A bird in the hand better than two in the turbine

  • Published
  • By Airman 1st Class Jacob Morgan
  • 436th Airlift Wing Public Affairs
A red fox is born to a litter of three in a burrow just outside the fence here. Eventually this fox will grow up to forage dead animals and bring them back to the den to feed his family.

A short time later, vultures arrive to the den to feast. They steal the food and take the food back to a nest, where they feed their fledglings. A vulture takes back off to repeat the process, but as it swoops down, it is sucked into the engine of a C-17 Globemaster III, causing extensive damage to the plane. If left unchecked, the cycle would repeat, creating an extreme hazard for Airmen.

"It's about the entire ecosystem," said Melody Henderson, a bird/wildlife aircraft strike hazard ecologist and wildlife manager. "In the last seven years, there has been more than $8 million in damage at Dover Air Force BaseĀ alone."

BASH is a program made up of several squadrons and base agencies designed to mitigate the risk of bird and wildlife strikes to aircraft. The area of responsibility of the program is a five-mile radius around Dover AFB. This area is covered by one woman and her dog.

Mrs. Henderson and Kilo, a rescued border collie, start their day 30 minutes before sunrise and end it just before 2 a.m.

"I work a lot, but I love my job," Mrs. Henderson said. "I take pride in the safety of our service members, when they leave or come back to Dover AFB on one of the planes. I want to make sure they travel safely."

The safety of the aircrew members and planes requires that most wildlife population in the area be controlled. This area is from the surface to 3,000 feet and includes the water and forests that surround Dover AFB.

A self-admitted animal lover, Mrs. Henderson said it can be hard to relocate a lot of the wildlife. However, left to their own devices, animals can bounce back, but planes cannot.

Understanding animal behavior allows Mrs. Henderson to be proactive rather than reactive. In a results-oriented business, this matters. From the length of the grass on the flightline, to the types of ditches built for water flow, everything in the system must be conducive to the control of wildlife populations.

Since Mrs. Henderson has been at Dover AFB, there have been no large damaging bird strikes, said Capt. Ryan Daugherty, the chief of C-17 flight safety. She has also streamlined the collection and reporting of bird strikes, creating a better tracking system for aircrews around the Air Force.

"She puts in countless hours for a critical job that goes under the radar," said Capt. Eric Ballew, theĀ chief of flight safety.

Recently, more than 10 properties have joined into a landowner's agreement, which allows Mrs. Henderson to control wildlife on local property. This agreement was recognized in a landowners appreciation day June 15, 2011, at Dover AFB, where Mrs. Henderson briefed on the correlation between the property she can access and the amount of bird strikes.

"One of the most important things she has done is to build a friendship of cooperation with the local community," Captain Ballew said. "She has shown landowners how allowing access on their property is keeping aircrews safer through her hard work."

Mrs. Henderson works closely with the 436th Airlift Wing Safety Office, the 436th AW public affairs community relations department and the local landowners to accomplish the BASH mission.

"This program is one of the best, but it's because of my support group," said Mrs. Henderson.