Marking the largest exapnsion of "special use airspace" in the nation's history, the U.S. Air Force has approved expansion of the Powder River Traning Complex for use by airmen at Ellsworth Air Force Base near Box Elder and Rapid City, the Black Hills Pioneer reports.
The training complex will now encompass 20.3 million acres over Montana, North Dakota, South Dakota and Wyoming. If the FAA also signs off on the expansion, it will quadruple the training space for Ellsworth personnel.
Opponents and critics have warned the training missions, some as low as 500 feet above ground, would disrupt the rural and agricultural lifestyles and interfere with civilian airspace use. Military officials have vowed to limit the training to certain hours and to keep disruptive air maneuvers to a handful of days per year.
Sen. John Thune, R-S.D., has advocated for the expansion, saying it will better prepare pilots to engage in missions over Afghanistan and that the move would save the military $23 million annually in fuel costs, since planes would not have to fly greater distances to train. Read Sen. Thune's full press release online.