D.C. Air National Guard looks to expand F-16 training airspace into north central WV

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United States Air Force F-16 Falcons fly over the field prior to an NFL football game between the Indianapolis Colts and Washington Redskins, Sunday, Sept. 16, 2018, in Landover, Md. (AP Photo/Mark Tenally)

JOINT BASE ANDREWS, Md. – The District of Columbia Air National Guard (DCANG) is starting a three-year project to look at modifying the Evers Military Operating Area (MOA), which is an airspace used for training F-16 combat pilots of the 113th Wing, into portions on north central West Virginia.

The current Evers MOA covers 450 square nautical miles, while the proposal would expand it to 3,500 square nautical miles, including portions of southern Virginia and central and eastern West Virginia.

A map released by the Air National Guard shows the proposed area running, at the northern end, from just east of Jane Lew, in Lewis County, to just west of Canaan Valley, in Tucker County. At the southern end, it runs from Dawson, in Greenbrier County to Clifton Forge, in Virginia. The area includes portions of Barbour, Braxton, Greenbrier, Lewis, Nicholas, Pendleton, Pocahontas, Randolph, Tucker, Upshur and Webster counties.

“The mission set of the 113th requires a larger airspace to train and prepare for current and future conflicts and responses,” said Colonel Keith G. MacDonald, commander 113th Wing. “The current Evers MOA simply lacks the training airspace necessary to provide reliable training to fully-exercise the 113th Wing’s pilots.”

In addition to the 113th, the airspace would also be available for training for aircrews from Maryland, Virginia and West Virginia, officials said.

The 113th’s training flights typically happen once or twice a day, five days a week for an average of 90 minutes per flight, officials said. A maximum of eight planes could use the airspace at one time, according to ANG officials.

To further explain the need for the expansion, Air National Guard officials issued this statement: It would enable those aircrews to operate in a properly configured military airspace that meets requirements as an integrated, year-round, realistic training environment for combat aircraft to enhance combat capability, as well as support advanced 21st century air-to-air tactical fighters and evolving military training requirements.

“Our mission is to maintain a well-trained and well-equipped F-16 squadron to respond during times of war and to protect the skies over the nation’s capital,” said MacDonald. “The modification of this airspace is critical for the effective combat training of our pilots,” MacDonald said.

F-16s would be the primary planes using the area, but F-22s, A-10s and F-15Es may occasionally use it as well, officials said.

An F-16 fighter jet, fully armed with air-to-air missiles under its wings, maneuvers above the northwest section of Washington D.C., Wednesday, May 11, 2005, near a cluster of embassies from Middle Eastern nations as it and at least one other F-16 scrambled to intercept a small airplane that flew into the restricted airspace that circles the nation’s capital. The White House and the Capital were evacuated until the situation with the small plane was resolved. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

Officials claim that from a noise perspective, the training would be “almost unnoticeable” to people on the ground, but they did release a pamphlet on aircraft noise and said that a noise complaint hotline and and an online complaint form will be made available.

In terms of the affects the MOA would have on general aviation flights, the military flights would have a maximum altitude of 23,000 feet, meaning most commercial airliners will fly above the area. When it is use for military training, the FAA will recommend that general aviation flights fly over, under or around the airspace. The MOA will not be classified as a “restricted area” officials said.

Other frequently asked questions and answers about the proposed MOA can be found here.

The West Virginia National Guard will also play a role in the project. “While the West Virginia National Guard is not the lead agency for the Evers MOA proposed expansion, we have a responsibility to maintain transparency and provide information to our potentially affected counterparts in the state,” said Maj. Gen. James Hoyer, Adjutant General of the West Virginia National Guard. “Our organization will continue to work with the 113th Wing, D.C. Air National Guard and National Guard Bureau leadership to ensure West Virginians are kept abreast of the proposed expansion as it moves forward,” Hoyer said.

An environmental assessment period will take place in coming months, and the public is encouraged to provide feedback during this process, officials said. The environmental assessment will address many potential impacts like noise, commerce, and changes to general and commercial aviation flight patterns.

Further information on the proposal can be found on the 113th’s website.

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