by Staff Sgt. William Banton
JBER Public Affairs
9/29/2015 - JOINT BASE ELMENDORF-RICHARDSON, Alaska -- "Lot
of birds here ... We took one! We took two of them," called out Capt.
Glenn Rogers Jr., aircraft commander, over the radio. "Elmendorf tower,
Yukla two-seven heavy has an emergency ... lost number two engine we've
taken some birds."
On Sept. 22, 1995, an E-3B Sentry Airborne Warning and Control System,
call sign Yukla 27, crashed, killing all on board. Upon investigation,
it was determined that up to 33 Canada geese near the flightline struck
the aircraft that day.
Each year, civilian and military aircraft report thousands of bird
strikes. According to the Department of Defense Partners in Flight
webpage, the Federal Aviation Administration annually reports
approximately 2,300 wildlife related incidents involving civilian
aircraft; the Air Force and Navy usually report an additional 3,000. The
DoD is constantly striving to improve its aviation safety programs.
One of these programs, 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.
"After the Yukla two-seven accident, the BASH program went through a
serious modification," said Rob Hahn, then-Elmendorf Air Force Base
chief of flight safety, in a documentary produced by Morningstar
Entertainment for Discovery Channel in 2003. "We went to the experts at
the Department of Agriculture and had them do an assessment of the
current BASH program and how we can make it better."
The program began to be managed by the USDA on Elmendorf Air Force Base
in 2000. The USDA wildlife specialists coordinate with the airfield
manager and other base officials to maintain consistent reporting of
strike events while trying to identify the species involved.
The goal is to try and better understand why certain species are
attracted to particular areas or training routes and to implement
procedures which will keep pilots safe while preserving local wildlife.
"When I got here I was pretty much told not to mess with the birds,"
said then-Chief Master Sgt. Tracy Matthews, former 3rd Operations Group
superintendent in charge of maintenance. "You look back and [the crash]
changed everyone's attitude about that, and not just here, but
throughout the community."
The immediate response to the crash was to bring in propane cannons,
which put out a loud acoustic sound to scare off wildlife. At that time
a bird hotline, 552-BIRD, was also implemented to help pinpoint problem
area around the base.
Since 2000 JBER added fences around the airfield and implemented a
habitat modification, which has greatly reduced the numbers of wildlife
in that area.
Habitat modification can be anything from removing low spots that create
standing water to controlling grass height, said Jerry Morrill, USDA
wildlife specialist. Geese like to eat the new short grass, so if you
keep the grass about 11 inches high there is no food for them to eat.
To limit bird strikes, flying limitations based on the migration patterns of common local birds are sometimes placed on pilots.
"A lot of birds will migrate in the evening or at night, so if you are
doing low-level flying [then] you're going to have more bird strikes,"
In recent years the installation has installed electric fences and removed unnecessary trees and foliage.
These have reduced the number of mammals on the flight line and eliminated nesting opportunities and black bear dens.
The USDA also has a raptor-trapping program, to help relocate large
birds of prey off the runway. So far the USDA has yet to see relocated
birds return to the area.
Similarly, the USDA worked with pest control and airfield management
this summer to help decrease an unusually large number of grasshoppers
on JBER, due to an overly dry spring. Grasshoppers are attracted to the
flightline on warm sunny days, making an easy-to-find food source for
Morrill said when all is said and done the BASH program is working toward a singular goal.
"Our focus is to get these guys down safe so they can get back to their
families, we don't want more Yuklas " Morrill said. "That was a
terrible tragedy and unfortunately it should have never happened, but it
did - and it was a valuable lesson learned."