Saturday, January 24, 2015

Air Force Academy will take to the skies Saturday, but don't expect much noise

Cadet pilots will work overtime this Saturday - and possibly others - to make up for flying time lost to bad weather.

A snowstorm that rolled in Wednesday grounded the Air Force Academy's fleet of gliders and single-engine trainers, delaying training that must be completed before the school year wraps up in May.

"Additional make-up days may be required on Saturdays throughout the spring in order to meet the academy's airmanship program requirements prior to graduation," the academy said in a news release.

The Pikes Peak region is seeing one of its snowiest winters in years, with more than 2 feet recorded since fall - more than 7 inches above the average total, according to the National Weather Service. While other Air Force planes can shrug off the weather, the cadets are grounded when snow closes in.

The grounding is due to the nature of the cadet flight program, which teaches cadets the basics of visual flight rules.

The rules mean they can fly only when they can see, which prohibits flying at night and in foul weather.

Skills such as flying on instruments through storms are taught in pilot training after graduation.

"The powered flight program provides the foundation for personal and professional discipline required for success as Air Force aviators, the path approximately half of our cadets pursue upon graduation," the academy said.

Adding extra flying days to the academy's schedule, though, could upset the school's neighbors. The academy faced criticism through the fall over Federal Aviation Administration-driven changes to flight patterns that put more cadet planes over neighborhoods in northeastern Colorado Springs.

The academy has since honed its flight patterns to put the bulk of traffic over Interstate 25 or less populated areas, but some noise complaints have persisted.

Saturday, the academy said, it is pushing much of its training off the 18,500-acre base to auxiliary training areas, including the school's Bullseye Airfield on remote ranchland south of Schriever Air Force Base.

The academy said that it wants neighbors to enjoy their weekends with minimal buzz from student pilots overhead.

"Saturday flying operations for the T-53 powered flight program will be minimized during the spring semester and used for inclement weather make-up days," the academy said.

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