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The Bad Plan of the U.S. Air Force

The Taos News
Published Thursday, September 16, 2010

Maybe the U.S. Air Force thought no one would notice its plan to turn some 87,000 square miles of northern New Mexico and southern Colorado into a training ground for Low Altitude Tactical Navigation (LATN) if their copy announcing it were measured in square inches. The plan provides for 688 flights every year by pilots of both the C-130 Hercules and the CV-22 Osprey airplanes. Low Altitude means flying 200 feet above the ground—in high altitude mountains.

The Air Force will do an Environmental Assessment (EA) of its plans and is calling for public comments by October 4 to go in its Draft EA—not much wiggle room for protest. There’s hopeful talk of public hearings for the LATN proposal. You can call for them on the comment form at the Cannon A.F. Base website at (Once you fill out your form, the website makes no provision to hit “Send.” Simply copy your filled-in form and paste it in your email to the address on the form.)

The Air Force says it picked the northern NM and southern CO area because “they lack a large civilian population.” Tell this to the people in El Salto or Taos Ski Valley. That “empty space,” as the A.F. must perceive it, teems with plant and animal life, which, of course, includes us. 

The Air Force’s assumption that civilians won’t mind the pilots practicing “after dusk” reminds me of the joke about the astronauts from a backward country who boast that they are flying to the sun. To those who criticize them for being stupid because they will be burnt up, the astronauts reply not to worry because they are going at night!

First, the plan is a disturbance of nature. How do you measure the beautiful silence in our area, the silence in which we can hear nature speak?  How do you measure the Dark Sky spangled with stars offering true awe and mysterious balm not only to us who live here but to tourists from lighted cities from which they seek respite? The plan will not only devalue our property but degrade our quality of life.

From the Air Force’s own fact sheet, the C-130 Hercules can land and take off from rough, dirt strips and is the prime transport for dropping paratroopers and equipment as large as helicopters and tanks into war zones, as well as other more benign cargo. The lumbering C-130 is 97 feet long—a little over 40 per cent of the size of a commercial 747.

The CV-22 Osprey can take off and land vertically like a helicopter but once airborne, fly forward with its 84-foot wing-span like a plane. It can refuel a C-130 Hercules undetected at night. Refueling will be part of its practicing missions.

Second, the plan is a waste of money. Take the CV-22, which in 2006 cost $89 million. Lockheed Martin, the manufacturer of the aircraft, is no doubt proud that in 2010 the price has come down to $76 million. The operating cost of one CV-22 is $11,000 an hour. Let’s keep these figures in mind as we think of the needs of our own community.

In just the few years since UNM-Taos became an official branch of the University of New Mexico, its student population has soared to 1,500 students! To serve the students and community, the UNM-Taos Library is doing its admirable best in its temporary quarters on Civic Plaza Drive. But the reality is that in its computer room, the Library can offer only 17 computers to its 1,500 students; and in its reading room, only 24 chairs. For want of $7.5 million, only 1/10th of the cost of a CV-22, the new UNM-Taos Library at Klauer Campus exits only on the drawing boards of Spears Architects of Santa Fe.

We say to the U.S. Air Force at Cannon Air Force Base, New Mexico, stick to your existing training route. Don’t even think of flying around our majestic mountains and polluting our space with noise and exhaust fumes. Moreover, we want you to ground a CV-22 for 682 hours and give the $7.5 million operating costs you save to the UNM-Taos Library so it can start building.

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