More room to roam

by Mike Linn

If approved, Cannon Air Force Base’s proposed airspace expansion will allow pilots to better train for combat and decrease Cannon’s chances of ending up on the Base Realignment and Closure (BRAC) list, military officials and community leaders said this year.

Cannon officials began the first of many steps to implement the airspace expansion — called the New Mexico Training Range Initiative — with a series of public meetings at the beginning of the year. A new round of public meetings — in Clovis, Roswell, Fort Sumner and Santa Rosa — will likely begin in February and the initiative’s Environmental Impact Statement will be released to the public in January, according to 1st Lt. Jennifer Geeslin of Cannon Public Affairs.

Cannon officials hope the initiative is given final approval by the Air Force and the Federal Aviation Administration by October.

Given its importance, the initiative ranks as the top military story of 2004 as determined by CNJ staff.

The proposed expansion would allow pilots to fly lower and faster an additional 15 nautical miles to the west into Lincoln County and to the east toward Portales, its boundary about 5 miles west of Floyd. Expansions into Fort Sumner to the north and Chaves County to the south are also proposed.

In all, the proposal seeks to expand military airspace to 3,300 square miles from 2,600 square miles. Changes proposed in the expanded areas include bringing the lowest altitude pilots can fly down to 500 feet above ground; and allowing pilots to fly at supersonic speeds at 10,000 feet above sea level, instead of 30,000 feet.

The initiative will positively impact Cannon’s position in the eyes of the yet-to-be-formed BRAC Commission, said Clovis resident Doc Stewart, a member of the New Mexico Military Base Planning Commission.

“It’s very, very important for the longevity of the Air Force (in New Mexico),” he said.

Stewart said there will be no new military airspace and no new bombing ranges added in the United States, meaning airspace can only be expanded. And when it is, it is of much value to the Air Force, he said. If passed, Stewart said the increased airspace will make Cannon and New Mexico unique for training and will give Cannon one of the largest inland airspace in the country.

While the initiative has any number of supporters, some ranchers have said they may be negatively affected by the airspace expansion. While the ranchers said they support the military, they also fear the proposal will devalue their land; create increased noise over their ranches in the form of sonic booms or shock waves; and decrease their chances of renting their land for the use of wind farms if they so choose.

Other top military stories in 2004:
• Cannon had a change of command in April when Col. John Posner replaced Col. Robert “Rowdy” Yates, who left for Langley Air Force Base in Virginia.

Yates’ new role at Langley is “Special Assistant to the Air Combat Command Director of Operations.” Posner came to Cannon from Langley, where he served as the Vice Aerospace Expeditionary Force Center commander.

• Cannon was recognized for several awards, including the Curtain Award, which is presented to the best small base Civil Engineer Squadron in Air Combat Command and the Air Force; the Installation Excellence Award in which Cannon was named the best installation in Air Combat Command; and the Daedalian Award in which Cannon’s Maintenance Group was named the best Maintenance Group in Air Combat Command and the best large unit maintenance group in the Air Force.

• Despite chilly weather, thousands of area residents attended Cannon’s Air Power Expo in September. The show included aerial demonstrations from a variety of aircraft.

• After almost two months, Cannon officials had still not released the cause of death for 20-year-old Kimberly Susan Novak, who died on Oct. 29 in her home on base.

The body of Novak — her husband Edward is enlisted and stationed at Cannon — has been sent to the New Mexico Office of the Medical Investigator for an autopsy.

Cannon officials say the death is still being investigated, but have declined to release much detail.