Monday, December 10, 2007

BASH: When birds, airplanes collide

From a reader:
“jack: i am a regular reader of your columns. i appreciate your fairness, objectivity and knowledge of your subjects. having spent 5 years, more or less, in state government i really appreciate your views. however i question your accuracy concerning jet operations of practice carrier landings in eastern n.c.-especially at night. i flew with the navy from 1955 to 1970. my original tour was in a night fighter squadron based at alameda and deployed in the western pacific aboard uss ticonderga and uss bennington. night landings are more difficult than day but not much more on a clear night when you can see the horizon. on an overcast night literally you can’t see your hand in front of your face. following my release from active duty i flew appx 10 years from navy norfolk with almost all my time in the a-4 skyhawk attack aircraft. most of our practice targets were in eastern n.c. our primary mission was strafing, rockets, bombs, napalm and special weapons [atomic bombs] ! deliveries. bird strikes are a major problem on missions which require a high speed, low altitude flight. i was very fortunate never to have had a strike, but i had numerous near misses. at speeds of less than appx 350 mph your sound travels in front of you and birds [and people] can hear you coming. birds take evasive actions. at speeds of appx 350+ mph, nothing hears you. in my 15 years with the navy i never even heard of a strike by a plane in a landing pattern. our landing speeds are generally less than 150 mph. i hope we haven’t won the battle but lost the war on this issue. having flown intensively both in the east and in the west, i really don’t know why we have planes in the east. the weather out west is far superior. targets in the desert are much easier to obtain. there is much less commercial traffic. the navy has a great facility in fallon, nv and the marines in yuma,az. the gvmnt could save a lot of money by transferring all air force, navy and marine tactical ! jets to the west coast. lets not force them to do it. sincerely (a reader)”
Betts replies:
Thanks for your note. Regarding the possibility of bird-aircraft collisions, the military has a program whose acronym is telling: BASH (for Bird-Aircraft Strike Hazards). Here what military experts in this area have had to say to the Observer in recent years about the proposed OLF:
Retired Air Force Lt. Col. Jeffrey Short, who devised the military’s Bird-Aircraft Strike Hazards (BASH) program, said, “In 25 years of dealing with military BASH issues, I cannot recall a worse place to situate an airfield for jet training. Aircraft at the proposed OLF would suffer from continual and dangerous hazards to safe operations due to the huge waterfowl populations” that use the refuge each winter
Another expert hired by the Navy wrote that a collision wasn’t a matter of if, but when – “and how severe it will be when it occurs.”
“It’s assured, they definitely will collide,” Maj. Ronald Merritt told The Observer’s Bruce Henderson. “It’s not if, it’s when. The question is how many pilots do we have to kill before we abandon this problem?”

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