Wednesday, May 7, 2008

Valley terrain helps train war-bound pilots

Express Staff Writer

Those Air Force combat jets that occasionally swoop in low over the Wood River Valley from the north are not on joy rides.

Although the mountain scenery of the Boulders, the White Clouds and the Smokies is stunning, more important to pilots of the low-flying F-15 jets, according to Lt. Col. Scott Felton, staff director of the 366th Operations Group at Mountain Home Air Force Base, is the availability of terrain similar to the landscape pilots would face if deployed to Afghanistan for low-level support of troops and air-to-ground attacks on targets.

On a recent Friday, more than a half dozen of the F-15s swept in low before breaking off their runs and making steep combat climbs to higher altitudes. Several of the aircraft, however, peeled off and flew between peaks of the Boulders.

The valley also occasionally is the training "target" of A-10 Thunderbolt "Warthog" tank killer jets.

Col. Felton explained that aeronautical charts provide two low-level east-west training routes near Ketchum—one about 17 nautical miles north of town, the other some 20 nautical miles to the south.

"Rugged mountains provide cover to enemy ground forces and obstacles to our own troops, so it is vital that we know how to fly safely and effectively in that kind of terrain," Felton explained. "Our job is to train and be ready to deploy on short notice for any mission, anywhere in the world."

From Mountain Home, the flights involve single-pilot F-15C Eagle jets and two-man-crew F-15E Strike Eagles.

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