Removing wildlife for a safe flight

  • Published
  • By Airman 1st Class Ryan Zeski
  • 92nd Air Refueling Wing Public Affairs
The Bird/Wildlife Aircraft Strike Hazard program at Fairchild is working daily to ensure the safety of Fairchild's KC-135 Stratotankers and their air crews.

The BASH program is set in place to prevent any birds from striking aircraft and any wildlife on the flightline from interfering with flight operations.

Aircraft strikes and wildlife interference jeopardize the lives of Airmen and the Fairchild mission.

"This program is necessary in eliminating and reducing environmental conditions that attract birds and wildlife to the airfield," said Capt. Owen Walker, 92nd Air Refueling Wing chief of flight safety. "It greatly reduces the chances of an aircraft strike."

The safety office uses numerous techniques to reduce the threat of bird strikes.

One of the techniques is placing multiple air cannons throughout the airfield, which are set on timers to scare birds off the field.

Another approach to handling this issue is using a falconer. Fairchild's falconer, Dave Knutson, who started here in 1996 and has five falcons and two English pointers to help remove wildlife from the flightline.

In the winter, Knutson uses Peregrine and Gyrfalcon falcons because they are able to endure the cold weather and wind however, for the summer months, African birds are used to counter the heat.

After the first year the BASH program started using falcons, the repair costs from bird strike damage to aircraft was zero dollars, down from $265,000 in the previous year. And non-damaging bird strikes went down 83% from the previous year.

Releasing the falcons in the area increases the number of natural predators. Other birds can sense this and it will cause them to leave or hide in the grass.

"It's a show of force ... other birds see the falcon hunting and become frightened," said Knutson. "If they don't get out of the way deprivation will occur."

Although these falcons are able to dive at over 200 mile per hour not that many kills occur, Knutson said. Once the birds either flee or hide on the ground. We take the dogs and drive through scaring them off the flightline.

"We don't measure our success on how many birds are killed, what matters is how fast the airfield is cleared," said Knutson.

Every action to reduce the presence of wildlife on the flightline is taken. This goes as far as cutting the grass to a certain length.

Walker said the grass is cut no lower than 14 inches and won't get any taller than 27 inches. It's not too short for birds to land in and not too tall so they don't have the option to hide or start a nest in it.

When it comes to dealing with the natural ponds on the airfield, the safety office has started a new approach. Using hundreds of thousands of black plastic balls known as 'bird balls.' These bird balls are placed into the ponds covering the entire surface. This prevents birds from landing while the dark color is also less appealing to them.

"The bird balls are more effective than the nets we are currently using," said Master Sgt. Joel Jones, 92nd ARW flight safety superintendent. "It's possible for the wildlife to get under the nets defeating their purpose."

So far, 500,000 bird balls have been placed in the pond next to the aircraft simulator the fire department uses for training. This gives them access to the pond for their purposes while not attracting any wildlife to the flightline.

When a bird strike occurs it can be deadly, cause serious damage or ground the whole mission.

"Bird strikes are taken very serious and they greatly impact our mission costing us valuable time and money," said Jones.

Since the implementation of the BASH program Fairchild crews have been safer and it has safeguarded the Air Force from bird related maintenance repairs, allowing the mission of Team Fairchild to continue.