By Lt. Col. Shane Sullivan, 460th Space Wing Safety Office
/ Published February 07, 2012
BUCKLEY AIR FORCE BASE, Colo. -- I headed out of the Wing headquarters building, into a perfect November Colorado morning...brisk, sunny and gorgeous. Just as I stepped outside, directly across my field of vision flew a majestic, soaring hawk. I literally stopped, mid-stride, to watch him...as he traversed above the parking lot, across Aspen Street and the open field... sitting proudly on the airfield fence...quickly snapping me back to reality! "Oh, yeah," I remembered, somewhat sheepishly, "I'm on my way to our monthly Bird Hazard Working Group Meeting!"
You might be thinking, how can birds be hazards? And why would we want to discourage these creatures from adding to the beautification of our base?
The answers to these questions quickly became apparent as I arrived at our meeting. Lt. Col. Mitch "BC" Neff, F-16 pilot and the 140th Wing Safety officer, kicked off the meeting by recounting a close encounter he'd had only days early.
"I was taking off, about 50 feet above the ground, traveling about 200 knots. Just as my landing gear was retracting, I noticed a very large bird, what I thought was an eagle, directly to my left; I barely had time to react, jinking to the right. Just as I completed the maneuver, I saw another large bird, on the right this time, and had to immediately jink back to the left. It took me several seconds to gather myself, focusing on flying the jet while realizing twice in a matter of seconds, I came within just a few inches of having a really bad day," said Neff.
Birds of any kind are such a dire threat to the F-16, the primary aircraft flown in and around Buckley airspace, because it is a single-engine jet. Introduce any debris, especially a 20-pound bird, down the intake manifold and the results on the engine's operation can be disastrous. With only one source of power, when an F-16 loses its engine, there is no backup plan...it immediately turns into a 40,000 pound missile.
So, the end results of a mid-air collision between an aircraft and a bird can be, best-case, several thousands of dollars in damage, and an extended downtime for, a national asset. In the worst case, it could claim the life of the pilot, as well as endanger the lives of individuals in the area in which the aircraft goes down.
The Bird Hazard Working Group consists of individuals from the airfield management, civil engineering, safety and legal arenas, as well as representatives from the local U.S. Fish and Wildlife and U.S. Department of Agriculture offices. The group's primary focus is to plan, execute and enforce methods to dissuade and discourage all bird species, from small common sparrows to 15-pound white pelicans (yes, believe it or not, there are pelicans here in the local area) to hawks and eagles, from settling, residing and existing in the area of Buckley, its airfield and air space.
While we all appreciate the beauty of Colorado and all its wildlife, we must also be aware of the very real dangers that same wildlife poses to our mission partners, and in the case of an aircraft crash, to the entire population on and around Buckley Air Force Base. Ultimately, it's about taking care of our most precious resource--each other!