When rains threaten, OSS gets steppin'

  • Published
  • By Staff Sgt. Nick Wilson
  • 509th Bomb Wing Public Affairs
"Live safety, 24/7."

That is the one constant motto for the Airmen of the 509th Operations Support Squadron airfield management team.

One part of keeping the airfield safe includes stepping out during rainstorms to take a survey of rainwater that has settled on various locations inside the flightline.

"Water assessments help us provide safety for Whiteman's aircraft," said Staff Sgt. Timothy Cole, 509th Operations Support Squadron airfield management operations supervisor. "If the water is excessively deep in certain locations, we'll close the area as soon as possible so we don't have any aircraft coming into that zone."

A failure to close off areas that have too much water buildup can cause pilots to lose control of aircraft.

"If there is a lot of force behind the running water, it could cause the aircraft a lot of damage," Cole said. "But our pilots are very safe about their operations when there is running water on the flightline, so they wouldn't taxi into it."

Cole said that if the rainwater is too deep, aircraft cannot taxi in certain areas.

"The flightline is not completely flat," Cole said. "There are contoured areas that can cause water to build up. Sometimes the drains don't have the ability to get the water out of the way."

The rainwater assessments are part of a regular inspection airfield managers complete at least 12 times every day. The safety of Whiteman's airfield depends on their expertise, as they are responsible for facilitating operations on the flightline.

"Validating that there are no issues for aircraft to taxi is a big part of our job," Cole said. "If we find issues, we provide documentation to pass up the chain of command so improvements can be made. It helps out in the long run when everybody gets involved."

Cole said that his team must evaluate the airfield as often as possible to keeping his chain updated on the status of flightline safety.

"We need to be aware of our surroundings; otherwise we don't have control of the airfield," Cole said. "Our airfield doesn't often get heavy rainwater buildup, but when it does, we do our best to get the most accurate assessments possible."

Cole said that flightline drivers must be aware of areas with heavy rainwater.

"Heavy rainwater could cause a vehicle to slide and potentially cause an accident," Cole said. "You have to play it safe. If there is buildup from water, don't drive very fast and don't go through it."

Cole said that Airmen should not drive through running or standing water unless it is absolutely mission-essential.

In addition to keeping vehicles and aircraft out of certain areas during rainstorms, airfield managers also must ensure birds do not hinder aircraft operations.

"Birds like water, shelter and food," Cole said. "So the water is a comfort ground for them. It's like a bird bath, but a lot bigger."

To keep birds from posing a threat to aircraft, airfield management specialists are equipped with pyrotechnics and shotguns, which they use to scare the birds away.

"Our Bird Air Strike Hazard (BASH) program keeps birds as afraid of the runway and flightline as possible," said Airman 1st Class Adam Rhine, 509th OSS airfield management shift lead. "If there are birds on the runway, it could lead to a potential bird strike and possibly a downed aircraft. This could cause the death of a pilot and cause the Air Force to lose a lot of money."

Whether taking rainwater assessments or shooting pyrotechnics to keep birds out of the skies, the 509th OSS Airfield Management Operations Flight ensures Whiteman maintains a safe flightline, and provides a guarantee that B-2 Spirits, A-10 Thunderbolts and other aircraft assigned to the base can respond to the calls of duty at a moment's notice.

"Avoiding danger is a big deal for the Air Force," Cole said. "Keeping people updated about certain hazards on the flightline saves lives."