Fighting birds with birds
by Airman 1st Class Jose L. Leon
22nd Air Refueling Wing Public Affairs
9/7/2012 - MCCONNELL AIR FORCE BASE, Kan. (AFNS) -- The 22nd Air Refueling Wing Bird Aircraft Strike Hazard program is being overhauled with new contractors employing the use of a falcon to keep skies clear from avian adversaries.
The BASH program is in place to reduce bird strikes by introducing a natural predator into the area to ward off smaller animals.
McConnell will be changing the type of predator used from a dog to a pair of falcons.
Elaina, a Barbary falcon, and Jack, a Peregrine-Prairie hybrid, will be McConnell's new solution, capable of providing smaller birds the motivation to move along.
"One strike, if the bird hits the wrong spot on a plane, could do $50 to $100 thousand worth of damage," said Maj. Jeremy Fischman, 22nd ARW flight safety chief. "It is really easy for the program to pay for itself by preventing one bad bird strike."
Preventing bird strikes also maintains safety by not putting Airmen in a situation where they have to maneuver aircraft damaged in flight.
There were 4,471 bird strikes Air Force-wide in 2011. These incidents cost $13,061,140.
While the fields and ponds surrounding McConnell are inviting habitats for birds, the falcons will be introduced as a predatory species. The birds instinctively know that it is too dangerous to seek food and shelter once they note the presence of the falcons.
There are several other ways that bird and wildlife populations are humanely controlled around the airfield including fencing certain areas off, mowing the grass near the flight line to a prescribed height and draining puddles. Cannon blasts and noise makers can also be used to disperse unwanted flocks.
"I'll be trapping or using depredation to manage problem mammals," said Elizabeth Hensel, Falcon Environmental Services, Inc. wildlife manager.
For example, if there is a red-tail hawk, Hensel can trap the bird and move it to another location 50 miles away leading to one less bird threatening the fleet.
Having falcons will help disperse the birds and hopefully there will be less of a bird strike concern for the KC-135 Stratotankers, said Hensel.
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