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171st Air Refueling Wing Gets BASH’d

  • Published
  • By Capt. Jodi Snyder
  • 171st Air Refueling Wing

The 171st Air Refueling Wing, Environmental Resource Solutions (ERS), the 911th Airlift Wing, United States Department of Agriculture and Wildlife Services, and the Pittsburgh International Airport partnered on July 11, 2019 to conduct a wildlife assessment as part of the Bird/wildlife Aircraft Strike Hazard (BASH) plan to protect ecosystems, reduce damage to aircraft, and combat the loss of life.   

The BASH Team assessed the risks of wildlife strikes on aircraft by observing and measuring wildlife activity at the Pittsburgh International Airport.     

“The whole BASH program is multi-disciplinary.  It's the combination of a lot of different functions coming together to solve a problem,” said Ron Merritt, a BASH advisor from ERS.

BASH is a federally developed program that has a goal of preventing aircraft damage while minimizing environmental effects on wildlife.  By identifying onsite bird and wildlife attractions near a runway, BASH is able to reduce wildlife damage and prevent aircraft mishaps, which not only saves money, but protects missions and saves lives.   

Events like the “Miracle on the Hudson”, where a flock of geese took out both engines of US Airways Flight 1549, which forced the aircraft to land on the Hudson River with 155 passengers onboard, brings the matter of safety to the forefront. 

“It’s a small program, but it’s proactive safety.  You can’t metric what you prevent,” said Ted Wilkens, a BASH advisor from ERS.

The behavior of wildlife is subject to many variables that can change constantly.  This makes an intricate data collection system very important to the program. 

“Trends only show up with an extraordinary length of time of data collection, so we can actually find the trends.  Minus the collection of data, we are kind of shooting in the dark.  Data drives the program.  Without the backing of data, you can't manage the program,” said Merritt.

To help with this data collection, when a wildlife strike occurs, all fragments, DNA samples, or other wildlife remains must be submitted to the Smithsonian Institution Feather Identification Lab in Washington, D.C.  There Smithsonian scientists further identify the species. 

“Knowing your species allows you to target and spend your resources more wisely,” said Wilkens.

It’s not only the fiscal responsibility that makes the data collection important though. 

“Without knowing what you hit, you can’t have a management plan to control or manage the issue, and you can’t understand what damage was done from an engineering standpoint,” said Merritt.

Another important component to reducing wildlife strikes is the use of innovative safety tools. Next Generation Weather Radar (NEXRAD) provides information to the Avian Hazard Advisory System (AHAS).  According to the Air Force Safety Center, AHAS is a radar system that is able to remove weather and aircraft, so that it only tracks biological subjects, like birds, in an almost real-time capacity. 

“Locally, the radar sites close proximity to Pittsburgh International Airport provides the AHAS program with outstanding information.  This information can be accessed by our aircrew, for near real time data,” said Maj. Ian Hurbanek, Chief of Safety at the wing.

AHAS assists in monitoring wildlife activity to help with planning and increases awareness to avoid wildlife migration and other heavy movement periods. 

“Proactive safety methods, such as AHAS, allows us to protect our aircrew, government resources, and wildlife,” said Hurbanek.

Partnering with Qualified Airport Wildlife Biologists is critical to the conservation of wildlife on military installations. 

“A continued, cooperative relationship between the Airport Authority, USDA, and the Wing Leadership will promote a safe flying culture here at the 171st,” said Hurbanek.