May 10, 2003
Plane and the Plan
This is the third year of a bold migration project to bring Whooping cranes back to a part of their former range. The plan is to lead the chicks with the ultralights on the 1200-mile migration to Florida. The chicks that follow the ultralight south will become part of the ancestral flock for the Whooping cranes being reintroduced to eastern and midwestern North America. As such, they are part of the Whooping Crane Reintroduction Project. Many partners work together in this ten-year plan. The group is called the Whooping Crane Eastern Partnership (WCEP).
Baby whoopers in the wild would learn migration from their parents. That is impossible for these chicks hatched in a captive breeding center for endangered species. That's where the ultralight comes in. The tiny plane (also called a trike) is the chicks' flight teacher and their stand-in parent. These ultralights weigh only about 360 pounds. The trikes can fly at crane speed, which is about 35-38 miles per hour.
This year, 18 chicks were hatched for this special project. That means four ultralights will be needed. Operation Migration is the organization that pioneered in using ultralights to lead birds on migration. They get their ultralights from Cosmos, in France. This year's pilots are Joe Duff, Richard van Heuvelen, and Brooke Pennypacker, with Bill Lishman flying the scout plane. Click here to meet the pilots and other team members who are bringing Whooping cranes back to their former range.
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