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Reservists begin spraying for insects in Gulf Coast

050913-F-3849M-001    Tech. Sgt. Jim Graves (left) and Staff Sgt. Tom Kocis, aerial spray maintenance technicians with the 910th Aircraft Maintenance Squadron, check recirculation valves during a pre-flight inspection of the Modular Aerial Spray System Sept. 13. (U.S. Air Force photo by Tech. Sgt. Shawn David McCowan)

050913-F-3849M-001 Tech. Sgt. Jim Graves (left) and Staff Sgt. Tom Kocis, aerial spray maintenance technicians with the 910th Aircraft Maintenance Squadron, check recirculation valves during a pre-flight inspection of the Modular Aerial Spray System Sept. 13. (U.S. Air Force photo by Tech. Sgt. Shawn David McCowan)

DUKE FIELD, Fla. -- Air Force reservists continue to save lives in Hurricane Katrina’s aftermath by conducting aerial spray missions in an attempt to reduce mosquito and filth fly populations. A C-130H aircrew flew the first of many flights over Louisiana Sept. 12.

The Department of Defense’s only fixed-wing aerial spray unit, the 910th Airlift Wing, was requested by the Federal Emergency Management Agency and the Centers for Disease Control through the Defense Department to spray until the threat of disease subsides. FEMA officials are still assessing how many acres need to be sprayed as a result of the hurricane.

“The elimination of disease-carrying insects is a vital part of ensuring public health and safety in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina,” said Lt. Col. Steve Olson, 910th AW medical entomologist. “The targeted insects are capable of transmitting diseases such as Eastern equine encephalitis, West Nile virus and malaria. If not controlled, the probability that people will contract these diseases, either in single incidents or in widespread outbreaks, increases greatly.”

The 910th AW, Youngstown Air Reserve Station, Vienna, Ohio, is operating out of Duke Field because it’s near the spray area, able to handle C-130H aircraft and capable of supporting the mission without conflicting with other relief efforts.
Each C-130H that has been modified to conduct the aerial spray mission is equipped with a Modular Aerial Spray System.

The chemical chosen for this mosquito control operation is Dibrom. The MASS disperses the chemical in a fine mist spray in a ratio similar to a few tablespoons over an entire football field. A gallon of Dibrom is capable of treating 128 to 256 acres and at this rate of application does not pose a hazard to humans or the environment, said Colonel Olson.

“When the aircrew makes a swath across the spray area, people on the ground will most likely only see the aircraft engine exhaust,” said Lt. Col. Marty Davis, mission commander. “Within 10 to 15 seconds after the spray is released, it becomes virtually invisible to the naked eye. In fact, the spray is so fine that it’s small enough to attach to the hair on a mosquito’s legs.”

Up to two C-130s will fly per day and are capable of spraying a combined area of up to 200,000 acres. In order to be most effective, spray operations will begin about two and a half hours before dusk when the mosquito population is most active.

During these low-level missions over the city and outlying areas, aircraft fly at altitudes of approximately 150 feet.

“The reason for flying so low is to help maintain the chemical’s maximum effect in the designated spray area,” said Colonel Davis.

A second application is often sprayed to control additional mosquitoes that hatch after the first aerial spray.

The 910th AW is not new to this type of mission. The Air Force Reserve Command unit has flown a variety of aerial spray missions since 1973. During aerial spray operations following Hurricane Floyd in 1999, the unit sprayed about 1.7 million acres over areas of Virginia and North Carolina.

The missions will not interfere with search-and-rescue operations still ongoing in Louisiana, said Maj. Tim Austin, deputy mission commander for the Hurricane Katrina relief effort spray mission and chief of spray operations for the 757th Airlift Squadron.

“The air space over the spray area has been de-conflicted, but if a search and rescue mission is needed, we can abort a swath in seconds,” he said. “The spray controllers on board the aircraft will stop the spray and the pilot will initiate a climb and turn out of the spray area.” (AFRC News Service)