Natural, man-made flyers don’t mix

  • Published
  • By Airman 1st Class Stephan Coleman
  • 81st Training Wing Public Affairs
It's a bird, it's a plane... it's... a bad combination on an airfield.

Aircraft are powerful yet delicate, and hitting birds during take-off or landing can be a real problem. The Bird Aircraft Strike Hazard program is dedicated to minimize this danger and keeping the runway clear.

"The goal of the BASH program is to diminish bird strikes as much as possible," said Dudley Cruse, 81st Training Wing flight safety. "It only takes one bird getting sucked into an engine to put it offline."

A bird strike is a collision between an airborne animal, usually a bird or a bat, and a man-made vehicle, specifically aircraft.

Since 1985, there have been more than 100,000 wildlife-aircraft strikes recorded by the U.S. Air Force, leading to more than $877 million dollars in damages, said Cruse.

Not every bird strike results in significant damage, but the BASH program focuses on reducing the chance.

"It depends on the birds and on the aircraft, of course," said Cruse. "A C-130 isn't going to be affected much by a strike with a dove, for instance. But some of the smaller aircraft that fly into Keesler, these doves could pull them down."

Air Force bird strikes are tracked and recorded in the Air Force Safety Automated System which can help to establish patterns.

The doves at Keesler give airfield management the most difficulty during the summer due to their numbers and tenacity, said Johnny R. Potter, 81st TRW airfield manager.

"Unless we use the pyrotechnics, the doves will fly right back to the runway," said Potter. "Geese are more dangerous, but also easier to scare off."

Along with geese and doves, Keesler's bay environment is home to pigeons, swallows, starling, blackbirds and the occasionally sea bird, depending on the weather and season. The Back Bay is a natural habitat for aquatic shorebirds such as ducks, loons and pelicans.

In addition to the large variety of birds in the Keesler area, there are behavioral and seasonal patterns that airfield management must recognize.

"Our bird activity picks up in June and August, and then tapers down by the end of September," said Cruse. "Dove season opens up in mid-September, which helps to bring their numbers down without us having to intervene too much."

"The doves eat seeds, while the killdeer and sparrows are more interested in mosquitos and dragonflies," Cruse added. "And sea birds tend to congregate before and after storms. So, you can't just go out there and get rid of all the birds with the same means."

Most deterrents for local wildlife are non-lethal. The typical methods employed at Keesler include habitat manipulation, which decreases airfield attractiveness to birds, and auditory repellants such as pyrotechnics, sirens and cannons.

Although every airfield has different bird scenarios, the BASH program and the AHAS are in place to keep bird strikes low.

"Normally, when clearing the flightline, airfield management is out there scanning for birds," said Cruse. "There are bird watch conditions: low, moderate, and severe. Under sever conditions there are no incoming or outgoing flights."

Clearing the flightline is a daily job, and birds are an ever-present pest.

"The mornings and evenings bring the most activity," said Potter. "But with all the overlapping seasons and species, it's a constant battle keeping birds off the airfield. Keeping all birds off the flightline isn't realistic, but the fewer bird strikes we get, the better."