With the runway reopened: Safety, others work to minimize bird strikes to aircraft

  • Published
  • By Scott King
  • 92nd Air Refueling Wing Public Affairs
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 eliminating bird/wildlife threats where needed so that the aircraft based here can complete their missions.
     "The BASH program's main objective is aircrew safety," said Master Sgt. Joe Pierce, 92nd ARW Flight Safety superintendent. "A single bird strike can cause catastrophic damage to KC-135 engines, rendering them useless and possibly 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, which 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. Major hazards include waterfowl -- like Geese and ducks. These larger birds pose a serious threat to aircraft as witnessed in the Hudson River landing.
     Not only are birds a primary threat, but mammals such as deer, coyotes and badgers are extremely dangerous to aircraft. The BASH team spends a lot of time removing these animals from the airfield. The BASH team asks everyone to remain vigilant of any open gates leading to the airfield. These open gates are invitations for mammals to enter the airfield.
     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 entomology, tower 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," 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. With the new runway, there were several new lighting systems installed. These lights are perfect for birds to perch along the runway, but the BASH team's proactive thinking had a solution. They installed what is called bird guard wire that prevents birds from perching so close to 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 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," Knutson 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 are proven to directly impact the mission by reducing the non-damaging bird strikes and nearly eliminating the damaging bird strikes around the base, Knuston 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 threats for the crews and KC-135s.
     Another factor of a bird strike, is the down-time of aircraft and crews.
     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," 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."