Scientists explain how to prevent one of the most common airplane disasters

US Airways flight 1549 was forced to make an emergency landing in the Hudson River because it was disabled after hitting a flock of Canada geese. Bird strikes cost the aviation industry more than $1.2 billion every year, and a large number of those are due to Canada geese. The problem is that birds react to a very different set of visual stimuli than humans, so it's hard to stop them from flying directly into a vehicle. But now science has an answer: Switch on the lights.

Researchers from the USDA, and Indiana State University and Purdue University just published a paper looking at how to scare off birds from flying vehicles, which they otherwise might be tempted to smack straight into.

The team sent up three radio controlled aircrafts, and watched how a population of geese reacted. One of them had a 2-Hz alternating pulse of two lights, one had its lights off, and the other was designed to look like a predator. The geese treated the predator craft and the lights-off one the same, hinting that geese see and react to aircraft like they do predator animals. But with the blinking lights? That's when the birds took notice the fastest.

Sure, these results are from captive birds, and small, slow-moving radio-controlled planes, so a flying flock may react quite differently to a commuter jet. But if something as simple as adding pulsing LEDs could save billions in damages every year by being significantly easier for the birds to see, maybe the airline companies will embrace it.

Shutterstock photo by SVLuma