AVIANO AIR BASE, Italy --
AVIANO AIR BASE, Italy– With jets and helicopters taking to the skies, one priority in completing the mission is the safety of all Airmen, assets and aircraft involved.
U.S. Air Force Master Sgt. Miguel Gibson and U.S. Air Force Master Sgt. William Telschow, 31st Fighter Wing Flight Safety managers, lead the Bird/Wildlife Aircraft Strike Hazard (BASH) section, which works from the ground to keep aircraft safe in the skies.
“The whole priority and purpose of BASH is to reduce the amount of bird and wildlife strikes on our aircraft,” said Gibson.
In order to reduce these strikes, BASH carries out duties such as keeping the grass between 7-14 inches to deter nesting, the relocation of large bushes or trees and patrols to determine problem areas or relocate birds and wildlife. During patrols, the team must keep their heads on a swivel to catch all potential wildlife threats.
“We do perimeter checks around the base fence line, making sure wildlife isn’t burrowing beneath,” said Gibson. “As well as keeping an eye on the sky.”
Even with correctly lengthened grass and no nesting areas, wildlife still finds a home on base. Often, non-lethal measures must be taken to relocate them.
These measures are taken whenever an endangered species is spotted on base. Once a team member spots one, flight operations are immediately halted and the team must deter the bird as far away from the flightline as possible. One of the tools they use for this are noise makers that emit directional chirps so BASH can guide the bird to a safer location.
If these measures are not effective, they can employ the regional Corpo Forestale, local Italian wildlife experts similar to park rangers, to come on base and help them safely relocate the bird to a safe area.
The flightline itself is also equipped to deter birds and wildlife automatically.
“We have some air cannons that work remotely,” said Telschow. “These are controlled by the tower where they swivel and shoot small bursts of air that help us clear the flightline before take-offs.”
Despite these preventative measures, the worst-case scenario can still happen and an aircraft collides with a bird. In the case of a bird strike on an aircraft, BASH’s job still isn't done. The team must inspect the strike and take samples.
Once these samples are sterilized and processed, BASH sends them off to the Smithsonian Institution’s Feather Identification Lab in Washington, D.C. This lab tracks and processes bird strikes to assess and manage wildlife mitigation. This also helps both parties track and come up with preventative measures to reduce strikes.
BASH will also use this information to determine which flight times are best for aircraft to avoid bird strikes. With this information they can learn, grow and adapt their operations.
“Bird strikes don't just take an aircraft out of flight for a few days,” said Telschow. “It’s a ripple effect, our job is the prevention of man hours lost and workload increased.”