French military has seen big success in using the golden eagle to track and get rid of unwanted air traffic

It may not make too much of a stir in the press, but drones (any unmanned aircrafts that are guided by radio signals) are causing major problems in many parts of the world. 

Well, that is not exactly correct since it is people with many different motives controlling the drones that are actually causing the problems. And the countries involved are dealing with those many problems in many and varied ways.

One of the most puzzling aspects of drone use is motive. What is the goal of the person controlling the aircraft? Is it a case of a peeping Tom looking (literally) for thrills, or a spy looking for information that someone else wants to keep secret? Different motives require different responses. 

France, and the French Air Force, has come up with a unique solution to its drone problems. Any such aircraft spotted over any sensitive areas (like restricted military sites) or structures (such as the presidential palace or certain government buildings) is set upon by one of the four musketeers. 

Huh, you may wonder? Let me explain.

French experts have trained four golden eagles to attract drones. They are expressly trained to sight, intercept and destroy any such aircraft they are set upon, with the unspoken promise of their favorite food waiting for their return after a successful mission. And those four birds of prey have been named (appropriately enough) Athos, Porthos, Aramis and d’Artagnan.

The four eagles have been mastering their attack skills at the Mont-de-Marsan in southwestern France since mid-2016. And food is the key to their training success. When they are unhooded and sent on a mission (after a drone that may be unseen over a hill or at great distance) they respond spontaneously because they know that food will be waiting for them upon their return.

Using birds of prey, primarily falcons, to serve human interests other than hunting and the sport of falconry has been around for many years. Airport runways and the surrounding grassy areas have long been the resting and feeding areas for flocks of birds such as gulls. Falconers flying their hawks, which are the natural enemies of most bird species, was a good remedy for preventing bird strikes on aircraft.

With respect to eagles, it wasn’t actually the French that came up with the eagle versus drone scenario. In 2015 the Dutch started using bald eagles to intercept drones. It worked so well, so effectively, that the governments of other countries paid attention and followed suit with their own eagle programs.

Why eagles and not the more common hawks or owls? Size appears to be one of the more desirable characteristics for killing drones. Most modern drones weigh around 10 pounds or less. No North American hawks weigh that much, but the average full-grown eagle, bald or golden, tips the scales at eight to 14 pounds. 

That is just about right for killing drones. And with an airspeed of more than 45 mph and eyesight keen enough to identify a drone at more than a mile away, well-trained eagles are the ideal choice for this type of job.

What about the drone’s rapidly spinning blades? Could they possibly hurt the eagle? Well, to protect the eagles from those high-speed blades, the French military designed “mittens” of leather and Kevlar to protect the bird’s talons.

There is another interesting aspect about the eagle’s training. They are first taught to attack in a straight line before being taught to dive from heights. French officials say that the results are promising and the French air force already expects four more eagles to join the fleet at Mont-de-Marsan by this summer.

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Did you know that there are very few public shooting ranges in New York? I certainly do, and I have often wondered why the DEC did not have more of them scattered in every region. 

After all, there is funding available for them from Pitman-Robertson funds that every person purchasing hunting ammunition and/or equipment pays for through excise taxes.

Well, I recently found one extremely important reason why we should not have public ranges, and I am grateful to Keith Kappel of Canandaigua for information on this subject that he supplied. It came to him from another individual, Douglas H. Domedion, who is a resident near the Tonawanda WMA. The below is his story:

“I have been a volunteer at the local Tonawanda and Oak Orchard WMAs for about 25 years. I was quite involved with many projects such as the eagle nest cam, flying trumpeter swans with ultra lights, the osprey reintroduction into this area including going down to Long Island to gather young osprey, planting and maintaining lupines plots for the hopeful reintroduction of the Karner Blue butterfly, doing photographing work for the DEC and a host of other smaller projects.

“Being retired now I spend more time in the WMAs doing a great deal of nature photographing and gathering information for my columns. So being out there a lot, I’m seeing a lot of things that concern me.

“We have a public shooting range on the Tonawanda WMA that has become an eye sore for the area and the DEC. There is super usage of these ranges and the trash problem is unbelievable, with every one bringing junk for targets and leaving everything. At present, DEC personnel have to go and clean the mess up every Monday to keep ahead of it.

“It is also becoming a dangerous situation as there are many young folks using the ranges that obviously don’t know how to handle firearms. I see drinking going on, wild ‘group’ shootings, hear loud explosions that are not from gun fire and the shooting of signs along the roads. The ranges are right next to the road so the folks are firing almost from the edge of the road which is very nerve racking for anyone driving by. Road signs and DEC gate signs are being shot up along with some insulators on the large power lines. Many of these signs are on a curve in the road or have another road behind them which is of course very dangerous to regular thru traffic.

“Another huge problem is the young guys with large ‘mud’ trucks tearing up the road side edges which also creates dangerous situations for other drivers.

“I feel it is about time that the DEC shut down these ranges and all shooting on the WMA’s except for hunting season and no target shooting! There has been a vast increase of nature observation on the WMAs by the public in recent years and these people are being put in danger not to mention the impression they is getting of not only the WMA’s but also of sportsmen.”

I have to ask, rhetorically, what the bottom line of this situation is? And the answer is extremely clear. The users of these public ranges have no skin in the game. Unlike gun clubs that have membership fees and a strict set of rules on what is allowed and what is not permitted, public gun ranges have neither. For some people the only rule is that anything goes.

There is no “good” answer to these problems. Therefore the only real answer, since these individuals have no skin in the game, is to shut the public ranges down. Now that is a truly sad situation.

Len Lisenbee is the Daily Messenger’s Outdoor Columnist. Contact him at lisenbee@frontiernet .net