INCIRLIK AIR BASE, Turkey – Both birds and aircraft in flight are a wonderful thing -- except when their paths cross.
Bird strikes are one of the leading causes of aircraft mishaps around the world, which is why Bird Aircraft Strike Hazard programs are established. BASH programs often include the use of BASH cannons -- propane-powered devices that produce a large "bang" when triggered. These noise-making cannons play an integral part in keeping the airfields, including the one here, functional and mission-ready.
But there was one slight problem here: the cannons didn't work.
That changed when one airman deployed here used a skill set that reaches far beyond his Air Force career to repair the wildlife deterrent, saving the 39th Air Base Wing about $105,000.
In addition to performing his typical duties as 414th Expeditionary Reconnaissance Squadron commander, Air Force Maj. Donald Mentch devoted more than 100 hours of off-duty time and expertise to lead airmen from more than 10 units in repairing all 20 cannons, enabling them to keep the airfield bird population to a minimum.
With a bachelor’s degree in aeronautical engineering, a master’s in aerospace engineering and a doctorate in electrical engineering, Mentch said, he felt it was his obligation to offer his skills to fix the broken cannons. "If there is something on base that isn't working right, someone needs to voice that," he said. "People who know how to fix it will answer."
The repairs have given back one of the primary wildlife mitigation tools to the airfield management team here.
"Any time we can utilize another tool in our war against airfield wildlife is a positive thing,” said Air Force Tech. Sgt. Dustin Troyer, 39th Operations Squadron deputy airfield manager. "With the BASH cannons operational, we can now send percussion blasts anywhere on the airfield with the click of a button.
"When the airfield is an uncertain and uncomfortable environment for birds and wildlife, we've done our job," he continued. "The only thing we want flying on or off our airfield is our aircraft."
The 39th Air Base Wing commander, Air Force Col. Craig Wills, presented a commander's coin to the deployed airman and named him as a "Pick of the 'Lik," a weekly recognition tool for excellent airmen here. His assistance with the BASH program will be remembered and appreciated long after he returns to his home station.
"Major Mentch's actions epitomize the kind of innovation the Air Force needs, especially right now," said Air Force Col. Brent Bigger, 39th Air Base Wing vice commander. "Not only did he save money, there's no doubt the cannons he repaired make our airfield safer daily."