JOINT BASE LANGLEY-EUSTIS, Va. --
The Bird Aircraft Strike Hazard plan is designed to minimize
aircraft exposure to potentially hazardous wildlife strikes during airfield and
flying operations at Joint Base Langley-Eustis.
“When the base was bought over 100 years ago, they weren’t
thinking they’d be flying F-22 Raptors--bird strikes were not a thought. Wetlands
were purchased thinking it was cheap; no one wanted them and no one would get
upset at the government purchasing it,” said Jay Carr, USDA/WS wildlife
biologist assigned to the 1st Fighter Wing Safety Office. “Now here we are, on
a peninsula that has a landfill less than three miles away on one side, on the
other side we’ve got a national wildlife refuge, and most of our airfield is
spotted with wetlands, which attracts a significant variety of bird species.”
Habitat management is the main way to keep wildlife off the
airfield by making it undesirable in terms of food, water and shelter.
According to Carr, grass management is probably the number one
priority. The BASH program works with landscapers to keep the grass on the
flightline between 7 to 14 inches long, so small mammals aren’t seen by
predatory birds who, in turn, get frustrated and leave to hunt elsewhere. The
grass is also maintained so it doesn’t get long enough to produce seeds and
leave a buffet on the ground.
Working in conjunction with entomology to control insects that
could attract wildlife also helps with habitat management.
However, some animals with the ability to adapt can be quite
Populations of North American bird species that pose hazards to
aviation have increased dramatically and many species have adapted to urban
environments, including Canada geese, brown pelicans, gulls, bald eagles and vultures.
Though managing the habitat is important, dispersal of wildlife
remains a critical part of the program.
Permits with federal and state government allow BASH program personnel
to trap and relocate wildlife away from the airfield. They also carry out
studies on how long it takes birds to come back and how far away they must be
taken to not come back at all.
“There are also 16 propane cannons around the airfield and we have
one of the more advanced systems, the Scare Wars system,” Carr said. “Some of
them have speakers that make bird in distress sounds and all of them have the
ability to discharge a propane driven bang.”
Along with the propane cannons, the team uses non-lethal
pyrotechnics and sound emitting equipment to scare off birds as well as spikes
on the flightline approach lights to prevent birds from perching near takeoff
and landing paths.
The last option is to kill wildlife; it has been done before with
the appropriate permits, but only when it is completely unavoidable.
Since 1985, Langley AFB has experienced over 600 recorded
wildlife strikes at a cost of over $6.5 million in repairs to aircraft. This
cost doesn’t take into account labor, downtime or the risk of loss of life.
“We had a strike last year, as a matter of fact, where we struck
multiple shore birds,” Carr said. “With 5th generation aircraft everything is
expensive, and the cost was over $2.5 million for one bird strike.”
These are figures that officials at Langley AFB have had to grow
“Unfortunately that has become the new norm, when you had bird
strikes 10-15 years ago it was hard to reach a million dollars,” Carr said.
“But we start adding that 5th generation element and the price goes up.”
The BASH program is required by Air Force Instruction to develop
a Bird Hazard Working Group for all wildlife strikes to be reported and
After an incident is reported, everything from blood samples to
feathers are gathered, documented and sent to the Smithsonian Institute in
Washington, District of Columbia, by the team.
At the Smithsonian Institute, they have a feather identification
lab and specialize in bird strike identification backed by a large DNA and
“Over time, data points are gathered and studied,” Carr said.
“With that information, we can say things like ‘hey, we are striking a lot of
species A, what’s driving that species to want to be here?’ and that’s kind of
how you long-term maintain changes to the airfield to prevent bird strikes.”
At the end of the day, some bird strikes are avoidable while
others aren’t. According to Carr, sometimes maintaining the airfield for one
kind of bird will attract another kind of bird; it’s important to think about
which bird poses a greater threat and develop an accurate risk assessment.
“The BASH program is an essential operation for the safety and
success of Langley AFB’s 1st FW--the first enemy our pilots encounter should
not be the local wildlife,” said James Powell USDA/WS southeast district
supervisor. “By reducing the number of wildlife encounters around the airfield,
USDA/WS keeps our pilots and the planes they operate safe. The BASH program is
a key component to keeping our airmen combat ready to maintain global power for