Health & Safety

May 18, 2012

Ground, flight and weapons: Luke safety triad

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Story and photos by Chief Master Sgt. Larry Schneck
56th Fighter Wing Public Affairs

Tech. Sgt. Tony Rudicill, 56th Fighter Wing Weapons Safety NCO, inspects a fire preventing vent on a munitions storage structure here April 26. The fusible links on the vent release the cover and prevent fire from entering the building.

They inspect. They train. They investigate – on the ground and in the air.

Their job is to set the conditions so the 56th Fighter Wing can safely accomplish its mission to train the world’s greatest F-16 fighter pilots and maintainers.

“We work to prevent mishaps before they happen in order to preserve combat capability,” said Lt. Col. Matt Liljenstolpe, 56th FW Safety chief. “Our Airmen and resources are vital to our nation’s defense, and in this time of diminishing resources and fewer people, we simply cannot afford to lose any of it, or anyone, to mishaps.”

The safety record at Luke and around the Air Force has reached a milestone.

Air Force Safety Center officials announced March 13 that since Feb. 17, 2011, the U.S. Air Force has gone more than 12 months without an on-duty ground fatality for the first time in its history.

“At Luke we’ve gone more than two years without an on-duty ground mishap,” said Ben Bruce, 56th FW Ground Safety manager. “That has contributed to our earning the award for best ground safety program in the Air Force.”

This is a significant accomplishment considering the scope of the safety program’s mission.

On-duty ground safety includes industrial, occupational, sports and recreation and traffic-related activities while on the job.

The number one on-duty ground safety threat to military members and civilians is motor vehicle mishaps, according to Bruce. He says this means the safety team must continue to improve safety education and processes.

“The ground discipline is responsible for conducting the majority of our safety education and training to include the First Term Airman Center program, supervisor safety course and motorcycle safety courses,” Liljenstolpe said. “They also conduct the bulk of our safety mishap investigations. They are by far the busiest discipline and arguably make the biggest impact on the overall safety of Luke Airmen.”

Another dangerous area for Luke Thunderbolts comes from West Valley wildlife in the air. This is a focus of the flight safety section.

According to AFSC statistics, most bird strikes occur below 3,000 feet during aircraft initial climbs or airfield approaches. For the period 1995 to 2010, the Air Force reported 64,946 strikes that cost a total of more than $527 million.

The Bird and Animal Strike Hazard program plays a role in making sure aircraft and crews launch and recover without incident.

“For a desert environment we have a lot of small animals, rabbits and ground squirrels,” said Kurt Himmen, 56th FW Flight Safety manager. “That attracts hawks in the winter and turkey vultures in the summer.”

In June 2003 a turkey vulture struck an F-16 at Gila Bend Auxiliary Air Field. The pilot ejected safely but the aircraft crashed.

“We’re an oasis surrounded by agricultural areas with water that draws birds,” Himmen said. “Part of the BASH program is to talk with local farmers and discuss ways to reduce the attractiveness of certain crops to birds. Some bring more than others.”

The Luke flight safety program has a full-time, U.S. Department of Agriculture wildlife biologist. He spends his time working on the airfield finding ways to reduce the dangers to aircraft.

The last area of focus for the wing safety program deals with ammunition and explosives.

The weapons safety section establishes the installation explosive site plans and explosives mishap prevention program for all assigned conventional weapons systems as well as unit safety inspections and education programs. This discipline is responsible for the safety of all explosives from the bombs on the jets to the bullets in a Security Forces patrolman’s gun.

“Having worked in the explosives field for more than 30 years, the latter 12 in weapons safety, I’ve investigated many explosive mishaps and read the reports and findings of many more,” said Thomas Todd, 56th FW Weapons Safety manager. “Failing to follow established procedures, poor training, complacency, or simply the loss of situational awareness have resulted in the improper handling of explosives and can end in death.”

The safety goal reinforces an integrated safety culture, according to Liljenstolpe. The objective is for Team Luke to always think of safety in everything it does both inside and outside the gate.




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