Buckley's BASH program seeks to protect aircraft operations

  • Published
  • By Lt. Col. Mitch Neff
  • 140th Wing, Chief of Safety
When driving onto an Air Force base, you cannot help but notice the beautiful landscaping with manicured lawns, trimmed shrubbery, new trees, and maybe even a golf course with a lake on it. But for the Air Force, this is a "Catch 22," you want the base to look nice for folks working, visiting, and living on the installation, but you do not want to attract wildlife! Wildlife and aircraft do not mix.

But what are the hazards and cost of curb appeal? Wildlife has cost the Air Force and tax payers millions of dollars since keeping track of bird strikes began in the 1970's and the cost associated with those strikes since 1985.

The white pelican has cost the Air Force the most money at the tune of $257.7 million dollars in damage, with 21 pelican strikes to aircraft. In 1987, a B-1 Bomber crashed near La Junta, Colo. after ingesting white pelicans into its intakes. Since that time three F-16s have also crashed due to white pelicans.

When a large bird travels down the intake of a single engine aircraft, the outcome usually is the motor quitting and the aircraft being totaled. Even small birds can make a mess to a very expensive motor.

Turkey Vultures have been struck 460 times by Air Force aircraft and are responsible for $54.5 million in damages, black vulture $67.2 million, and Canada geese at $92.9 million in damages. On any given day and depending on the migratory season, all the aforementioned birds can be seen flying over or around Buckley Air Force Base to include hawks (raptors) soaring in the traffic pattern.

So the focus and objectives of the Bird Aircraft Strike Hazards (BASH) program at Buckley are to prevent wildlife-related aircraft mishaps and reduce the potential for wildlife hazards to aircraft operations. The Bird Hazard Working Group (BHWG) meets once a month and includes representatives from safety, U.S. Fish and Wildlife, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), biologists, base Civil Engineering, the CE environmental flight, flying operations and airfield management to name a few. The BASH program is a very serious subject at Buckley and many strides are being taken to keep the base aesthetically pleasing, but aircraft friendly.

Many topics are discussed during the BHWG meetings to include new landscape projects and the effects on BASH, grass cutting operations (7-14 inches height optimum), controlling water pooling, tree trimming, prairie dog management, bird nesting, and harassment techniques. The group does work within the guidelines of The Migratory Bird Treaty Act and animal permit controls.

It is a challenge, but folks frequenting the base need to be educated on BASH and the efforts being made to keep them, the community, and the pilots safe. If ever there is a question about long grass or why a project is going the way it is, BASH should come to mind.

(Dr. Russ DeFusco, U.S. Air Force retired and with BASH, Inc. contributed to this story.)