General: Military Needs To Fly Lower

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The Massachusetts Air National Guard (ANG) is hoping to file a proposal with the FAA next spring that would lower the floor of their training flights from 2800 to 500 feet over the hills of western Maine and is using 9/11 to counter public opposition. Brig. Gen. Leon Rice told residents that the terrorist attacks of September 2001 showed the military was ill-prepared to defend against a low-level air attack and the pilots stationed in Vermont and Massachusetts who'd respond to those attacks need training. The last time the ANG sought to expand low-level training in Maine the proposal was rejected. But that was 1992. The 3,600-square-mile Condor Military Operation Area (MOA) is used by F-16 and F-15 drivers flying for the ANG out of the 104th Fighter Wing in Westfield, Mass., and 158th Fighter Wing in Burlington, Vt. The Guard has extended the public comment period to allow residents who just recently became aware of the proposal to chime in. Critics are concerned about the potential of noise, safety and quality of life issues affected by low-level maneuvers and Governor John Baldacci has called for a full environmental impact study. Rice has said that the military ultimately doesn't need the permission of local authorities, but rather sought to include state officials in its deliberations.