Tech. Sgt. Joseph Pierce, 92nd Air Refueling Wing flight safety superintendent, scans the horizon for potential wildlife Jan. 5 at Fairchild’s flight line area. Sgt. Pierce is a member of the Bird Aircraft Strike Hazard avoidance program or BASH, which plays an important role in everyday airfield safety by ensuring birds and other wildlife are free from the area. (U.S. Air Force Photo/Tech. Sgt. JT May III)
Tech. Sgt. Joseph Pierce, 92nd Air Refueling Wing flight safety superintendent, ties an orange ribbon on a fence near Fairchild’s airfield to alert the Bird Aircraft Strike Hazard team for possible evidence of wildlife Jan. 5. (U.S. Air Force Photo/Tech. Sgt. JT May III)
Dave Knutson, 92nd Air fueling Wing Safety, wild life specialist, checks all areas on the flight line at Fairchild Jan. 4. The purpose is to deter birds and to minimize animal population on Fairchild’s airfield. Mr. Knutson is member of the Bird Aircraft Strike Hazard avoidance program and uses his falcon to hunt other birds. (U.S. Air Force Photo/Tech. Sgt. JT May III)
by Scott King
92nd Air Refueling Wing Public Affairs
1/19/2011 - FAIRCHILD AIR FORCE BASE, Wash. -- This team works to save lives, aircraft and money. They are vital to the mission - serving Fairchild by overseeing the Bird Aircraft Strike Hazard, or BASH, program.
The 92nd Air Refueling Wing safety office manages the BASH program by monitoring, evaluating, and where needed, eliminating bird threats so that the aircraft based here can complete their mis¬sions.
"The BASH program's main objective is aircrew safety," said Tech. Sgt. Joe Pierce, 92nd ARW Flight Safety superintendent. "A single bird strike can cause catastrophic damage to KC-135 engines rendering them useless and possible downing an aircraft."
History has shown a small bird weighing only ounces can cause extensive damage. For instance, a small dent on the leading edge of the wing can affect the components just under the skin damaging hydraulic lines or bleed air ducts that are critical for flight.
The primary threats to KC-135s launched and recovered from here are Horned Larks, Sparrows, Swallows and Warblers. Air Mobility Command's most frequently struck bird is the Horned Lark. It may be small, but it is the densest bird for its size.
As part of the Bird Harassment Team, wing safety takes a proactive approach when it comes to the BASH program. They make contact and coordinate efforts multiple times a week with the airfield manager, civil engineering pest control, environmental, wing flight safety and the wildlife specialist.
"Our program is effective because of all the tools we have available to deter birds from loitering on and around the airfield," Sergeant Pierce said. "The wildlife specialist is on constant patrol with falcons, dogs, pyrotechnics and his human presence. Entomology and airfield management do daily wildlife checks using pyrotechnics, vehicle noise and other means to eliminate birds when necessary."
Some passive measures we utilize are covering ponds and drainage ditches around the airfield to prevent birds from flushing into the path of aircraft, he explained. Also, grass height is maintained between 7 to 14 inches which deters birds from foraging along the perimeter of the runway. Most airfields only utilize a couple of techniques, but we use everything available to us keeping aircrews and aircraft safe.
Another extremely important tool to the overall success of BASH is the falcon program. Fairchild is going into its 13th year with Mr. Dave Knutson, a contractor who uses his personal bird hunting dogs, pyrotechnics and a falcon to deter birds. He also disperses wildlife such as deer, coyotes and badgers off the airfield.
"My role is an important element to our complete and integrated BASH program," Mr. Knuston said.
"There are many species of nuisance birds that become problematic to the safety of our aircraft and our trained falcon and working dog programs have proven to be the most effective abatement tools to move these unwanted and dangerous threats away from the BASH area."
We have proven to directly impact the mission by reducing the non-damaging bird strikes and nearly eliminating the damaging bird strikes around the base, he explained. At the end of our first year here we did not have any damaging bird strikes and reduced the number of non-damaging bird strikes from the previous year by 83 percent. This results in savings of dollars and reduction of flying for the crews and KC-135s.
As Mr. Knuston said another factor of a bird strike is the down-time of aircraft and crews.
KC-135 pilots and leadership know how important this program is to their mission.
"As a commander of a squad¬ron, I know a solid BASH program helps us avoid, or at least minimize bird strikes," said Lt. Col. John Pantleo, 93rd Air Refueling Squadron commander. "That does two things - on the operations side, it ensures the safety of our crews and aircraft in flight and allows us to accomplish our mission without damaging the aircraft. On the maintenance side, it allows the people who work so hard on our jets to take care of scheduled and routine maintenance without having to add on the additional work of identifying and repairing damage done to the aircraft by a bird we may have hit - It's a win all around."
Fairchild's commitment to the BASH program can be seen in its organizational and leadership support.
"Migrating bird populations have been growing dramatically and Team Fairchild has maintained and even decreased its overall strike numbers," Sergeant Pierce said. "This gets harder with each passing year so we must constantly look for new ways to improve. Safety offices can't do it alone - we need the teamwork, outside the box thinking and forward-focused leadership for our sound program to continue."