Story by Ron Kilber
Photography by Gregg Jossie
From my vantage point high inside the Barry M Goldwater Range (BMGR) control tower, F-16s are approaching low on the deck at 500 knots, eagarly straffing a lone target 100 yards in front of me. The pilot is aiming 100-per-second live rounds exactly for the bulls eye. The half-second burst of steel projectiles produce first a sonic boom, then a low-frequency noise that sounds like fabric ripping. Simultaneously, the F-16 pilot maneuvers into safe-escape mode, climbing rapidly (fpm?) to clear potential richochet debris resulting where bullet dust rises from the desert behind the taget. Within seconds, he has dissappeared, giving way for another F-16 student pilot to practice his trigger finger.
For any general-aviation pilot who has ever wondered why there's Restricted Airspace on navigational charts, s/he will have little doubt after wittnessing what goes on out here on a gunnery and bombing range. Forget stray bullets, bomb shrapnnel or the concussion resulting from explossions, the real danger is flying military machines -- lots of 'em. At any given moment, an F-16 could be right on the deck or in airspace higher than that used by jetliners. Thus, airspace within the BMGR is restricted from the surface all the way to unlimited altitude -- continuously.
On the other hand, let's say I'm lost while flying from Phoenix to San Diego, and I unwittingly stray right into the BMGR. What's going to happen to me, assuming I don't collide with a fighter jet first? Will the range commander scramble interceptors to force me down? Will I be interrogated and placed in solitary confinement until I wish I had never gotten a pilot's license?
To answer this and many other questions, I have the rare priveledge and honor to be spending the day with Colonel Dave White, BMGR Commander and Golf War F-111 combat pilot who survided 22 bombing missions over Iraq. We all remember that Golf War television picture where one moment there's a bunker in full view on the bomb sight and the next it's gone? Indeed, it may very well have been Col. White who sent his bomb right through the front doors of that bunker. Certainly, it was the precission skill of men like Col. White that the Allies were able to so quickly bring the Iraqui military to its knees.
At this very moment, in fact, Col. White and I are in the control tower watching F-16 student pilots practice straffing and bombing runs. We're able to converse, but only between the lound sound of jets approaching and departing, guns firing and bombs exploding.
I ask the Colonell: "So, Col. White, If I stray into your airspace, what are you going to do to me?"
Hesitantly, the colonel responds, "We're probably going to ask you to leave".
Col. White is as surprised by my blunt question as I am by his answer he delivers with a smile. I'm expecting a littany of procedures reserved especially for aviation scofflaws who wonder into his airspace. Instead, the colonel's comments are in stark contrast to all the horrible things I've heard happens to wayward pilots. Gone are the myths about arrest, interceptors camping out over you until you're out of fuel, and seizure of your airplane. These untrue stories we've heard, usually from pilots who are handing down tails or who think they've been all the way around the block a time or two.
Colonel White's message to civilian pilots is that he wants general aviation to know as much as possible about the workings and procedures of a gunnery and bombing range. He figures if we, general aviation, understand exactly what's going on down here, then our motivation to stay out will come not from fearing myths and aviator hyperbole, but from knowing that there is real danger for collisions with F-16 fighter jets, not to mention stray bullets and exloding bombs. And with consequences far, far greater not only for any wayward aviator, but certainly, too, for an F-16 student pilot.
My next question for Col White: "Will the FAA give me a ticket, and are you going to tell the FAA?"
Col. White, calculating, says the FAA will prbably find out. Not only will the range controller report the incident to the FAA, but the agency itself watches the BMGR fanatically.
Pronghorn sheep are as acclimated to the noise from low-level overflights as they already are to thunder and lightning. [call FAA, write sidebar]
, I ask.
[count: 316] are we going to get to try that today
laughter burst from everyone in the control tower.
When I ask Col. White about airspace violations from civilian traffic, he comments that it does happen but egregious violations are actually rare. When they occure, it's usually an impatient pilot trying to use the MBGR as a short cut on a fishing trip to Puerto Penasco, Mexico (Rocky Point).
It's important to be educated on what we're doing out here so that you know that what's going on has an impact on all of aviation in the area. sorites Ajo corridor at 500 feet. narid, Saudie Aradia, refueled at border with full tank, air superiority. 22 combat missions,
carefully selected -- wouldn't want to end up with a postal shooter in the cockpit.
instructor pilot will circle to signal
FAA ticket? Ahh
Are you going to tell them?
The FAA will find out. They watch like crazy.
see and avoid.
We don't have any helicopters.
hold high and dry, we've got an unknown enter on range 2.
White House: someone's gonna shoot you.
In The Beginning
Deregulation And Growth
If These Concourses Could Only Talk
Imagine going back in time and listening to conversations
McCarran International Airport
Clark County Department of Aviation
PO Box 11005
Las Vegas, Nevada 89111-1005
An Airline Captain's Dream Airport
McCarran Is Gateway To Much More
A Helicopter Ride to the Bottom of the Grand Canyon
Hotel Adventure Nearby
Area 51, Where Are You?
Writer Ron Kilber (email@example.com) is a private pilot and flying enthusiast living in Arizona. His stories have appeared in many aviation publications.
Photography by Gregg Jossie (firstname.lastname@example.org)