Tuesday, March 20, 2012

UPDATE: Big shots to visit Pinon Canyon; are drones coming?

Posted By on Tue, Mar 20, 2012 at 3:35 PM

Col. Robert McLaughlin, garrison commander at Fort Carson, says the tour of the Pinon Canyon Maneuver Site has nothing to do with an effort to land an unmanned aerial vehicle training facility in Colorado.

Rather, in an interview this afternoon, McLaughlin says he was contacted last fall by some businessmen who wanted to get a better understanding of the PCMS, regarding cultural assets and the site's use, as well as "the balance between how we train and how we care for the terrain."

"We're open to whomever wants to talk to us about Pinon Canyon," McLaughlin says. "We're going to have the opportunity to show this group the site." He notes that some local folks from that area will be on hand to speak with the group, including those who have fought the Army's attempts to expand the site or expand the use of the existing site.

McLaughlin also says there is no attempt by the Army to do away with a 500-foot limit, and that helicopters using PCMS will observe the limit, unless safety prevents it, such as a sudden cloud cover.

In addition, he says, "Our goal is to limit the routes in," meaning helicopters won't fly willy nilly from Carson's Butts Field to the PCMS so that surrounding pastures of cattle or horses are disturbed by the flights.

McLaughlin emphasized that Carson wants to comply with the training restrictions under which it must operate at PCMS and cooperate with the community in doing so.

———————————ORIGINAL POST TUESDAY, MARCH 20, 8:14 a.m. ————————————-

  • U.S. Army photo

Business people from Denver and Colorado Springs are among those who this week will tour the Pinon Canyon Maneuver Site, a training ground in southeast Colorado used by Fort Carson troops.

It might be part of an effort of the Front Range Airport Authority and others to convince the Pentagon to locate a drone test range in Colorado. The Greater Colorado Springs Chamber and EDC, and the Metro Denver Economic Development Corp. are supporters.

As we reported Feb. 9:

The 2012 defense spending bill contains funding for six pilot test sites for unmanned aircraft to be established by the Federal Aviation Administration. "Language in the bill orders that potential sites take into consideration geographic and climatic diversity and ground infrastructure and research needs," Doug Quimby of the Chamber and EDC says in a release. "We believe Colorado is a leading contender."

The drone training search coincides with the approval of a Combat Aviation Brigade at Fort Carson, which should start arriving in 2013 and will bring a fleet of drones as well as 113 helicopters and 2,700 troops. The unit's environmental assessment is currently under review by federal authorities.

Local activist Bill Sulzman warns: "Colorado's airspace is about to get much more crowded. The release refers to the 'Aerospace Industry.' In Colorado we know that industry is dominated by the military. This initiative will certainly lead to more military domination of our skies and our economy."

Maybe the testing range will be at the Pinon Canyon Maneuver Site, which is sure to spark opposition. Some residents in the PCMS vicinity want the Army to stay out of their air space, at least up to 500 feet above their property.

Besides ranchers and homeowners, the 500-foot debate might end up involving a dispute between the military and wind energy developers, says Doug Holdread of Trinidad. He notes a 1946 Supreme Court decision that says surface owners "also own the super-adjacent air space and that invasions of it are the same as invasions of the surface."

Although the environmental studies surrounding Fort Carson's soon-to-arrive CAB say the unit won't use drones, there's speculation it's only a matter of time before they do.

Anyway, here's the invitation for Thursday's tour that's circulating:


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