One 'Flew' over the flightline

  • Published
  • By Staff Sgt. Victoria Sneed
  • 1st Special Operations Wing Public Affairs
When most people see an aircraft take off from the flightline here, they may not think about the bird, deer or other animal which could have caused a failure to launch.

There are multiple methods in use at Hurlburt to deter wildlife from straying into the path of an oncoming plane.

"We have many lights, noise deterrents, game monitors, and other equipment in place to keep the flightline clear," said Lt. Col. Donald Lowe, 1st Special Operations Wing safety chief.

Flew is one of the least-known but most effective methods used. Canines like Flew have monitored Hurlburt's flightline for more than nine years in the Bird/Wildlife Aircraft Strike Hazard program.

The goal of the BASH is to preserve war fighting capabilities through the reduction of wildlife hazards to aircraft operations, according to the Air Force Safety Center.

"Flew's job is to change the way animals behave and perceive the airfield," said Suzanne Simpson, 1st Special Operations Wing safety wildlife biologist and manager. "We introduce her as a predator in a predator-free environment. Her most important job is to scent mark so prey animals will know a predator is in the area and avoid it. "

Flew, a border collie, resembles a wolf or fox to the wildlife on and around base. Her job is to patrol the base and adjacent areas so other animals will stay out of her territory.

However, not just any wolfish dog will do when it comes to protecting multi-million dollar assets. Border collies are hand-chosen from rescue programs and put through rigorous year-long training before they become BASHers.

"They learn not only verbal commands, but commands from a shepard's whistle," said Simpson.  This whistle can be heard much further away than a human voice. It's also in a sound range the dogs can distinctly hear, which helps when verbal or visual cues cannot be given.

"We work whenever [aircraft] are flying or whenever animals are out," she said. "We patrol the entire base, flightline, sound side and golf course."

Flew who arrived in September to replace the now retired BASH dog, Jet, is not new to working long hours or late nights. She was previously stationed at Manas, Kyrgyzstan, Lakehurst Naval Air Station, and Houston Executive Airport, preventing potential wildlife collisions.

"Border collies work because they love to work," said Simpson. "They don't need any other reward."

However, Flew also enjoys the quiet grassy field, said Simpson.

"Bird strikes on [our] aircraft only occur in less than 16 percent of the time on Hurlburt," she said. "The airfield is empty [of animals] because we have been doing our job so well for so long."