Genesis of the “Airbridge”, 173rd FW clears skies for 5th generation fighter training

  • Published
  • By Master Sgt. Jefferson Thompson
  • 173rd Fighter Wing

In a proof of concept dubbed an “Airbridge”, Team Kingsley personnel arranged to combine the 173rd Fighter Wing’s current training range space in Eastern Oregon with Mountain Home Air Force Base’s range complex to the East.

“It’s big,” says Maj. Dan Dierickx, a 270th Air Traffic Control Squadron controller who also is a Federal Aviation Administration controller when he’s not wearing the uniform. He went on to say that it’s likely the largest range space in the U.S. at more than 19,000 square miles—but is waiting for confirmation on that.

“I started working on this in December, and this is our letter of agreement between Seattle Center, Kingsley Field, Mountain Home and Salt Lake Center that just got signed today, and it starts on Friday,” he says holding a sheaf of paperwork that makes the “Airbridge” a reality.

Six months of work brought to fruition not 48 hours before Kingsley Field F-15s, Mountain Home AFB Strike Eagles, contract F-5s, and of course Luke AFB F-35s enter the expanded range space for three large-force exercises.

Maj. Taylor Clark, a 173rd FW instructor pilot says this is a first of its kind.  “There are numerous challenges associated with the airbridge,” he adds.  “Mainly, it’s deconflicting the airspace with commercial traffic that flies northbound and southbound between Kingsley’s airspace and the Mountain Home Range Complex—this is no easy feat.”

Dierickx says over the last six months he’s coordinated with a long list of individuals and agencies including “the FAA, the active duty, the Guard, the union, the airlines…”

Among the many hurdles, Diereickx says it was important not to impact airline carriers ferrying passengers through the airspace, a significant portion of which originates in Europe and transits to the bay area, directly through the “Airbridge”.

Diereckx says his dual roles in the military and FAA uniquely positions him to find a workable compromise for the airspace, allaying concerns of other stakeholders and ultimately allowing the concept to go forward.

“We chose an altitude that had very little traffic but was still safe for the fighters to do what they wanted; so now the airlines, other civilians, and general aviation pilots can all share that chunk of space,” he says.

When asked what the benefits are he largely defers, saying that the pilots using the space can better answer that question, but he does say, “airspace is finite and everybody wants it, we have something up here that’s pretty unique—pretty large.”