1st large-scale exercise set in military air training area
BISMARCK, N.D. — Military airplanes are taking to the skies this week for the first large-scale exercise in a training area over the Northern Plains.
The exercise in the 35,000-square-mile Powder River Training Complex is scheduled for Wednesday and Thursday. Bombers, fighter jets and refueling tankers will be practicing maneuvers in the airspace over the Dakotas, Montana and Wyoming.
After years of consideration, the Federal Aviation Administration in March approved quadrupling the training airspace, making it the largest over the continental U.S. Advocates say it will boost military training while reducing costs, but some people in the region worry about disruptions to towns, ranches and civilian flights.
This week’s exercise won’t involve supersonic speeds, so it will be less noisy, Master Sgt. John Barton, a spokesman for Ellsworth Air Force Base in South Dakota, told The Bismarck Tribune.
There will be little to notice from the ground other than jet contrails, he said.
“If they’re straight, those are from commercial jets. If it’s us, the contrails will be orbital,” Barton said.
The exercises are scheduled from 10 a.m. to noon both days. Regional airports have been alerted that the military will take control of the airspace during those hours, but it might not affect local air traffic because of the short time span and the altitude of the exercise — between 12,000 feet and 26,000 feet, Barton said.
The training will involve F-16 fighter jets, E3 AWACS surveillance and command jets, KC-135 refueling tankers, RC-135 intelligence-gathering planes, and B-1 and B-52 bombers. The military did not disclose the total number of planes involved.