Afghan falconers, safety office Airmen keep airfield safe for aircraft

  • Published
  • By Staff Sgt. Richard Williams
  • 455th Air Expeditionary Wing Public Affairs
Foreign objects can be an aircraft's worst enemy. As pilots taxi down runways, the air intake of an F-16 Fighting Falcon or the rotary propeller of an MC-12W Liberty can incur serious damage when they come into contact with debris from the airfield.

One of the main concerns at any airfield is the potential for wildlife to damage the mission-essential aircraft or place aircrews in harm's way, said Todd Grimm, a wildlife biologist with the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

"The main thing I am doing here is identifying any potential wildlife hazards that may impact the aircraft," Mr. Grimm said.

Mr. Grimm and four local Afghan trappers set snare traps and use other lethal and nonlethal means to prevent animals from entering the airfield.

Their primary concern is ensuring birds remain out of the path of inbound or outbound aircraft, Mr. Grimm said.

They also ensure animals considered prey for local predators such as jackals and wild dogs stay away from the airfield.

To keep the airfield wildlife free, the team removes any vegetation that could harbor insects or seeds that birds may feed on, Mr. Grimm said. "We have also removed jackrabbits and red foxes, which keeps larger predatory animals from the airfield."

Mr. Grimm, who has more than 18 years experience in aircraft bird strike avoidance and wildlife removal from airfields, says although 455th AEW officials have reduced bird strikes dramatically in the past year, the safety office's goal is clear -- no bird strikes are acceptable.

"So far, we have made a tremendous difference in the number of bird strikes in the area," he said.

Mr. Grimm said he has compared bird strike incidents from April and May 2009, with statistics from the same time in 2010, and wildlife incidents have dropped by 50 percent.

"When I first got here, we had a problem with black kites (birds) at the end of the runway," he said. "There were more than 2,000 birds in the area that would fly to the opposite end of the airfield at dusk every day." 

His team was able to remove the birds from the area and remove the potential risk.

"We want to catch the birds," said Mohammad Ashraf, an Afghan trapper who works with the safety office. "We want to keep them back from the airfield and keep the airplanes safe."