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DCANG F-16s

Two U.S. Air Force F-16C Fighting Falcons from the 121st Fighter Squadron, 113th Wing, District of Columbia Air National Guard fly over the nation’s capital during a Combat Air Patrol exercise.

Yeager Airport and the West Virginia National Guard are working to have a 2,000-square-mile swath of airspace over Southern West Virginia designated as a Military Operations Area to accommodate tactical training by armed forces aviators.

While the Yeager-Guard plan for creating a Southern West Virginia Military Operations Area is in its infancy, planning and regulatory work are nearing completion for a major expansion of the state’s only existing training zone for military aircraft.

The Evers Military Operating Area now includes airspace above 450 square miles of Pocahontas, Randolph and Pendleton counties. The District of Columbia Air National Guard is seeking to expand it to include a training area of 3,500 square miles, stretching northward into Tucker and Barbour counties, and as far south as northern Monroe County. It also would include portions of Upshur, Webster, Nicholas, Greenbrier, Lewis, Harrison and Braxton counties, plus segments of Virginia’s Alleghany, Bath and Highland counties.

The Southern West Virginia MOA is being sought “to increase military training while using Yeager Airport as a home base,” said Nick Keller, director of the Charleston airport.

During the past two years, the airport and the West Virginia National Guard have succeeded in bringing training programs for aviators from all branches of the military to Yeager. From there, pilots and aircrews can practice maneuvers above the rugged, hilly terrain or make remote landings or airdrops of troops and supplies, using a series of leased surface mines located within a short flight from Charleston.

While tentative plans call for most of the Southern West Virginia MOA’s training activity to take place at altitudes between 3,500 to 15,000 feet, two former strip mines would have restricted airspace when training is underway, to accommodate low-level flights, remote landings and live-fire exercises.

Civilian and commercial aircraft would share the MOA’s airspace, except for the two sites capable of imposing flight restrictions when low-flight training is in progress. When training is not occurring, that airspace also would be shared with private and commercial aircraft.

The Evers MOA expansion is being sought primarily to provide F-16C pilots with the District of Columbia Air National Guard with a training area large enough to accommodate training in air-to-air and air-to-ground combat scenarios, as well as to practice aerial refueling.

Training in the Evers MOA is to take place no higher than 17,999 feet above sea level, to avoid encounters with higher-flying commercial air traffic, and no lower than 1,000 feet above ground elevation, to provide a measure of safety.

Large MOAs that are over land, rather than ocean, are a rarity in the Eastern United States, according to the planning document for the Evers MOA, making it difficult to accomplish combat mission readiness requirements for pilots.

While the expanded MOA would be used mainly by 30 F-16 pilots from the D.C. Air National Guard’s 113th Wing, stationed at Joint Base Andrews, Maryland, aircraft from other units and service branches also are expected to use the training zone.

In addition to the F-16s from the 113th Wing, aircraft using the MOA would include F-22 Raptor and F-15E Strike Eagle fighters, and A-10C “Warthog” ground-support attack aircraft, as well as C-17 Globemaster III and C-130 Hercules cargo aircraft and KC-135 Stratotankers.

Keller said the West Virginia National Guard will sponsor an environmental assessment for the Southern West Virginia Military Operations Area. Approval of the new MOA and expansion of the Evers MOA rests with the Federal Aviation Administration.

“One of our goals is to get fighter aircraft using Evers MOA to hot refuel at Yeager,” Keller said.

By refueling without shutting down engines at the Charleston airport and avoiding refueling trips through more congested airspace to the east, the number of daily training sorties can be increased, he said.

Reach Rick Steelhammer at rsteelhammer@wvgazettemail.com, 304-348-5169 or follow @rsteelhammer on Twitter.

Reach Rick Steelhammer at rsteelhammer@wvgazettemail.com, 304-348-5169 or follow

@rsteelhammer on Twitter.