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Next month will mark the first large-force exercise in the newly expanded Powder River Training Complex, PRTC, an issue that stirred up much debate in the region over the last few years.
Scheduled for Dec. 2 and 3, the exercise will impact people living under the Powder River’s 2, 3 and Gap B military areas. Those areas include the cities of Bowman, Rhame, Scranton, Marmarth and Baker, Mont.
People in those areas can expect to see multiple types of aircraft using the airspace, and reaching altitudes as low as 500 feet above ground.
The exercise is designed to train aircrew under realistic scenarios that support full spectrum operations against modern threats and replicate today’s contingency operations, according to Lt. Rachel Allison, public affairs chief of the 28th Bomb Wing.
Large force exercises, colloquially known as war games, are the employment of military resources in training for military operations, either exploring the effects of warfare or testing strategies without actual combat.
This type of training is limited to 10 days each year, with each exercise lasting no more than three days, and only occurring once every three months.
During the scheduled times for the exercise, non-military aircraft are suggested to review the Federal Aviation Administration’s Notices to Airmen, NOTAMs, and review flight plans to avoid the areas and altitudes where aircraft will be participating, Allison stated.
The new PRTC officially opened Sept. 17, with military operations beginning the following day.
“It’s crucial that we keep our rural towns healthy, and our local economies thriving by continuing to secure the access of our pilots, airports and businesses need to do their jobs throughout this expansion in Powder River,” Sen. Heidi Heitkamp said in a statement earlier this year.
The most pressing issue brought up by local aviation authorities and residents during the complex’s public input sessions was the altitude at which several of the military aircraft would fly, notably over Bowman which has been designated in the plans as a low area, at which crafts could fly at a minimum of 500 feet above ground.
Other areas involved in the expansion, such as Hettinger, have been designated as high areas, meaning aircraft could only fly from 12,000 to 18,000 feet above ground.
Common aircraft involved in training are the Boeing B-52 Stratofortress and the Rockwell B-1 Lancer, both of which are strategic bombers for the Air Force. The B-52 would navigate in the areas designated as high and the B-1s, a supersonic bomber, would be operating in the low areas. Thirty to 40 aircraft simulate war scenarios during the exercise.
A potentially dangerous situation could occur if a small aircraft is traveling through the proposed training airspace. Aviators intending to fly in the PRTC are encouraged to check official NOTAMs prior to flight, which can be done by calling 1-800-WXBRIEF, or visiting online at www.1800wxbrief.com and pilotweb.nas.faa.gov.