Operation Migration says it’s found a way to satisfy the FAA and whooping cranes to continue leading young birds on a migration from Wisconsin to Florida each fall. Two years ago, when a former pilot complained to the FAA about the nature of the flying in the operation (he claimed improperly licensed pilots were flying for hire in non-compliant aircraft), the FAA gave Operation Migration two years to meet new standards for the flying portion of the unique initiative. The FAA said the pilots, who are salaried employees, must have at least private pilot certificates and the aircraft have to meet at least SLSA standards. That’s a considerable compromise from the normal standard that requires professional pilots to have commercial tickets and fly fully certified aircraft when they’re on the clock. “Even though we’re the regulators, we believe what they do is a good thing and we want to help them achieve their mission,” FAA spokeswoman Elizabeth Cory told The Associated Press. Washington State trike manufacturer North Wing has taken on the task of providing an aircraft that meets the requirements of the birds and the FAA. Operation Migration has turned to crowdsourcing to raise the $84,700 needed for three new SLSA-compliant trikes.
Operation Migration founder Joe Duff told AOPA the aircraft need to be able to fly safely on the ragged edge of a stall at times. Although whooping cranes can cruise at 38 mph, they don’t always maintain that pace so the aircraft needs to be able to fly slow enough to allow them to catch up. Only a weight shift aircraft gives the pilot the precise control required to allow bird and machine to fly in formation. “That’s something you can’t do with a stick-and-rudder aircraft,” Duff said. The next generation of migrating birds have hatched at a wildlife reserve in Maryland and will be sent to Wisconsin soon to mature.