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'Wheel whackers' keep snakes out of planes in California desert

Australian airline Qantas is using broom handles repurposed as wheel whackers to prevent engineers maintaining jets in California's Mojave Desert from running afoul of rattlesnakes. Photo courtesy of Qantas
Australian airline Qantas is using broom handles repurposed as "wheel whackers" to prevent engineers maintaining jets in California's Mojave Desert from running afoul of rattlesnakes. Photo courtesy of Qantas

June 3 (UPI) -- Airline Qantas said engineers maintaining the fleet of A380 superjumbo jets in California's Mojave Desert have taken to using broom handles as "wheel whackers" to keep rattlesnakes out of the planes.

The Australian airline said in a post on its website that engineers have been maintaining the fleet of planes that have been stored in the desert since the COVID-19 pandemic caused air travel to decline sharply, and the team soon discovered the location came with its own challenges.

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"The area is well-known for its feisty 'rattlers,' who love to curl up around the warm rubber tires and in the aircraft wheels and brakes," Tim Heywood, Qantas' engineering manager for Los Angeles, said in the post.

He said the engineers came up with a way to avoid confrontations with the venomous rattlesnakes while working on the jets.

"Every aircraft has its own designated 'wheel whacker' (a repurposed broom handle) as part of the engineering kit, complete with each aircraft's registration written on it," Heywood wrote.

He said the method has proven effective in keeping the relationship between the engineers and nature harmonious.

"We've encountered a few rattlesnakes and also some scorpions, but the wheel whacker does its job and they scuttle off," he said. "It's a unique part of looking after these aircraft while they're in storage and it's another sign of how strange the past year has been. These A380s would rarely spend more than a day on the ground when they were in service."

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