By Tim Leeds
Fighter pilots will soon have a shorter distance to fly for training exercises.
The U.S. Air Force has selected a location in Blaine County to build a air-to-ground training range for pilots in the Montana Air National Guard 120th Fighting Wing, based in Great Falls.
"It's going to be a boost. We're going to benefit from it," Blaine County Commissioner Don Swenson said today.
The range, which will be a 3-by-5-mile area in the southeast corner of the county, will be a mix of Fort Belknap Indian Community land, Bureau of Land Management land and private land. Swenson said most of the jobs created by the range will be for people on the reservation.
Lt. Col. Bill Schulz of the Montana Air National Guard said similar ranges usually have 10 to 12 workers. Two would be military personnel and the rest would probably be civil service personnel or contracted workers.
The guard wants to employ as many local people as possible, Schulz said.
The range will be used to train pilots using nonexplosive munitions and practice bullets, and will require new restricted airspace. Schulz said the maximum use planned would be four flights a day, about four days a week.
In actuality, he said, the training goes in phases. Use of the range will probably be fairly heavy for a month or two, then low for a month or two.
Swenson said the main inconvenience will be the closing of the area during training exercises, although people in the area should be able to work around that.
"It's going to be noisy, I'm sure, but it's going to be far enough away, it won't bother people too much," he said.
Noise was one issue addressed in the environmental impact statement prepared by the Air National Guard, he added.
The statement analyzed three locations, the one selected and two in Phillips County, as well as the alternative of not building a new range.
Construction is likely to begin in 2003 and the guard hopes to be using it the following year.
The reason the National Guard needed a local range was becuase too much time was being used to fly to other practice ranges, Schulz said. The Montana unit uses ranges in southern Idaho, and most often near Salt Lake City.