- Associated Press - Monday, June 26, 2017

BISMARCK, N.D. (AP) - Two years after the Air Force opened a massive training complex over the Northern Plains, ranchers who have complained about the military aircraft exercises say progress has been made in addressing their concerns, thanks in large part to a new advisory group.

Beginning Tuesday, military planes from bases in eight states will take part in Combat Raider, a three-day exercise in the Powder River Training Complex. The 35,000-square-mile complex over the Dakotas, Montana and Wyoming is the largest over the continental U.S.

“I enjoy them when they’re up in the air flying at the right height. I’m tickled to death they’re protecting us,” said Jody McCoid, who ranches cattle in northwestern South Dakota. “But when they fly low, you can’t hear anything, and it sure disrupts everything. I’ve had spooked calves hit the fence.”

The Federal Aviation Administration approved quadrupling the training airspace in March 2015. The expanded complex officially opened in September of that year, with large-scale exercises such as Combat Raider limited to 10 days per year.

The FAA provides notice of such exercises, but ranchers and civilian pilots have asked for more information about flights and for a better system of reporting disturbances that range from rattled windows and scared farm animals to unsafe airspace. Air Force officials have previously agreed to steps such as posting notices in local newspapers and late last year began meeting with an advisory council spearheaded by the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association, an advocacy group for general aviation pilots.

About three dozen people representing the interests of ranchers, pilots, airports, the military and others attended the first meeting of the Powder River Council last November at Ellsworth Air Force Base in South Dakota. It was led by Warren Hendrickson, the aircraft association’s regional manager and a former Air Force pilot.

“While there are many competing demands for this airspace, it is incumbent upon all users to identify problems and collaborate in the creation of mitigated solutions,” he said at the time.

One positive that has resulted is more direct communication between the Air Force and the South Dakota Stockgrowers Association.

“Just being able to call somebody when we have a complaint - and knowing who to contact - has been a big help,” Executive Director Silvia Christen said. “The next step is addressing some of those concerns and complaints that come in.”

The Air Force is “firmly committed to cultivating a good long-term relationship,” said Ellsworth spokeswoman 2nd Lt. Miranda Simmons.

This week’s exercise will involve eight types of aircraft including bombers, fighter jets, helicopters, reconnaissance planes and refueling tankers. They’re coming from 14 Air Force and National Guard units in South Dakota, Colorado, Georgia, Iowa, Kansas, Louisiana, Nebraska and Oklahoma.

___

Follow Blake Nicholson on Twitter at: https://twitter.com/NicholsonBlake

LOAD COMMENTS ()

 

Click to Read More

Click to Hide