaten, they would remember Monty the next time they were tempted to cross the path of the base's KC 10 or C 17 military cargo planes.
As is common in military operations, the falconers at McGuire have developed their own vocabulary for their work, and the names they use might be funny if they did not involve potential disaster.
Since 1998, falcons like Monty have been patrolling the skies over McGuire. Their civilian handlers drive them out to the airfield, take the hoods off the birds' heads, let go of the cords around their feet and let them take off. They bring them back with a whistle and the promise of food.
''It doesn't help when their sails are full of wind,'' Mr. Feairheller said. He used a hand held radio to alert the base's control tower: ''McGuire ground, Talon 2. Falcon is recovered.''
Mr. Rossell and Chris Feairheller, a wildlife technician for the falcon group, speak about goose strikes. They have supplies labeled ''bird bangers,'' 15 millimeter ammunition that is loaded into pistols and fired into the air to scare anything with wings. And the program they run at the base is called BASH, for Bird Air Strike Hazard.
''Our No. 2 engine, having ingested one or probably several geese, had sparks coming from the fan blades,'' Colonel Scott recalled. ''The engine was at a dead stop because there was nothing left to turn on the inside. And one goose essentially severed the hydraulic pump.''
Colonel Scott and four others on board managed to land the cargo plane, which is roughly the size of a 757, by manually overriding the emergency brake system. They blew seven tires in the process.
Officials at the base say the falcons play a crucial role. ''They help keep our aircraft up in the sky and our pilots safe,'' said Col. Jimmie Jackson, commander of the 305th Air Mobility Wing at McGuire. ''In our business, it's all about mission capability. The falcons are an important part of a Buy Women Canada Goose Snow Mantra White Ireland vigorous flight safety program that enables us to accomplish our mission of transporting people and supplies all over the world.''
Col. Tracy Scott has nothing but high praise for the falcon program. He certainly could have benefited from it on a harrowing day in August 1994 when his C 141 transport plane flew through a flock of geese while taking off from McGuire.
During the last three months of 2004, the falcons, in 189 flights, harassed 17,834 birds, based on their handler's estimates. In that same period, there were 37 collisions between birds and planes from McGuire, according to officials at the base, with about eight occurring at the airfield and none causing major damage.
''I looked up, and all I could see was birds and feathers and white,'' he said. ''It sounded like a jackhammer.'' The plane had lost one of its four engines.
Base Employs Birds of Prey To Fight Birds of Nuisance
Then Colonel Scott noticed that the emergency brake system was malfunctioning. ''I was not really happy about the condition of the plane,'' he said.
''That was when I got cold chills up and down my spine,'' he said. ''I could see then, but for the grace of God, there go I. If at any time I was scared, it was then, with my feet planted on the ground.''
Ducks, gulls, starlings, turkey vultures and blackbirds can all wreak havoc with planes, said Stuart Rossell of Falcon Environmental Services, the company that runs the base's wildlife management program. McGuire is paying the company $200,000 a year.
Those nuisance birds can pose a serious threat to civil and military aviation. In the past 20 years, the Air Force has recorded 62,536 collisions between its aircraft and wildlife, most involving birds. These incidents have resulted in 32 deaths and more than $700 million in damage. The Air Force logged 4,318 wildlife strikes in 2003, none resulting in fatalities. Civilian aircraft hit about 6,000 birds that year, according to federal officials, but they say they believe that only about 20 percent of all civilian hits are actually reported.
Mr. Rossell explained his falcons' targets. ''Anything that's big,'' he said. ''Anything that flocks. And if it's big and it flocks, it's doubly bad. The Canada goose is the No. 1 public enemy.''
While birds conjure up images of feathers, air filled bones and bantamweight bodies, the laws of physics still apply. Even a meadowlark has mass, which, combined with velocity, can do catastrophic damage when it hits a jet engine.