910th’s Utah aerial spray mission at UTTR aids EOD, provides training and cost savings

HILL AIR FORCE BASE — Explosive Ordnance Disposal personnel based here and working at the nearby Utah Test and Training Range have had a long-time nemesis in their efforts to keep the ground clear of unexploded ordnance.

Their persistent enemy is an invasive weed named Halogeton, an unwanted ground covering that can obscure target sites on the bombing range and make locating UXOs difficult and dangerous for EOD teams.

EOD also has a long-time ally assisting its work at UTTR in the 910th Airlift Wing’s Aerial Spray Flight based at Youngstown Air Reserve Station, Ohio. Since taking over the Department of Defense’s only large-area, fixed-wing aerial spray capability in 1992, the 910th has taken on the task of eliminating Halogeton from the target areas at UTTR. According to the 910th Aerial Spray Mission Fact Sheet, the UTTR aerial spray mission started in 1983. 

The 910th returned to Hill AFB and conducted 24 sorties, or flights, applying approximately 32,075 gallons of herbicide to more than 1,539 acres of ground to eradicate invasive weeds from the bombing ranges March 9-20, according to the flight’s post mission report.

910th Aerial Spray Flight Deputy Chief Capt. Steve Stroney said the UTTR mission not only helps EOD personnel with their work but also allows for on-the-job training opportunities for the 910th’s aerial spray aircrews.

“These sorties provide training for our pilots, navigators and loadmasters for them to stay current in their aerial spray qualifications,” he said.

Stroney said the only way for the aircrews to receive the specialized training required for their aerial spray qualifications is to participate in real-world spray application missions.

“We’re not authorized to fly at these low levels (100 to 150 feet above the ground for aerial spray application) unless we are dispensing product,” Stroney said. “We have to do a real mission to train — there has to be a benefit associated with any potential risks.”

Stroney said that although there are risks associated with the wing’s unique mission, the aerial spray flight personnel are highly trained and work very hard to mitigate any problems before they can happen. Additionally, the 910th’s aerial spray mission provides benefits, including the elimination of target insects, unwanted vegetation and the dispersing of oil spills in bodies of water. The aerial spray mission also provides a financial benefit.

“There is a great cost savings (to the government) associated with us doing this mission,” Stroney said.

In fact, the UTTR aerial spray mission saves the U.S. government $1.5 million annually, or $34.5 million since the 910th took over the mission in 1992, according to the 910th Aerial Spray Mission Fact Sheet.

910th Aerial Spray Flight Entomologist Lt. Col. Karl Haagsma said the product used in the wing’s UTTR aerial spray mission also aids in keeping the range target area clear of other unwanted ground cover that can hinder bombing practice and the recovery of unexploded munitions.

“We use a soil sterilant,” said Haagsma. “We use just enough so nothing will grow on the areas we spray at the direction of range control. We eliminate any ground cover that makes EOD kind of a nightmare out here.”

“Aerial Spray has been coming out here every year for more than 30 years and we’ll keep coming out as long as they need us,” concluded Haagsma.