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GFAFB to hold UAS meeting

The Grand Forks Air Force Base will conduct four public hearings next week to discuss the proposed expansion of Restricted Air Space in northeastern North Dakota.

The Grand Forks Air Force Base will conduct four public hearings next week to discuss the proposed expansion of Restricted Air Space in northeastern North Dakota.

The RAS expansion is necessary, the Air Force said, in order to accommodate the local air base's developing new mission -- as the home to a fleet of Predator and Global Hawk unmanned aircraft.

The public hearings are part of the U.S. Air Force's draft Environmental Impact Study. During the hearings, Air Force representatives will describe the proposal and alternatives and explain the EIS process.

The draft EIS covers the environmental effects of infrastructure improvements at the Grand Forks base and the modifications of airspace that the Air Force has proposed in order to accommodate Predator-class and Global Hawk unmanned aerial vehicle training missions, according to North Dakota's congressional delegation -- Sen. Kent Conrad, Sen. Byron Dorgan and Rep. Earl Pomeroy, all Democrats.

"This is an important step toward basing UAVs at Grand Forks Air Force Base and enabling the Happy Hooligans of the 119th Wing to fly Predator training missions in North Dakota," the delegation said Friday in a joint statement. "Not only are UAVs critical to military operations and saving American lives on the battlefield, but basing these new units out of Grand Forks will create jobs and add an economic boost to North Dakota."


The hearings, which run from 4:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m., with Air Force presentations at 5:30 p.m., will be:

n Monday: Grand Forks, Alerus Center Junior Ballroom.

n Tuesday: Devils Lake, Lake Region State College dining room.

n Wednesday: Carrington, Chieftain Conference Center Tepee Room.

n Thursday: Langdon, North Dakota State University Extension Research Center.

The proposal is part of the response to the 2005 Base Realignment and Closure decision to bring the emerging remotely piloted aircraft program to the Grand Forks air base.

Under the proposal, UAVs, or remotely piloted aircraft, at Grand Forks Air Force Base would have access to realistic training conditions in the air space in northeastern North Dakota.

Essentially, the proposal greatly would expand RAS, which is controlled by the military and is off-limits to private and commercial aircraft. UAS aircraft will fly overhead only occasionally, and the air space will be restricted only when training is in progress.


The Federal Aviation Administration also is participating in the process.

The plan calls for expanding two existing RAS areas:

n The northern region would extend from about Osnabrock and Michigan, N.D., on the east to a few miles past a line just west of Cando, N.D., on the west, the Canadian border on the north and roughly following U.S. Highway 2 on the south. The proposed boundary is just north of the city of Devils Lake.

n The southern proposed restricted air space region encompasses an existing restricted area at Camp Grafton South, extending from south and east of Carrington, N.D., through much of Foster, Eddy, Wells, Benson and Sheridan counties.

The proposal, which lists four alternatives, also includes RAS corridors for the aircraft to fly between GFAFB and the training areas.

Here's how the system would work, under the proposal outlined in regional meetings in late 2008:

The Predator, a medium-altitude, long-endurance unmanned aircraft used for surveillance and reconnaissance, will make two training flights or sorties daily, Monday through Friday, and four sorties one weekend per month.

The Predator is 27 feet long and 7 feet high, with a wingspan of about 50 feet. It flies at altitudes of 10,000 to 15,000 feet above sea level at about 135 mph.


The Global Hawk, a long-endurance aircraft that can fly at altitudes up to 60,000 feet, will make one training flight daily, Monday through Friday. The Global Hawk measures 47.6 feet long by 15.4 feet high, with a wing span of 131 feet. It can fly 400 mph.

Both aircraft will be flown by pilots at the North Dakota Air National Guard's 119th Air Wing in Fargo.

The first airmen associated with the UAS mission are scheduled to arrive in Grand Forks this year, but official timelines for the arrival of the Predator and Global Hawk aircraft have not been determined. The latest estimates have the Predator arriving in or about 2013, followed by the Global Hawk.

Two Predators are stationed at the air base. They're owned by the Department of Homeland Security and used by U.S. Customs and Border Patrol for patrolling the U.S.-Canada border.

Copies of the draft environmental impact statement are available for review at:

- Grand Forks Public Library.

- Community Activity Center, Grand Forks Air Force Base.

- Lake Region Public Library, Devils Lake.


- Carrington City Library.

The document also is available online at: www.grandforksuaseis.com .

Comments must be submitted by March 1 to: HQ AMC/A7PI, 507 Symington Drive, Scott AFB, IL 62225-5022; Attn: Mr. Doug Allbright.

Reach Bonham at (701) 780-1110; (800) 477-6572, ext. 110; or send e-mail to kbonham@gfherald.com .

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