JOINT BASE ELMENDORF-RICHARDSON, Alaska —
Upon investigation, it was determined that up to 33 Canada geese near the then – Elmendorf Air Force Base flightline struck the aircraft that day.
In response to this and the thousands of bird strikes reported every year, a program known as the Bird Aircraft Strike Hazard program was created to preserve war-fighting capabilities and provide pilots with safe operating environments through the reduction of wildlife hazards.
“I was living in Alaska when the Yukla 27 crash occurred; it’s one of the things that significantly impacted my decision to go into this field of work,” said Jerry Morrill, United States Department of Agriculture wildlife specialist. “By 2000, I was heavily involved and working in coordination with airfield management and other base officials to maintain consistent reporting of strike events while trying to identify the species involved.”
According to USDA and flightline safety reports, more than 70 birds have been trapped, USDA banded and relocated from the JBER flightline this year, almost doubling what was trapped last year.
“One of the goals we have is to try and better understand why certain species are attracted to particular areas or routes,” Morrill said. “This year our raptor trapping saw a huge influx in the population of short-eared owls. We think it might have something to do with their migratory pattern and the normal population booms we see from this particular species. Either way, we implement procedures which will keep pilots safe while also working to preserve the local wildlife.”
Mostly, the JBER flightline areas are frequented by short-eared owls, red-tailed hawks, bald eagles, and merlin falcons, while other larger species of animals include coyotes and bear.
“Challenges we have faced this year and last were the grasshoppers and caterpillars,” Morrill said. “These things might seem small but can be quite an issue as they were a main food source for sandhill cranes and other waterfowl. We have to adapt to whatever comes our way, because each year’s weather and circumstances can be different.”
The Department of Defense and JBER are constantly striving to improve their aviation safety programs. The Yukla 27 crash changed things significantly.
"After the accident, the BASH program was implemented throughout all U.S. Air Force bases and went through a series of changes everywhere," said U.S. Air Force Master Sgt. Russel Benjamin, the 3rd Wing flight safety noncommissioned officer in charge. "It was a huge wake-up call to everyone, and because of our unique environmental situation at JBER we rely heavily on the USDA’s involvement. We could not do what we do without the USDA experts and their constant assessment of the BASH program. As a team we are always looking for ways we can make it better."
While a BASH program is mandatory for all U.S. Air Force bases, the way it is implemented is different for each one. Since species and migratory patterns are dependent on several factors, the USDA and local wildlife specialist are contracted with each base to address the specific needs of a local area.
Although raptor trapping is used as one of the main techniques for bird deterrence here, propane cannons, which put out a loud acoustic sound to scare off wildlife, are also used. Additionally, pyrotechnics such as fire crackers, bird bangers and screamers are used to alter the noise so birds do not become acclimated to it.
“I feel like the thing that makes our program and our team so successful is that we really care about our job,” Morrill said. “We care about the continued safety and well-being of the pilots and wildlife.”
To help pinpoint problem areas around the base, call the bird hotline at, 552-BIRD.