KADENA AIR BASE, Japan -- With the squeeze of a trigger, a small shell flies through the air and like the Fourth of July, a loud pop and a small puff of smoke fills the air. Startled, a flock of birds flutter away from the runway making it safe for aircraft to move through.
In order to prevent damage to aircraft and ensure the safety of crew members as well as local wildlife, airfield operations members attempt to scare the birds away from the runway.
“Birds being pulled into jet engines is a huge hazard,” said Senior Airman Monika Neal, 18th Operations Support Squadron airfield management operations coordinator. “We obviously want to prevent that as much as possible, so we do our best to humanely remove all wildlife from the runway.”
For aircrew, striking a bird inflight can be a major hazard. If the bird hits an engine, the pilot may have to shutdown the engine in-flight.
Neal explained the daily routine for bird aircraft strike hazard (BASH) prevention.
“We do a dawn and dusk BASH check, as well as throughout the day, whenever we are out on the flightline,” she said.
Airfield operations members will sometimes use a pyrotechnic round like a small firecracker that pops near the birds and scares them off.
Every day, mowing crews from the 18th Civil Engineering Squadron cut the grass on beside the runways to a specific height. This discourages birds form foraging or nesting near aircraft operations.
Pilots, however, are sufficiently trained to handle to such emergencies. They take greater precautions when birds are observed on the airfield, and also during certain times of the year when migratory birds pose a greater threat.
"Birds present a significant risk to our aircrew and equipment." said Capt. Justin Raabe, 18th Wing flight safety officer. "A diverse group of dedicated Airmen work to manage the bird population and prevent bird strikes every day. Pilots, maintainers, civilians and support personnel all have a role in managing this risk."
During routine checks, airfield management Airmen collect samples of feathers found and send them to the Smithsonian Instutue in order to identify and track which species is posing a problem, enabling personnel to take more targeted measures.
This also gives them data on what type of birds are most frequent during certain times of the year, so pilots know to be extra cautious during those times and make plans for prevention.
"Bird strikes can be a serious problem; however, we perform the proper safety procedures to ensure mission success," said Raabe. "At the end of the day we know that danger is a part of our job as military service members, but through rigorous training and education, we make sure members execute the mission while protecting the local wildlife and mitigating risk."
According to the Federal Aviation Administration, there were about 11,000 reported bird strikes at 650 civilian airports in 2013.