Droves of birds scattered in all directions as the sound of gunshots rang through the air in preparation for a C-5 Galaxy takeoff.
The 86th Airlift Wing flight safety and 86th Operations Support Squadron Air Field Management offices maintain the base’s Bird Aircraft Strike Hazard program, ensuring birds fly in the opposite direction of the mission. The offices performed a BASH demonstration Feb. 6 for local German media, showcasing the methods used to keep the base runways safe.
“BASH is a much relied on program,” said Capt. Kent Jensen, 86th AW chief of flight safety. “We do our best to ensure all birds are clear of the flightline prior to aircraft take-offs and landings. When we have BASH mishaps, birds are generally found to have struck either the nose or tip of the aircraft’s wings. Those are considered minor mishaps, but they can be a lot worse.”
A bird strike was the cause of the recent headline mishap, forcing a retired Air Force pilot to land a U.S. Airways airbus in New York’s Hudson River. Thanks to the pilot’s skills and years of experience, no one was hurt, but the bird strike did result in a total loss of a multi-million dollar aircraft and a terrifying experience for passengers aboard the plane.
With more than 5,000 bird strikes reported throughout the U.S. Air Force in 2007 and as many as 19 bird strikes at Ramstein in 2008, BASH is a top priority.
“We work in conjunction with the 86th OSS airfield management,” Captain Jensen said. “Together, we are all always on the lookout to be as proficient as possible.”
While birds are often dispersed from the Ramstein flightline with ease, using tools such as bird cannons, scare-away launchers and vehicle mounted acoustics, every now and then BASH personnel are stuck with stubborn birds that just will not respond to normal methods, forcing them to use more drastic means, said Tech Sgt. Matthew Ludwig, 86th OSS airfield management non-commissioned officer in charge of training.
“Some of the methods we use to execute the BASH program are extreme, but safe and effective,” he said.
One of the more extreme methods used to clear birds from the runway is falconry – the art of training hawks to hunt.
The 86th OSS airfield management operates with a falconer who trains and uses two peregrine falcons to swoop in on stubborn birds not responding to normal methods.
“The falcon is a natural predator, constantly probing the sky in search of its prey,” said Master Sgt. Nelson Ryes, 86th AW flight safety BASH manager. “The falcon dives toward the sitting duck devouring its prey, resulting in a non-aircraft mishap. This method is a bit out there and isn’t something we do constantly, but it’s effective and sufficient. The falcons maneuver great and their proficiency is amazing.”
With more than 80 aircraft missions conducted each day on the Ramstein flightline, it is easy to see how the BASH program keeps Air Force birds soaring high in the sky.