Air Force starts limited operations in expansion area

A B-52 Stratofortress from Minot Air Force Base, ND, takes off during a standoff weapons integration training exercise at Ellsworth AFB, S.D., in August. The week-long training consisted of B-52s and B-1s conducting simulated combat scenarios at the Powder River Training area to help prepare for real world contingencies. The FAA recently finished mapping work on the training area expansion and air crews began utilizing the new airspace in September.                              (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Anania Tekurio/Released)
A B-52 Stratofortress from Minot Air Force Base, ND, takes off during a standoff weapons integration training exercise at Ellsworth AFB, S.D., in August. The week-long training consisted of B-52s and B-1s conducting simulated combat scenarios at the Powder River Training area to help prepare for real world contingencies. The FAA recently finished mapping work on the training area expansion and air crews began utilizing the new airspace in September. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Anania Tekurio/Released)

   Mid-September, the US Air Force began limited military flying operations in the expanded Powder River Training Complex (PRTC) over the Dakotas, Wyoming and Montana, including most of Fallon County.

By Lori Kesinger

   First Lt. Rachel Allison, 28th Bomb Wing public affairs chief, said outside of large-scale exercises, operations in the new airspace will be similar to flights in the former training area.

   In March, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) approved the expansion of the Air Force Powder River Training Complex (PRTC) spanning nearly 35,000 square miles, the largest in the continental United States. The airspace will be used by B-1 bomber air crews from Ellsworth Air Force Base in South Dakota and B-52 bomber air crews from Minot Air Force Base in North Dakota.

  The four quadrants of the expanded airspace each have varying altitude sections of low, medium, and high with set limitations of use. Large Force Exercises will be conducted up to ten days each year, allowing air crews to more effectively train for combat situations.

  Most flights in and out of Baker operate within the low-altitude section. The FAA is requiring the Air Force to meet certain conditions prior to activating the low-altitude Military Operating Areas (MOAs). The full airspace will not be open until an aircraft recall communications system is installed. Any impact from military operations in the area will be very minimal until then.

   The Air Force said earlier that the expanded area would help air crews train under realistic scenarios for a full spectrum of operations. “Instead of wasting time, as well as wear and tear on the aircraft, flying to other locations, air crews would gain increased combat readiness valued at approximately $23M/year by flying in the proposed local training areas, which would allow more crews to get more training with the same number of authorized flight hours.”

   Many Montanans have expressed opposition to the expansion because of the potential for adverse effects on economic activity, air traffic, ranching, and sensitive historic sites.

   Montana’s congressional delegation and state aviation officials have remained active in urging both the FAA and the Air Force to address Montanans’ concerns.

   For more information or to view a map of the training expansion, see the Air Force website:

www.ellsworth.af.mil/prtc.asp.

      



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