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ORANG kicks off range space expansion initiative

173rd Fighter Wing aircraft refuel over range space located in Eastern Oregon. (Stock photo courtesy James Hazeltine, High-G Productions.)

173rd Fighter Wing aircraft refuel over range space located in Eastern Oregon. (Stock photo courtesy James Hazeltine, High-G Productions.)

County Roadmaster Rick DuMilieu, Judge Steven E. Grasty, County Commissioners, Dan Nichols, Kenneth M. Kestner, Peter Runnels, Dennis Linthicum, Jim Bellet and Tom Mallams, State Senators Theodore M. Ferrioli and Doug Whitsett, and U.S. Senator Ron Wyden’s Chief of Staff J. Wayne Kinney prepare to board a CH-47 Chinook Helicopter for transport to Alkali Lake for a demonstration of noise levels caused by F-15C training on a given flying range. (Photo by Tech. Sgt. Jefferson Thompson.)

County Roadmaster Rick DuMilieu, Judge Steven E. Grasty, County Commissioners, Dan Nichols, Kenneth M. Kestner, Peter Runnels, Dennis Linthicum, Jim Bellet and Tom Mallams, State Senators Theodore M. Ferrioli and Doug Whitsett, and U.S. Senator Ron Wyden’s Chief of Staff J. Wayne Kinney prepare to board a CH-47 Chinook Helicopter for transport to Alkali Lake for a demonstration of noise levels caused by F-15C training on a given flying range. (Photo by Tech. Sgt. Jefferson Thompson.)

KLAMATH FALLS, Ore. -- The Oregon Air National Guard unveiled a plan to expand its range space for flying operations to a group of public officials, Jan. 30, at Kingsley Field, Klamath Falls, Ore.

The meeting included stakeholders in the areas where the additional flying will take place. In addition to the meeting here at Kingsley, those members of the local government flew to Alkali Lake for an actual flying demonstration of F-15C noise levels at different altitudes.

The overall proposal is a modest increase to the range space that improves efficiency, and saves money for the State of Oregon's two fighter wings to the tune of about 10-percent a year; this is viewed as a proactive move in light of increased budget cuts and reduced flying hours seen in the current fiscal uncertainty.

Brig. Gen. Steven D. Gregg, the Oregon Air National Guard Commander, said there are other benefits including responsible stewardship of the airspace.

"One of our concerns is returning this airspace back to commercial traffic once we are done using it for training; this proposed expansion will cut the amount of time we need to hold that airspace before we turn it back."

This means when the ranges are not being used by the fighter wings, it's as if they don't exist and commercial and general aviation traffic can navigate them freely. These small increases in range space will allow more jets the opportunity to safely train, thereby cutting the time needed to do so.

Wheeler County Judge Chris Perry, who attended a similar briefing, said the areas in question are sparsely populated, specifically one person in a given square mile, on average.

"The military has been using air space over Wheeler County since 1950, so this is nothing new to citizens," Perry said. "There really isn't a down side to this other than the fact a person might hear a jet once in a while. But even that isn't a problem when you think this is more training time for a pilot that is providing protection for our citizens - how do you put a price on that?"

So far the price of this proposal is borne by the Air Guard, which is footing the bill for the environmental impact statement which has spanned two years at this point.

This meeting introduces the important step of seeking input from stakeholders.

Moving forward, the Oregon Guard will seek input from citizens in the affected areas with a series of meetings planned at various locations in the state.