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NEWS | Feb. 16, 2011

JB CHS eliminating bird strikes

By Airman 1st Class Jared Trimarchi Joint Base Charleston Public Affairs

In October 2010, Joint Base Charleston became the first joint base to team-up with the United States Department of Agriculture Wildlife Services to help run the base's Bird Avoidance Strike Hazard program.

BASH is an Air Force program that identifies and reduces threats or damages caused by wildlife strikes to the aircraft.

The Hudson River landing in 2009 caused by a US Airways flight striking a flock of geese shortly after takeoff, increased the public's concern about aircraft safety, said Lt. Col. Mark Fuhrmann, 437th Airlift Wing chief of safety. "The Air Force has always made safety a top priority in order to reduce the possibility of an accident and BASH makes this possible."

"When the previous contract with a private company was over, we heard about USDA Wildlife Services offering to run the BASH program at certain bases," Colonel Fuhrmann said. "They are part of the Department of Defense and USDA Wildlife Services has done more for us than we could have hoped for."

"Besides providing improved services, the USDA can go beyond the perimeter of the base," said Capt. Jason Richardson, 437 AW chief of flight safety.

"The key component to USDA Wildlife Services is their ability to go outside the boundaries of the base, which means they can go to a landowner outside the installation," Captain Richardson said. "Our old contractor could only work on the base to eliminate bird hazards. If the birds moved right outside the gates, they were out of our reach."

Aircraft in Charleston have had minor to severe damage caused by bird strikes, said Master Sgt. Bill Lessage, 437 AW flight safety noncommissioned officer in charge. Planes are designed to withstand damage from a bird strike, but too many birds can cause serious damage if they are sucked into the engine or crash through a windshield.

"Birds that cause the most damage are turkey vultures," Sergeant Lessage said. "After a strike, remains are collected and sent to the Smithsonian to identify the birds. BASH also helps us identify bird migratory patterns. A major bird migration passes through Charleston during the spring and the fall."

Bird strikes are a major concern for the Air Force, but birds aren't the only wildlife that can cause havoc, Colonel Fuhrmann said.

"There have been incidents where planes have hit deer and caused engine damage," Colonel Fuhrmann said. "BASH is here to help avoid those problems."

Brad Friebel, USDA Wildlife Services wildlife biologist, said the main way BASH reduces wildlife hazards is by using pyrotechnics to scare off the animals. Mr. Friebel goes out five times a week to inspect the runways, ensuring they are clear of hazards. On his daily inspections, he checks to see there are no holes in the fence for animals to crawl through. He also uses night vision cameras and heat sensors to see how many deer and birds are populating on base.

"Habitat manipulation is the most important way to keep wildlife from striking an aircraft," Mr. Friebel said. "Grass heights attract certain types of animals so we keep the grass cut to a certain level. If the grass is too high it attracts larger birds such as geese, but the lower grass attracts the song birds. It's impossible to deter 100 percent of all animals so we use habitat manipulation when we have a threat of a certain type of species. We want to avoid any incidents and prevent them from ever happening."

Since October Mr. Friebel has been keeping track of the wildlife on base as part of a yearly wildlife assessment.

"We need to get a year round understanding of which birds we can expect during different seasons," Mr. Friebel said. "Knowing which birds are out there will help eliminate strikes."