Avian Radar Validation
Since the crash of US Airways Flight 1549 in the Hudson River, avian radar systems have been in the spotlight as a means to monitor and manage bird movements in the airport environment. To date no independent evaluation of these avian radar systems capabilities has been performed. Several variables affect a radar systems ability detect and track avian targets. Environmental clutter caused by buildings, topography, and vegetation and, in some locales, nearby water surface conditions can complicate or prevent tracking of targets with a lower reflectivity than the local clutter. Avian targets also present challenges to radar systems due their size, body composition, changing reflectivity due to flight and unpredictable movements. The physics of radar adds it own level of challenges to an avian radar system.
The University of Illinois, FAA Center of Excellence for Airport Technology (CEAT) initiated this study using field observations of bird movements and specific bird targets over a 15 month period to evaluate an avian radar systems performance in varying weather conditions, changing bird populations due to migration and varying clutter conditions. The validation work was performed at Naval Air Station Whidbey Island (NASWI), Washington, in cooperation with the US Navy BASH program, due to the large resident bird population and seasonally changing bird populations along the Pacific Flyway. A Furuno X-band, 25kW, marine radar outfitted with a Furuno 22 degree array antenna was the primary sensor which fed raw radar data to an Accipiter digital processing system. Two additional avian radar systems were also at the same location providing supplemental information.