Experts preparing helicopters for mosquito season

Mosquito feeding on a human host, Photo Date: January 23, 2016 / Cropped Photo: Day Donaldson / CC BY 2.0 / (MGN)

LE SUEUR, Minn. (KARE)- To fight a bug that flies, you have to do a little bit of flying of your own. And just one helicopter won’t do the trick, the Metropolitan Mosquito Control District uses six of them to fight the state’s least favorite bug, the mosquito.

While the mosquito season is still weeks away, experts were out testing those helicopters at Le Sueur Airport Tuesday to make sure they’re ready to go for when the bugs start showing up.

“It’s nice to get out and meet the pilots again and talk strategies for the season,” Metropolitan Mosquito Control District technical services manager Mark Smith says.

The agency uses several strategies to keep mosquito populations in check, but arguably the most effective involves dropping specially-designed granules from helicopters that kill mosquito larva as they hatch.

“The product we’re using here is called BTI. It’s carried on corn cob granules and when the mosquitoes eat it they die,” Smith says.

But before they drop those granules, they have to make sure they’re dropping them correctly.

“We do one big calibration in the spring for all our helicopters,” Smith says.

The calibration process includes several flyovers with each helicopter to make sure the hoppers are dropping the granules at the correct speed and distance.

Those granules are collected by a line of specially-designed trampolines that funnel the granules into test tubes.

Workers remove the tubes and measure how many granules were collected during each flyover.

“These are essentially big funnels that are catching the material and it lets us weigh how much is coming out,” one worker says.

The calibration process is expensive and time consuming, but experts say it’s a good investment in the long run.

Each of their helicopters will drop thousands of loads this season and calibrating each helicopter correctly saves both time and money.

“We’ll use hundreds of thousands of pounds of BTI in a season,” Smith says. “We try to be as environmentally sound as we can be and this helps with that.”