Safety officials work to minimize bird strikes

  • Published
  • By Scott King
  • 92nd Air Refueling Wing Public Affairs
This team works to save lives, aircraft and money by overseeing the bird aircraft strike hazard program.

The members of the 92nd Air Refueling Wing safety office manage the BASH program by monitoring, evaluating, and where needed, eliminating bird threats so the aircrews based here can complete their missions.

"The BASH program's main objective is aircrew safety," said Tech. Sgt. Joe Pierce, the 92nd ARW Flight Safety superintendent. "A single bird strike can cause catastrophic damage to KC-135 (Stratotanker) engines, rendering them useless and possibly downing an aircraft."

The primary threats to KC-135s launched and recovered from here are horned larks, sparrows, swallows and warblers. The bird most frequently struck by Air Mobility Command aircraft is the horned lark.

As part of the bird harassment team, wing safety officials take a proactive approach when it comes to the BASH program. They make contact and coordinate efforts multiple times each week with the airfield manager and the wildlife specialist, as well as officials from civil engineering pest control, environmental, and wing flight safety.

"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 tool of BASH is the falcon program.

Dave Knutson, a contractor, uses his personal bird-hunting dogs, pyrotechnics and a falcon to deter birds. He also removes wildlife such as deer, coyotes and badgers from the airfield.

"There are many species of nuisance birds that become problematic to the safety of our aircraft," Mr. Knutson said. "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."

KC-135 pilots and leaders here said the BASH program is important to their mission.

"As a commander of a squadron, I know a solid BASH program helps us avoid, or at least minimize bird strikes," said Lt. Col. John Pantleo, the 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."