Tuesday, November 09, 2010

Not In My Back Air

This Thursday is Veteran's Day, a time when Americans pause to thank those who have served the country and remember the sacrifices they have made. It's a chance for Americans to express their support for the troops serving today and show our gratitude for all that they do to keep us free and safe.

Well, as long as they don't disturb our precious right to relax in the slightest. Air Force Flyover Plan Draws Flak (WSJ-sub req):

The U.S. Air Force thinks the rough-hewn peaks of southwest Colorado and northern New Mexico make excellent surrogates for the treacherous mountain ranges in global hotspots such as Afghanistan. Some local residents beg to differ.

In a bid to provide Special Operations pilots more realistic simulations of wartime missions, the Air Force has proposed a vast new tactical training zone that stretches across 94,000 square miles of rugged terrain. Starting next year, commanders want to send C-130 transport planes and CV-22 Osprey tilt-rotor aircraft skimming across the region after dark at altitudes as low as 200 feet and speeds of up to 288 miles per hour. They envision three sorties a night.

The pilots would dart among the ridges and dip low over the rangeland, practicing the stealth needed for covert operations, said Col. Stephen Clark, wing commander at New Mexico's Cannon Air Force Base, which is pushing the proposal.

Pilots would be required to avoid cities in the zone, including Santa Fe and Taos in New Mexico and Aspen, Pueblo and Durango in Colorado. But communities and residents fighting the Air Force say that hundreds of low-altitude flights each year will spook cattle, scare children, rattle adobe buildings, create pollution and mar the tranquility they cherish.

So on the one hand you have an Air Force training plan that will better prepare pilots for conditions they will face in Afghanistan and likely save lives and on the other you have people who are unwilling to have their mellow harshed in any way. Air crews who put their lives on the line every day to protect and defend the country versus spoiled citizens who are outraged that they might ever have to sacrifice anything for anyone no matter how serious the cause. Geez, hard to decide who's in the right here.

Military officers say the fears are overblown. The Air Force already sends pilots zipping across the region, at times as low as 200 feet above the ground, though current regulations have the effect of limiting night sorties to a half-dozen well-surveyed routes, Col. Clark said.

Under the new proposal, pilots would be allowed to map their own routes through the tactical training zone, increasing the challenge and realism of the training, Col. Clark said. It would also tend to disperse the noise and disruption across a broader area. He said he doesn't anticipate that any one village or ranch would experience the aircraft overhead more than a couple times a month.

Col. Clark said the military has not measured noise levels of aircraft flyovers at 200 feet. For someone standing on the ground, aircraft at an altitude of 500 feet would create a sound exposure of 91 to 95 decibels, or "somewhere between a lawn mower and a chain saw," he said.

Having to put up with the sound of a lawn mower or chain saw for a brief period of time at most a couple of times a month knowing that the reason for the sound is to better train pilots for conditions they will face on the battlefield? No wonder these folks are so outraged.

Kathleen Dudley plans to throw herself into fighting the Air Force should commanders choose to move ahead. A writer in Mora, N.M., northeast of Santa Fe, Ms. Dudley said she and her husband were eating lunch on their deck recently when a military aircraft screamed overhead, flying so low "that we were looking into the eyeballs of a pilot bearing down on us."

"I was terrified," she said. "You don't hear or see them until they're upon you, and then it's like being in a war zone."

Yes, Ms. Dudley exactly like being in a war zone. Except ten seconds later the plane is gone and you and your husband are still sitting on your deck eating your precious lunch. Hope the PTSD isn't getting to you yet.

In fairness, there are some voices of reason among the citizenry on this matter:

"We always thank our servicemen and our veterans. We pray for their safety," said Chris Calvert, a former Air Force pilot who now serves on the Santa Fe City Council. "To then turn around and say, 'But we don't want to be inconvenienced in the least by your getting the training you need' is hypocritical."

Indeed it is.