HomeNewsArticle Display

Public enemy number chirp

A U.S. Air Force F-22 Raptor takes off at Joint Base Langley-Eustis, Virginia, Oct. 18, 2018.

A U.S. Air Force F-22 Raptor takes off at Joint Base Langley-Eustis, Virginia, Oct. 18, 2018. The Bird Aircraft Strike Hazard program manages 16 propane cannons set around the flightline to help scare off birds and prevent potential bird strikes. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Anthony Nin Leclerec)

As part of the Bird Aircraft Strike Hazard program, bird spikes were set to prevent birds from perching on the approach lights at Joint Base Langley-Eustis, Virginia.

As part of the Bird Aircraft Strike Hazard program, bird spikes were set to prevent birds from perching on the approach lights at Joint Base Langley-Eustis, Virginia. The BASH Program uses several methods, including propane cannons, non-lethal pyrotechnics and sound emitting equipment to keep wildlife off the airfield by making it undesirable in terms of food, water and shelter. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Anthony Nin Leclerec)

The sun illuminates the wetlands by the nature trail at Joint Base Langley-Eustis, Virginia, Oct. 22, 2018.

The sun illuminates the wetlands by the nature trail at Joint Base Langley-Eustis, Virginia, Oct. 22, 2018. Langley Air Force Base is spotted with wetlands, which attracts a significant variety of bird species, which can be potential Bird Aircraft Strike Hazards. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Anthony Nin Leclerec)

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 difficult.

 

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 accustomed to.

 

“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 recorded.

 

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 feather databank.

 

“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 America.”