Peace Time: The Bomber That Ate The Dakotas


December 5, 2009: The U.S. Air Force is expanding its Powder River Training Complex, from 3.8 million acres (1.53 million hectares) of air space, to 20.3 million acres (8.2 million hectares), with the new range covering parts of Wyoming, South Dakota, North Dakota and Montana. Most of the land below is privately owned, but the air force is obtaining permission from the FAA to ban all civilian traffic from the complex when warplanes (particularly the B-1) are using the area for training. The expanded complex is a little larger than the training area around Nellis Air Force Base in Nevada. The enlarged Powder River facility is needed to allow pilots to train in terrain similar to Afghanistan. As big as the complex is, only two or three B-1s can train there at the same time. Heavy bombers now use more electronic equipment to find targets, and direct bombs to them. While no real bombs are dropped during Powder River exercises, electronic systems accurately track where simulated bombs would impact. The high speed of the B-1, and all the new electronic bombing gear, translate into the need for a larger training area.

Some local ranchers oppose the expanded training range, because they use single engine aircraft to keep track of widely dispersed cattle herds, or to hunt coyotes. Sometimes, the B-1s fly  below a thousand feet, where the ranchers can fly even when training is going on. There have never been any collisions, but there have been some close calls. Some rural residents also complain of the noise.



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