Falconer keeps aircraft in flight

  • Published
  • By Airman 1st Class Dillon Davis
  • 52nd Fighter Wing Public Affairs
The 52nd Fighter Wing falconer's mission is to reduce bird and varmint populations to keep aircraft maintenance damages and repair expenditures to a minimum while improving safety for pilots.

Roland Leu, 52nd FW falconer, patrols the base multiple days per week to hunt and scare birds and varmints away from airfield operations areas.

According to Leu, in his 10 years as the base falconer, he has reduced the average amount of bird strikes on aircraft from 80 down to 15 strikes per year.

"There is a definite need for the falconer at this base to alleviate additional maintenance work hours and damage costs due to unnecessary bird strikes on 81st and 480th Fighter Squadron aircraft," said Master Sgt. James Rippy, 81st Aircraft Maintenance Unit NCO in charge of weapons.

Bird strikes on aircraft can range from simple cosmetic damages to major side-panel damages and in extreme cases can result in engine loss.

Aircraft taking off and landing are highly susceptible to bird strikes because of the larger populations of birds in flight at lower altitude levels.

"Bird strikes on aircraft can create unwanted additional man hours spent on repairs while at the same time causing devastating amounts of costs in repairs ranging from $100 up to $10,000 or more," said Master Sgt. Brian Magwood, 81st AMU productions superintendent.

Leu has a total of four Goss and Harrison Falcons that he has personally trained to chase and hunt unwanted varmints and birds. The birds are trained to be launched from Leu's patrol car to get a jump on the target birds. If the falcon catches a bird, the falcon holds the bird until Leu can recover and dispose of the bird in an orderly fashion.

It takes Leu one to two months to train his falcon to chase and subdue birds and varmints. It takes another one to three months to train the falcons to return to Leu after catching its prey.

Leu's job as the base falconer is vital to the 52nd Fighter Wing's mission because it helps keep the pilots safe while allowing for more training and operational flying hours.