Background on expansion

Freedom Newspapers

Cannon Air Force Base seeks to expand its military airspace to allow pilots to fly lower and faster. If approved, the airspace would increase by 700 square miles to 3,300 square miles. Changes proposed in the expanded areas include lowering the altitude pilots can fly from 1,000 feet above ground to 500 feet above ground, and allowing pilots to fly at supersonic speeds at approximately 6,000 feet above ground, instead of 26,000 feet above ground.

• Why the Air Force wants to expand — Military officials say the proposed airspace expansion — the New Mexico Training Range Initiative — would better prepare pilots for combat. It will help increase a pilot’s survivability and allow for training that emulates live conflict.
• Environmental impact of expansion — A 421-page report released earlier this month documenting the effects of the proposed airspace expansion estimates increased noise that could be intrusive but would cause no damage to animals or humans.
The report also estimated a threefold increase in sonic booms, from an average of one a week to two every three days.
• Concerns from those affected by airspace — Some ranchers and farmers living under the airspace say increased noise would negatively impact their way of life. The threefold increase of sonic booms and the lower ceiling would bring planes closer, and could increase anxiety among livestock, something the 421-page report confirmed.
Some ranchers have said the expansion could also devalue their land, something the report estimated was unlikely.
• What is a sonic boom? — A sonic boom, or shock wave, happens when planes break the sound barrier, usually when they react to a threat, either through acceleration or breaking strong in either direction.
In rare circumstances sonic booms can rattle barns and shatter windows.
Pilots flying at supersonic speeds do so to avoid conflict with enemies.

— Compiled by Mike Linn of Freedom Newspapers