That's for the Birds
It's 6:30a.m., and the base is alive like the city that never sleeps. Soldiers everywhere are executing their daily exercise regimens when suddenly a loud shotgun-like sound is heard echoing across the base. As some Soldiers continue what they were doing, others looked startled, scratching their heads in confusion.
What those Soldiers were hearing, is the same sound Airmen at Osan and Kunsan Air Bases hear every day. The sounds come from a deterrent system called the 'bird cannon.' These cannons are well known to those who work in the aviation field, but not all Soldiers assigned here are aviators.
One Soldier, a cable systems installer maintainer, recalled the first time he heard the cannons.
"I was running the perimeter of the airfield when I first heard the cannons," said Pfc. John C. Green, with Company B, 304th Signal Battalion, 1st Signal Brigade, and native of Macon, Ga. "I got nervous and jumped, because I thought I heard a shotgun blast. My sergeant immediately told me it was a machine to scare away birds."
To avoid any such occurrences here, the deterrence system plays a key role in safety. These cannons were specifically designed to deter birds from flying, landing on, and loitering around the air field here. Birds consistently cause a threat, putting the lives of aviators and crew in danger while in flight.
Birds have been known to fly into aircraft rendering the machines inoperable or drastically reducing a pilot's visibility during flights. This is known as a bird strike.
The term 'bird strike' became known to the world when a jetliner was taken down by birds in New York City in 2009. That aircraft landed in the Hudson River and dubbed the "Miracle on the Hudson" after all passengers and crew survived the ordeal.
United States Army Garrison Humphreys is home to aviation units, including the 2nd Combat Aviation Brigade. The Desiderio Army Airfield, named after Medal of Honor recipient Capt. Reginald B. Desiderio, is one of the busiest the Army operates overseas. Aircraft are constantly coming and going, making this bird deterrent system a necessity.
Ensuring our host nation's indigenous wildlife species are protected takes dedication and a good relationship with our host nation partners.
"I work closely with several Korean wildlife agencies and in an effort to respect their natural wildlife, we have chosen to use deterrence methods as opposed to depredation (shotguns) as our first line of defense," said Ronald E. Thomas, airfield division chief and airfield manager, USAG Humphreys, South Korea.
This lifesaving technology, which also saves the birds, is nothing new to the airfield. Chiwon Park, airfield alert services specialist with USAG Humphreys, South Korea is charged with airfield maintenance and currently maintains these systems.
"There have always been bird cannons since I've been working here," said Park. "In September of 2011 the garrison replaced the old cannons with a newer version," said Park.
To give you a bird's eye view on USAG Humphrey's commitment to protecting people and wildlife, the newer version is religiously maintained in working condition to ensure safety first at all times.
"Like everything, it all begins with a good maintenance program. Our equipment is as reliable as our efforts are to maintain it," said Thomas. "Mr. Park does a great job keeping our systems operational year round."
The high standard of maintenance ensures all 20 of the airfield's cannons are set to fire at random times, twice an hour, so the birds can't learn or predict the blast. They can also be fired remotely by personnel in the air traffic control tower and on foot if they see birds causing a threat to aircraft.
The loud bird deterrents operate with propane gas which pressurize and ignite in a tube to cause a loud bang. Once the cannons go off, the system follows up with predatory bird calls played on two loud speakers to further deter these birdbrain intruders. The entire system is solar powered, making it echo friendly.
The next time you're at Camp Humphreys, South Korea, and hear a loud bang, if a voice doesn't warn you on the base public announcement system, more than likely, it's just the bird cannons.