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Fly Over Home

Conflict over Air Force training flights highlights New Mexico’s uncomfortable relationship with its military legacy

November 17, 2010, 1:00 am

“So when anyone goes out for training, it’s the same route over and over again,” Calvert says. “The realism and the effectiveness dissipates because you don’t keep having the varied circumstances like you would in the real world.”

Calvert emphasizes that the Santa Fe City Council’s resolution neither supports nor opposes the military’s plans.

Rather, the council is asking the Air Force to be responsive to its concerns regarding environmental, economic, social and cultural impacts. 

A CV-22 Osprey assigned to the 71st Special Operations Squadron, 58th Special Operations Wing, Kirtland Air Force Base, NM, prepares to land, as part of a training mission in northern New Mexico.

Public debate over the training area has undoubtedly been thought-provoking. Supporting the military’s mission, he says, “isn’t flag waving, or saying ‘We’re patriotic and those who are against it are not’—I think it’s just being realistic.” 

Speaking to SFR the day before Veteran’s Day, Calvert says his personal stance in support of LATN has much to do with ensuring soldiers have the opportunity to return home as veterans.

“When we’re in council, we’re always supporting our service people and thanking them for the job they do, thanking our veterans for the job they did, and mentioning them at council and invoking them in prayers,” he says. “So to do that and, on the other hand, say, ‘We don’t want to be affected by anything you might have to do in the process of doing your duty,’ is to me a little bit hypocritical.” 

Calvert himself is a Vietnam-era veteran. He served in the Air Force from 1970 until 1975 and flew the C-141, a cargo plane. (His mission was in no way similar to those pilots face today in Afghanistan, he says, where CV-22 and C-130 pilots will eventually put their training into action.) 

“Some people will say, ‘It’s not my war; I don’t support that war,’” he says. “But whether or not you agree with the war, it’s not a reason to punish the airmen who are tasked with that mission and need that training.” 

On the other hand, he thinks that people who support the war in Afghanistan—who think it’s essential for national security and defending the United States against terrorism—need to understand some of what war entails. Experiencing the nuisance of low-altitude training flights pales in comparison with what other countries and populations are enduring in these wars, Calvert says, but it does make the war tangible.

And, perhaps, when New Mexicans look up to the skies, feel the roof-shaking roar of a bomber plane or hear the thwap-thwap-thwap of a military helicopter overhead, they will consider the reason the pilots train here: New Mexico’s mountainous and low-population terrain is similar to the landscapes they’ll be staring across in Afghanistan.  SFR

The Osprey Saga

The military’s Osprey program began in 1981. Only eight years later, in December 1989, the US Department of Defense directed the Navy to terminate all contracts, saying the aircraft wasn’t affordable when compared to helicopters. Production ceased—until Congress disagreed and continued funding the program over the objections of the Defense Department. 

However, in a recent draft proposal to Congress, the National Commission on Fiscal Responsibly and Reform recommended $200 billion in cuts to the federal budget—including $100 billion in the defense budget. One proposed cut is to the V-22 Osprey models used by the military.

According to a May 2009 report from the General Accounting Office of Congress, the Osprey program has been plagued with problems:

• Although the Defense Department had concluded the Osprey was “operationally effective, but not operationally suitable”—due in part to reliability concerns—the program continued. Then, following two fatal crashes that caused 23 deaths in 2000, the Osprey was grounded. The Defense Department ordered more research and continued low-rate production. Modifications and test design changes occurred and, in 2005, the Defense Acquisition Board approved the Osprey for military use and full-rate production.

• As used in Iraq, the Osprey has not demonstrated its ability to operate in a spectrum of high-threat combat situations as it was intended. Problems include maneuvering limits and the inability to carry a full combat load of 24 Marines if equipped with intended cargo. Efforts to deploy the Osprey aboard Navy ships have also presented challenges: Larger than the helicopters they are replacing, the Ospreys cannot use all of a ship’s landing decks. Their “large inventory of repair parts” also constrain necessary hangar space, and their downwash is significantly greater than that of the helicopters. In one case, a second sailor had to be assigned to physically hold down the person acting as the landing guide. 

• Costs related to research, development and production have all exceeded initial projections and are expected to rise. There are currently 450 more Ospreys on order.

• Within the Osprey program, an MV-22’s cost is $64 million and a CV-22’s is $76 million. Their operating cost is $11,000 per flying hour.

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