AF program prevents catastrophe

Senior Airman Kerry Solan-Johnson, Story and photos
Kaiserslautern American

***image1***Take a gander at the goose.
The seven-pound bird may seem no match against any of the Air Force’s arsenal of large aircraft, but history tells us otherwise.

Sept. 22, 1995 an E-3 Sentry AWACS struck a flock of geese, while the aircraft was passing rotation speed during takeoff. The Sentry ingested at least four geese into two separate engines; pilots were unable to maintain control of the 300,000-plus pound aircraft and crashed, igniting 125,000 pounds of jet fuel. All 24 on board died.

Geese are no stranger to this part of the world, but the Bird/Wildlife Aircraft Strike Hazard program is working to make them strangers to Ramstein.

“This area is a haven for deer, fox, rabbits and birds,” said Tech. Sgt. Thomas Franz, 86th Operation Support Squadron airfield management operations NCO in charge. “Our goal is harassment: get them out and keep them out.”

Airfield management employs a wide variety of tactics to rid the area of such menaces, broken down into aggressive and passive deterrents.

One of the most aggressive is the use of a falconer, Gerhard Wagner, and his four peregrine falcons and female hawk.

These birds of prey hunt down their feathered friends and bring them back to Mr. Wagner, who then passes the birds off to the safety office. According to Air Force Safety’s BASH program, knowing the size and behavior of the birds and mammals in the area is key to prioritizing, planning and implementing effective BASH measures.

The 5-year old falcon and 3-year-old hawk not only hunt, but scare birds away – the technique of falconry keeps birds away longer than other BASH methods, said Harald Theobald, 735th Civil Engineer Squadron entomology.

Pyrotechnics, such as Very pistol with a shotgun shell sleeve, are used to create a loud bang with a scare cartridge to disperse. Airfield management also uses propane gas cannons, which produces a 130 decibel “thunderclap bangs,” and a bioacoustics vehicle, which broadcasts recorded bird distress calls.

“Birds are attracted to the sounds of distress calls – they fly toward the calls to check out the situation, and we lead them away from the airfield, and then disperse them with the Very pistol,” said Sergeant Franz.

***image2***Passive methods of the BASH program include maintaining a specific grass height to remove areas that attract birds, removing shrubs and placing plastic spikes on top of signs to prevent birds from landing there.

“We can’t just use one of these methods and expect it to work,” said Sergeant Franz.

All these efforts are to maintain a low bird condition – defined as a having a few scattered birds around the runway and taxiways.

“A low bird condition means there’s a minimal threat to aircraft,” said Sergeant Franz.

Any other condition, such as moderate (less than 10 medium-sized birds or less than 10 small birds) or severe (any number of large birds in flight in the path of departing or arriving aircraft) can halt flying operations.

“It’s our job to let the flying community know of the hazards, and update the bird conditions as needed,” said Sergeant Franz. “And we will use all our resources to bring the condition back down to low when the bird condition is severe.”

Aircraft are most vulnerable to strikes during takeoff, which is why airfield management must remain vigilant for all the training missions and touch-and-gos aircraft perform.

“It boils down to one bird or one deer bringing catastrophe,” said Senior Master Sgt. Arturo Jayme, airfield manager. “We’ve learned our lesson from Elmendorf; the program needed teeth and we’ve learned from that mistake.”
(Airman 1st Class Nancy Hooper contributed to this article.)