USAFA hosts off-base town hall, discusses changes to Academy's flying patterns

  • Published
  • By Harry Lundy and Maj. Brus E. Vidal, Academy Public Affairs
  • Academy Public Affairs
The Air Force's Academy hosted a town hall meeting on Nov. 12 with Colorado Springs citizens to discuss recent changes to the Academy's training flying pattern at the Classical Academy's East Campus.

The event was led by David Cannon, Academy director of communications, Col. Kim Hawthorne, the Academy's Strategic Plans, Programs, Analysis and Requirements director, and Col. Joe Rizzuto, commander of the 306th Flying Training Group.

Cannon thanked the Classical Academy for its generosity in providing the venue then turned the floor over to Hawthorne, who explained that the Academy mission is to develop leaders of character, noting that the airmanship experience is part of this larger requirement.

"At the Air Force's Academy, it is essential that we expose and motivate all cadets to aviation operations and air-mindedness --the lens through which Airmen perceive warfare,"  Hawthorne said. "It helps instill a warrior ethos in our nation's future leaders. Key to our mission and these experiences is our airmanship programs, which include soaring, jump, and powered flight, because they develop in our cadets the essential leadership and character qualities for success as Air Force officers in the world's premier Air and Space Force."

Hawthorne highlighted that Academy flying programs have been a significant part of cadet development for more than 50 years and that approximately half of all cadets will become Air Force pilots upon graduation.

"These programs provide the foundation for personal and professional discipline required for their success," Hawthorne said. "I'd also like to say that we've worked hard to foster positive relations with our neighboring communities, and take your concerns seriously. It is not our intention to cause anyone distress -- we live here too! We're part of the community -- our Airmen and their families live, work, and play here alongside your families," he said. "Our kids go to the same schools and we play on the same teams."

Rizzuto then addressed the recent changes to the Academy's training flying pattern. He said the changes were meant to make the Academy's training programs safer in a number of ways, including better separation from general and commercial aviation traffic in the Colorado Springs area.

All changes were discussed and ultimately agreed upon by a cross- functional team comprised of members from the 306th FTG, Colorado Springs Approach, Denver Center, Federal Aviation Administration airspace, Air Education and Training Command airspace, and Academy Environmental experts.

The keys to safety include predictable, deconflicted procedures and airspace, Rizzuto said. The 306th FTG has to mix all three of the Academy's airmanship programs -- jump, powered flight program and soaring -- into limited airspace. The Academy tower controls a radius of only 3 nautical miles of airspace around the airfield.

"Safety is the number one priority in all of our programs, procedures, airspace and execution," Rizzudo said. "This does not mean that we do not create issues for you that are real, but for us it is a balance between how we serve the country -- short term for those around us and long term in developing the next generation of leaders for our nation."

Simplifying the airspace layout -- creating a predictable pattern instead of random layout -- mirrors the same type layout the cadets will see as lieutenants in flight training. It also prevents conflict with Colorado Springs airport approach and departures.

"The old departures were dangerous," Rizzuto said, noting that they crossed Colorado Springs' centerline at about 5 miles with limited altitude clearance. The new departures and arrivals take traffic away from Colorado Springs extended center-line, reducing conflicts with commercial traffic in and out of the city, thus eliminating mid-air collision potential.

Rizzuto acknowledged requests for changes. He said the changes have been looked at five times now and the current flight pattern is the safest option possible, in compliance with all government requirements, regulations and guidelines. In fact, the Academy's flight program is the safest program in Air Education and Training Command, which runs all primary flight training programs for the Air Force.

Among the concerns voiced by citizens at the town hall meeting and addressed by the Academy were:

· Extend the flying pattern to the north -- but there is no room in airspace to extend to the north based on FAA assigned airspace.

· Vary departures and arrivals from day to day -- but the current flight pattern provides a consistent and predictable pattern for safety and student learning.

· Fly to the west or up I-25 -- but it's not possible to adjust to the west due to patterns used by towplanes, gliders and the UV-18 Otter.

"The current pattern is the safest configuration we can have given our constraints of limited airspace," Rizzuto said. "Any change causes an increase in risk of mishap, and given the growth of northern Colorado Springs and around the Academy in the last 10 years, there is no area in which a pattern can be placed to remain inside our FAA designated controlled airspace that does not fly over some neighborhood."

The airmanship program makes concessions to decrease the impact at the expense of the Academy's mission, he said, to include no night flying and limited weekend flying.

"We could fly more sorties if we used these periods (nights and weekends), but the payoff would not outweigh the impacts on the community," Rizzuto said. "Ultimately, being a good neighbor is about a balance of the impact on those around us and our mission accomplishment in producing lieutenant for our Air Force and leaders for our nation."