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A Flying Gig That‘s for the Birds

Lighthawk pilots work to help conservation-threatened bird species

California Condor - Lighthawk Pilots Work to Help Conservation-Threatened Bird Species
California Condor is one of the bird species that Lighthawk volunteer pilots help track.

Imagine flying as an eagle-eyed volunteer conservation pilot to help save an endangered species by flying low at bird-level altitudes. That’s what almost 300 pilots do on a regular basis for Lighthawk, the non-profit organization specializing in flying missions to further the survival of many types of imperiled flying species.

As a volunteer for this worthwhile group, your passengers could be conservation officers, scientists, policy makers, and others whose primary responsibility will be to track those species that have been identified as endangered and subject to extinction. Typically, this includes birds that have been outfitted with a special radio-frequency ID tag tuned to a VHF receiver that’s mounted portably in an aircraft setup specifically for this mission.

The latest generation of RFID tags, called nanotags, are attached to these endangered birds and turn on automatically at night, transmitting a signal every 30 seconds. With a range of just over three statute miles, for the highest likelihood of receiving the signals and tracking these low-flying bogies, it’s important for the volunteer pilot to conduct the operation at a slower speed than most survey-style flights, this according to Lighthawk.

With recent success and encouragement from the academics, Lighthawk is looking to add to their volunteer pilot network.

Learn more about becoming a Lighthawk volunteer pilot by visiting


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