Holloman expands airspace to improve F-16 training

  • Published
  • By by 1st Lt. Savanah Koontz
  • 49th Wing Public Affairs

A portion of the National airspace in southeast New Mexico where Holloman trains F-16s, known as the Talon Military Operations Area, expanded by 93 percent on Oct. 7, 2021.

The expansion is the result of a more than decade-long effort to reconfigure existing training areas and establish new airspace that improves opportunities for the 49th Wing, which produces over a quarter of all fighter pilots for the U.S. Air Force.

Previously, Holloman relied on White Sands Missile Range airspace that lies adjacent to the base to meet the majority of F-16 training needs. WSMR is the Department of Defense’s largest open-air test range that services not just the DoD components, but other U.S. and allied customers.  Such quality airspace is highly requested by its various users and is constantly scheduled.

"Historically, WSMR has been the only airspace in which Holloman F-16s can train to the distances and capabilities required by modern air combat,” said Capt. William Camp, 49th Wing mission integration chief. “But the WSMR resource is in high demand from many users, not just the 49th Wing, and its availability does not meet our training requirements.”

In the past when WSMR airspace was unavailable, Talon MOA was used despite size, location and altitude restrictions that limit training opportunities. To improve training for F-16 Viper pilots, and increase efficiencies, the 49th Wing, in coordination with Headquarters Air Force and the Federal Aviation Administration, began a decade-long process that has resulted in the expansion of the Talon MOAs.

While WSMR will remain Holloman’s preferred airspace, the 49th Wing now has an additional resource that is appropriately sized and configured to conduct training activities for F-16 pilots. The new Talon operating area also gives the 49th Wing the scheduling authority to efficiently meet the training needs of the F-16 squadrons at Holloman AFB while remaining good stewards of America's premier missile test range.

“We did a lot of the same missions [in the Talon MOA as we do in WSMR airspace],” said Maj. Matthew Park, 54th Fighter Group standardizations and evaluation chief. “Geographically, the airspace was smaller so we couldn’t accomplish the larger scale missions. Now, we can fit eight different aircraft doing four separate missions there.”

Student pilots will be able to fly as high as 51,000 feet when authorized by Air Traffic Control and as low as 500 feet over some unpopulated areas of the airspace. They will also see an increase in the variety of their missions and tactics, and an improvement in the techniques and procedures they can execute in the new airspace.

Leading up to the FAA’s decision to expand the Talon MOAs, years of research was conducted to ensure the expansion was environmentally sound and would not disrupt the land and populations below.

“Before any action could be taken to expand the airspace, the National Environmental Policy Act process needed to occur. The product of that process was the environmental impact statement,” said Spencer Robison, 49th Civil Engineer Squadron NEPA coordinator.

The 49th Wing values their local and surrounding communities, and all public comments and concerns from the EIS process were taken into consideration.

“It’s a very long process that started about 11 years ago,” said William Westfall, 54th Operations Support Squadron airspace manager. “We’d go out to the communities that would be affected or influenced by the possibility of the expansion and we’d ask for their inputs, whether good or bad. It’s a formal process, and they have a period where they can comment on their thoughts. Animal species, the impact on our training to a community – it’s all well thought-out.”

While this airspace only spans within the southeastern region of New Mexico, the expansion will have effects seen at a national level. The 49th Wing is the Air Force’s premiere F-16 Viper and MQ-9 Reaper training wing, and this expansion will allow the Airmen located at Holloman to produce a majority of the Air Force’s combat-ready aircrew.

For more information regarding the EIS or Mitigation Plan, visit www.holloman.af.mil/Environmental-Information/