September 13, 2012
North Carolina

Air Force: training missions would be impacted by wind turbines

By Susan Graybeal | Yahoo! Contributor Network | 12 September 2012

Seymour Johnson Air Force Base, located in Goldsboro, N.C., has released its analysis on the impact of nearby wind energy projects to its low-altitude flight training programs. The result of that analysis was that turbines would create hazards to the training missions.

* Seymour Johnson AFB is the home to the 4th Fighter Wing, which conducts F-15E low-altitude training in the mid-Atlantic region, particularly eastern North Carolina, which has seen an uptick in interest in wind energy development.

* According to an August report of the Carolina Journal Online , Seymour Johnson AFB has objected specifically to the Pantego wind energy project in Beaufort County. That project garnered conditional approval by the North Carolina Utilities Commission in March.

* In August, after receiving a letter from the commander of Seymour Johnson Air Force Base expressing concern over the Pantego project, Gov. Bev Perdue issued Executive Order 124 , which directs all Cabinet agencies to appoint a military affairs coordinator to help the state to be appraised of military training needs and how they could be impacted by land use decisions.

* The Air Force’s published analysis of the impacts associated with wind energy development in the region states concern that the height of the turbines would require crews to maintain higher altitudes than than those required for low-altitude training. “Adding potentially dozens of 498 foot obstacles within a route where thousands of low-altitude high speed military training sorties are flown every year will increase safety of flight risk, especially at night,” the Air Force stated.

* Seymour Johnson AFB has the only F-15E formal training unit in the U.S. Air Force, the analysis stated. Every single pilot and weapons systems officer who flies the F-15E trains at Seymour Johnson.

* Nearly half of the entire U.S. Air Force F-15E fleet is based at Seymour Johnson.

* Low-altitude trainin missions for the F-15E maneuver to 500 feet above ground level. Training missions take place at all hours of the day and night.

* The placement of wind turbines that are approximately 498 feet above ground level will force aircrew flying at 500 feet to climb over the turbines to avoid potential collisions, the Air Force said. Though there are currently other structures – including radio and cell towers – that restrict flight along the training routes, the fact that wind farms often extend for several miles would require aircrew to stay at a higher altitude for a longer period of time.

* The aircrew would be aware of the location of turbines during mission planning, the Air Force stated, there is potential of a crew missing the climb point and “an aircraft flying at 500 feet could potentially strike a turbine blade, with the likely loss of two lives and a $31 million irreplaceable combat asset.”

* Even if the turbines were lit up at night, the anaysis added, the blade tips themselves would not be, and may not be seen through the night vision goggles of the flight crew.

* According to Executive Order 124, North Carolina is home to six military installations. The military is the second largest sector of North Carolina’s economy, contributing 8 percent of the gross state product – $23.4 million, and employing more than 416,000 people.

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