Northwest Military Blogs: McChord Flightline Chatter

January 7, 2016 at 9:07am

Where birds and planes collide

Mr. Christopher Lang, McChord Field Wildlife Biologist with the U.S. Department of Agriculture Wildlife Services, poses for a photo near the McChord Field flightline, Dec. 3 at Joint Base Lewis-McChord. Photo credit: Tech. Sgt. Tim Chacon

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According to the Federal Aviation Administration report on wildlife strikes on civilian aircraft in the United States, more than 258 people have died and more than 245 aircraft have been destroyed since 1988. The year 2015 marked the sixth anniversary of the emergency landing of U.S. Airways Flight 1549 in the Hudson River after Canada geese were ingested in both engines of the Airbus 320 aircraft.

With this incident, media attention and public knowledge of wildlife strikes over the last six years has increased and demonstrated that these strikes are a serious but manageable aviation safety issue.

To ensure this is properly managed with the 48 C-17 Globemaster III aircraft assigned to Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Mr. Christopher Lang, McChord Field Wildlife Biologist with the U.S. Department of Agriculture Wildlife Services, manages the Bird Aircraft Strike Hazard and Wildlife Hazard Working Groups.

"Wildlife hazards present a serious threat to the safety of the aircraft and crew," said Lang. "Bird strikes with aircraft are a concern for their ability to negatively impact the Team McChord missions by delaying flights, aborting missions, and even the potential for loss of life in catastrophic strike incidents.

"BASH focuses on the prevention of these wildlife conflicts with aircraft operations."

Lang explained his primary area of responsibility is McChord Field and with the 62nd Airlift Wing, and went on to explain that he does do some work at Moses Lake, Wash., due to the dependence of the 62nd AW at Moses Lake Airfield for training purposes.

"McChord's BASH program strives for a proactive approach to bird strike prevention," said Lang.  "A recently successful example would be adding to the wildlife fence to deter deer from crossing the runway and being struck by aircraft.

"Projects dealing with habitat management (e.g. grass height management, removing trees attracting wildlife, and attractive ponds management) are in the works to ensure the safety of aircraft and crew."

The priority of the BASH program is to minimize hazardous wildlife presence in the flight corridors of McChord's aircraft.

"Because wildlife are not stationary, their movement around the base needs to be controlled to reduce the likelihood of strikes," said Lang.  "At times, this can include areas as far away as five miles from the JBLM boundaries."

Recently, an initiative was completed on McChord Field to cut back numerous trees that were attracting birds that could have caused harm to the 62nd AW aircraft and crew.

"The tree removal project was focused on deterring some of the largest, most damaging wildlife, Canada geese, from McChord Field," said Lang.  "Bird strikes with Canada geese have resulted in the losses of multiple lives and aircraft throughout aviation history.  By removing the primary attractant, fruit trees, we can reduce the presence of these hazardous birds.

"More important to the BASH program is what species were struck and any damaging strikes that have occurred than the total number of strikes.  The way we track what species and areas to manage comes, in part, from strike reports and the quality of data provided by airmen and maintainers. Those reports determine the level of certainty we have in BASH management decisions.

"We have better data this year, with a 20 percent improvement from the previous three years, thanks to the support of airmen and maintainers."

Lang suggested it is support like continuing to report bird strikes and any hazardous wildlife activity witnessed on the airfield to the appropriate agencies, like Airfield Management and Operations or the Wing Safety office.

Another suggestion Lang had was to encourage airmen to not feed hazardous wildlife, like crows, gulls, ducks and geese at or on McChord Field.

For more information on the BASH program or the Wildlife Hazard Working Group, contact Lang at 253.982.1275 or email Christopher.D.Lang@APHIS.USDA.gov.

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