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North Dakota Tourism

Bowman County Courthouse
104 1st St NW
Bowman, ND 58623

FAA approves expansion of military training area

March 25, 2015

A B-1B Lancer is shown taking off at Ellsworth (S.D.) Air Force Base on July 24, 2012. Bombers like the B-1 will fly over southwest North Dakota, western South Dakota and southeast Montana now that the Federal Aviation Administration has approved the Powder River Training Complex. It will be the largest Air Force training space in the continental U.S. . (Photo courtesy of U.S. Air Force)


Once complete, the Powder River Training Complex will quadruple in size, spanning over 35,000 square miles across North Dakota, South Dakota, Montana and Wyoming.  

The expanded training area will be the largest Air Force Training Space in the continental U.S. and will be used by B-1 bombers at Ellsworth Air Force Base in South Dakota and B-52 bombers at Minot Air Force Base in North Dakota.

Proponents of the expansion say the project will cut back on military costs and provide better training for individuals who are serving the country.

However, opponents argue the bombers will delay commercial flights, introduce safety issues for small airplanes, disrupt rural communities and scare livestock.  

President of the Bowman Airport Commission Rodney Schaaf said he and other members of the committee have expressed opposition against the Powder River Training Complex since its origin.

Bowman is one of the areas proposed to be a low-level flying area. Schaaf said this means B-1 bombers could be flying at high speeds and low-altitudes.

According to a U.S. Air Force website the military uses some airspace below 10,000 feet for training operations and flies at speeds of more than 250 knots.

Low-altitude flights are used for many reasons, including practice for a strategy called psychological warfare, where jets move close to the ground as a scare tactic.

“It is going to be loud,” Schaaf said. “And it is going to have an impact, especially on cattle during weaning time.”

Schaaf said bombers flying this low could also pose safety issues for local pilots and crop-dusters, which fly low, dousing agricultural plots with herbicides and water.

“That is an accident waiting to happen,” he said.

The commission brought up the issue and asked for flights through Bowman to be in a higher area zone, which would require jets to fly higher than 12,000 feet.

However, Schaaf said he suspects this recommendation will not be taken into consideration because the airport is so small, and therefore does not hold much weight when compared to other locations.

The commission also asked for a remote transmitter receiver site with a VHF frequency band, which small planes use to communicate with one another.

He said if these military jets are flying through, improvements in communication need to be made first.

“We want some communication outlet or radar where we would have the ability to talk directly to bases for quick updates,” he said.

Schaaf said the airport is going to have to remain in close contact with the base in Ellsworth, S.D., to see if flights will navigate in high or low areas. Before, they were able to tell within a minute, but now the system will be complicated as they converse with several military bases.

Sen. Heidi Heitkamp, D-N.D., who has been in contact with local pilots and has spoken with federal officials on the project, has stated communication towers are key to making this expansion a success.

“Over the past four months in particular, the Air Force has demonstrated a strong commitment to heeding the economic and cultural concerns of local communities impacted by this training expansion,” Heitkamp said in a statement.

The expansion is proposed to be implemented as early as this summer, but Schaaf said it could likely take longer if communication towers were installed.

Heitkamp has stressed how important it is for the FAA and officials with the complex to be in communication with local pilots and airports when forming plans for the project.