Abigail Slama-Catron, 13, of Sandy, Utah, a member of Salt Lake County 4-H and a seventh-grader at Midvale Middle School, helped invent a “bionic scarecrow” to keep birds away from airplanes as they take off and land at airports, a device that is currently being used at Salt Lake City International Airport. In the fall of 2016, Abigail’s robotics team wanted to enter a competition calling for projects that improve animal/human interactions. Having heard about the US Airways jet that sustained numerous bird strikes and was landed on the Hudson River by Captain “Sully” Sullenberger in 2009, Abigail said “it made me wonder if Utah’s airport had similar problems with birds flying into engines.” She began to research the subject and was shocked to learn that her local airport had 216 bird strikes the previous year.
Her team sprang into action. They met with the airport’s wildlife staff many times to learn about the problem of birds that congregate on airport property, and discovered through research that random motion appears to scare birds away. Then they began to build a device to address the problem. After several prototypes, they ended up with an environmentally-friendly apparatus housed in a toolbox that uses a car battery and marine fan to power a windsock sewn out of nylon. The wildlife staff at the airport tested it and it worked! Salt Lake City now has three at its airport, and several other airports in the U.S. and abroad have expressed interest in their Bionic Scarecrow, Abigail said. She and her teammates also have been invited to demonstrate their patent-pending invention to scientists at several conferences. Abigail has continued to raise awareness about her project by making a film called “Strike Out,” which has been featured by her school district and the Colorado Environmental Film Festival.