BASH program saves lives, money

  • Published
  • By Staff Sgt. Nick Wilson
  • 509th Bomb Wing Public Affairs
Whiteman's aircraft are not the only birds that rule the skies over central Missouri. In 2012, Whiteman units flew a total of 6,379 successful sorties, thanks in part to the efforts of 509th Operations Support Squadron's Airfield Management Flight and its Bird Air Strike Hazard (BASH) program.

The purpose of BASH is to ensure birds do not pose a threat to flying aircraft. Without BASH, there would likely be an increased number of bird-related aircraft mishaps on base.

"When an aircraft gets a bird strike, it becomes non-mission capable until the repair process is completed," said Tech. Sgt. Ray Northcutt, 509th Aircraft Maintenance Squadron flight safety superintendent. "This can cause missed sorties and mission drops."

Equipped with pyrotechnics and shotguns, airfield management specialists participate in the BASH program all day, every day. The BASH program maximizes mission efficiency and saves the Air Force millions of dollars, according to Myles.

When birds are spotted, airfield management specialists work with the control tower to describe the location, size and other details of possible aircraft threats. Because airfield managers have a responsibility to ensure the safety of aircrew and flightline assets, the airfield management shop typically handles most bird threats.

"If the U.S. Department of Agriculture is not here, we'll take responsibility for dispersing of the birds," said Senior Airman Synquae Wilson, 509th Operations Support Squadron airfield management coordinator. "If it isn't safe for planes to fly in the area, we can suspend operations until the threat is cleared."

The bird-watch conditions of "low," "moderate" and "severe" will usually give pilots and air traffic controllers a heads-up on what to expect for the day's mission. Airfield management specialists also perform daily checks every two hours. If the threat is heavy, Airmen will continue to scare away the birds until the hazard is dispersed.

"We ensure not only the safety of pilots, but also the safety of everyone on base," Wilson said. "A crashed aircraft can create quite a disaster. We won't have as many aircraft to perform or respond to missions."

Not only can a bird strike slow down the mission, but it can also cost Airmen their lives and deprive the Air Force of valuable resources. Since FY 2008, Whiteman has experienced 365 bird strikes; the resulting damage has exceeded $285,100 in repairs, said Northcutt.

Because of the significant assets and capabilities lost due to previous bird strikes, airfield management specialists are taking necessary countermeasures to reduce future mishaps.

"We keep the grass cut and make sure there is no standing water on the airfield to attract birds," Wilson said. "We do everything we can to deter them from the paths of taxiing, flying and landing aircraft."

Keeping the grass mowed requires airfield management specialists to work with members from the 509th Civil Engineer Squadron to ensure the grass stays between 7 to 14 inches. They also kill all weeds that could provide homes for both birds and the animals they tend to eat.

"This keeps the area the least habitable as possible," said Senior Airman Dennis Myles, 509th OSS airfield management coordinator. "If there is no food for birds to look for, then they aren't going to want to come to the airfield."

With a dedicated team of Airmen who work 24/7, holidays included, airfield management coordinators use BASH to keep birds from bringing Whiteman's mission to a grinding halt, said Myles.

"Birds can fly in at all times of the day, especially during migration times, so we are continuously on the lookout," he said. "Safety is our number one priority."