Drought adds to bird strikes at LNAS

Pilots at Lemoore Naval Air Station say the lack of rain is having an effect on how safe it is for them to fly on base.
March 4, 2014 12:00:00 AM PST
This year's devastating drought in California is not just impacting farmers. Pilots at Lemoore Naval Air Station say the lack of rain is having an effect on how safe it is for them to fly on base.

The farmer is using what little water he does have to water his alfalfa field across the street. But he's leaving this area dry and that could prove a danger for the strike fighter jets just next door.

An F-18 fighter jet quickly touches the runway at Naval Air Station Lemoore and then takes off again. The move is part of crucial training to perfect a precise landing on an air craft carrier. Just as important, having a clear air field around to practice in.

Aviation Safety Officer Lt. Kevin Teague said, "You've got approximately 12,000 acres of farmland that's leased out to the local community around the airfield."

Farmers who lease the land closest to the jets are only allowed to grow specific crops, ones that don't attract large birds.

Now, with Kings County farmers receiving zero water allocation this year, that rule is about to be moot.

Grower Larry Bettencourt farms 700 acres on base, he's forced to let most of it go dry this year, and that could mean more birds.

Bettencourt said, "Small grain crops anything with seeds tend to bring a lot of birds in and the hay fields too we get a lot of rodents so you know we get a lot of predatory birds come out and feed on that."

Officers on base say there's a strong correlation between the number of fallowed fields around the air field, and an increase in the number of bird and animal strike hazards, or BASH.

Lt. Kevin Teague said, "A good example is in 2009 we had 9 bird strikes compare that to last year 2013 with about 43."

Combine those numbers with the fact that this year is already one of the driest on record, and the number of BASH incidents could go up.

Large birds hitting an F-18 during a crucial stage of landing would not just damage an aircraft, but if the impact is devastating enough, could kill the pilot.

Lt. Kevin Teague added, "You can flame out an engine causing the pilot at that last critical second before he touches down, to have problems, to twitch."

Growers are hoping more wet weather will come to this area next year so they can prevent the fields closest to the jets from going dry.


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