ROBINS AIR FORCE BASE, Ga. --
Flight Safety is a small unit with a big mission at Robins Air Force Base, Georgia.
Airmen keep a watchful eye for hazards on the ground, the skies and everything in between that surrounds the airfield.
“We have less than a handful of people in our shop but still get the job done,” said Master Sgt. LaShawn Edwards, 78th Air Base Wing Safety Office Flight Safety superintendent. “Every morning I get in my truck and check several miles of the runway and taxiway looking for any potential problems that could impact take-offs or landings.”
Possible issues could be cracked concrete creating potholes, rocks, tools and more.
“Holes in the runway could bust tires on an aircraft or foreign objects like rocks could cause damage to a propeller or engine,” he said.
The unit simultaneously multi-tasks different safety measures.
Currently, there is a major deforestation project underway near the southern end of the airfield.
Several hundred acres of trees are being removed to improve the visibility of glide slopes - those towering orange instruments guide pilots to the right angle for a safe landing on the runway.
“Trees in that area were in height violation and covering some of the glide slopes, which means the obstruction could impact a pilot’s ability to land safely,” said Edwards. “So instead of continuing to periodically cut the trees back at different times throughout the year, it was decided to just remove them completely. In doing this, it also saved the base money.”
As an added plus, clearing out the woods is helping with the ongoing wildlife problem. The removal of trees is forcing animals to seek cover in other areas that are farther away from the airfield.
However, Edwards said there may be some animals who could wander back towards the airfield.
“I check the fencing around the flight line for holes to make sure deer, wild hogs, alligators or raccoons can’t make it onto the airfield,” Edwards said. “We also work with a wildlife biologist to monitor the migration patterns of birds and, at certain times, take-offs and landings may be adjusted if there is increased bird activity.”
Bird strikes cost the Air Force tens of millions of dollars in damages annually. Therefore, steps are taken to make areas near the airspace uninviting to all kinds of animals.
“In the past we’ve had to fill in water puddles near the end of the runway because birds were gathering, but once that water source was gone, they went away.
“Are there any birds hanging around a particular area and why are they there?" Edwards continued. “For example, if there are a lot of buzzards circling that means a dead animals is nearby. So we need to find it and remove it, because those buzzards could pose a huge problem for pilots. They could be sucked into an engine, which could cause a mishap.”
Other techniques to scare birds away include using noisemakers or pyrotechnics.
“Our mission is to make sure we fly, fight, win and that means making sure those jets and pilots are able to do it over and over and over again and come back home to their families.”