Saturday, December 19, 2020

Lower Suwannee and Cedar Keys National Wildlife Refuge, Florida: Low-flying military aircraft

The Lower Suwannee and Cedar Keys National Wildlife Refuge intermittently receives reports of low-flying military aircraft in the area. Refuge staff wish to track and attempt to quantify the frequency to better protect the area. Your assistance may well help.


Your help is needed in assessing how often military aircraft are observed flying low-level in the area.


So that the Lower Suwannee and Cedar Keys National Wildlife Refuges can better work with the controlling military installations in managing this air traffic.


Such flights portend potential disturbance to area wildlife.  It would also be helpful to know whether these flights are observed during daylight or night hours.


The information that is needed involves ONLY military aircraft flying over the Refuges and NOT aircraft using or in the vicinity of Cedar Key Airport, whether they are civilian or military.


Recently, at least two sorties of military fixed-wing aircraft were observed flying low-level over the Cedar Keys and Lower Suwannee National Wildlife Refuges.  One occurrence involved a flight of two Boeing 737s (presumably Navy P-8s) and the other a flight of two A-10 Warthogs.

There are several low-level military visual training routes that cross over the Lower Suwanee and Cedar Keys NWR.  These are corridors designated for flight operations below 1500' agl (above ground level) in visual conditions, and speeds can range up to 400 knots.  These corridors can be considered up to 10 nautical miles wide in some cases, and are controlled, "owned," by individual military installations who can either assign them or deem them off-limits. 

Civil air regulations request that pilots remain above 2000’ above a national wildlife refuge or national park.  This height avoidance is considered a “voluntary practice” by civilian pilots and is encouraged due to noise sensitivity in these areas, but also bird-strike avoidance.

While the birds on Cedar Keys Refuge are somewhat acclimated to overflying aircraft due to a long-standing presence of a public airport at the City of Cedar Key, these larger, faster moving aircraft still cause a disturbance.  However, any disturbances by these fast-moving aircraft are transient when compared to the larger rotorcraft ops (UH-60s and the V and MV-22 Ospreys) particularly at night.  These aircraft are large, slow moving, and can hover in the area for extended periods with or without lots of bright lights.  Because this portion of the coastline is particularly devoid of artificial surface lights, it can be an attractive night-vision practice area for some of these ops.


If you can identify the type of aircraft and/or note the number or markings on it, that information would be helpful. 
Note the time of day or night and the location where you saw it.

Refuge Manager, Andrew G. Gude, U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, National Wildlife Refuge System,

on his cell,  703.622.3896
or email


  1. Get over yourselves. The wildlife with be just fine, as they have been for decades and always will be.

    1. Because collecting data to better understand a situation is not 'Murican, right?

  2. Learned about "olive branch" AKA "oil burner" low level training routes back when a fighter jet crossed the road at treetop level right in front of my car in the 1970's. Today those are called MTR's and Cedar Key has several low level VFR MTR routes marked on the sectional chart.

    If frightening birds on a wildlife refuge was a problem, SpaceX wouldn't be allowed to launch and land at Kennedy Space Center, and if anyone really cared about senseless bird deaths, wind turbines would not be exempt from penalties for bird kills, eh?

  3. The glass on buildings kill far more birds than all other causes combined but then no buildings (nor SpaceX for that matter) go flying 400 mph through the ever disappearing breeding grounds of these beautiful and majestic original pilots.

  4. Cats kill / harm far more birds than anything mentioned thus far...but good luck doing anything about them. Feral cats have more rights than homeless people as we found out when our office parking lot became infested with 30+ feral cats. The cat ladies in the building kept feeding and the cats kept breeding.


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