Polish safety program takes flight
By Master Sgt. Paul Gorman, 115th Fighter Wing Public Affairs
/ Published September 23, 2015
LASK AIR BASE, Poland --
Pilots and aircraft participating in Aviation Detachment rotation 15-4 at Łask Air Base, Poland, are benefiting from a rather unique flight safety program.
Commonly referred to as Bird/Wildlife Aircraft Strike Hazard prevention, the program's goal is the preservation of war fighting capabilities through the reduction of wildlife hazards to aircraft operations. The need for such a program is evident, as collisions with wild birds result in millions of dollars in damage each year. More than $55 million in fiscal year 2014 alone.
The BASH program incorporates a number of passive and active techniques intended to limit bird populations near active airfields. Passive measures employed by nearly all military installations eliminate the conditions birds and other wildlife find attractive through grass management and drainage control, while active measures such as pyrotechnics and recorded distress calls are common methods to either disperse or warn birds away.
Although Lask Air Base practices several of the more popular means of BASH prevention, it was their less common use of falconry which sparked the interest of deployed Senior Master Sgt. Thomas Egstad, non-commissioned officer in charge of safety for the Air National Guard's 115th Fighter Wing. As the NCOIC, he is responsible for implementing the BASH program at Dane County Regional Airport in Madison, Wisconsin.
"Our program back home relies on the use of pyrotechnics to haze birds loitering on the airfield," Egstad said. "While temporarily effective, it can't compete with introducing the type of natural predators that birds will instinctively avoid."
With the assistance of Poland's 10th Fighter Squadron safety office, Lt. Col. Jon Kalberer, acting commander of the 115 FW, joined Egstad for an up close look at the base falconry program. He viewed it as a valuable opportunity to expand on the close relationship the Wisconsin unit has built with their Polish counterparts through the National Guard State Partnership Program.
"As state partners, exchanging ideas and best practices with our Polish allies is one of our primary goals, and flight safety is definitely a topic of concern to us both," Kalberer said.
In a grass field adjacent to the base runway, they met Kamil Domanski, who works with his father in a family falconry business. Expectations of the birds involved were swiftly exceeded as he removed one bird of prey after another from specialized cages in his vehicle. The lineup included six falcons of various breeds, two large golden eagles and a Eurasian eagle-owl. Each was carefully tethered to prepositioned perches where they awaited their turn to take flight in search of their next meal.
Domanski explained that each of the raptors selected for the BASH prevention program had a specific role to play. Not unlike the air-to-air and air-to-ground missions of the military aircraft they help to protect, the variety of birds are used to target prey specific to their species. The faster, more agile falcons are well suited to target birds in flight, while the larger raptors help control the population of rodents and small mammals that tend to attract wild birds of prey.
A representative from the 10th FS Safety Program added that every bird removed is documented and cataloged for future trend analysis, and that the use of falconry has been highly effective at dissuading birds from flying through or taking up residence on the airfield at Łask Air Base.
Once the first of the raptors was airborne, it was time for the visiting Airmen to return to their duties. Before departing, Kalberer paused to offer Domanski the unit patch from his flight suit as a small token of his appreciation.
"Thank you for taking the time to show us what you do," Kalberer said. "But more importantly, thank you for helping to keep our pilots safe."