Military officials warned this week that building the proposed Pantego Wind project in eastern North Carolina would create an unavoidable collision hazard for fighter jets, a development that would force Seymour Johnson Air Force Base to deploy flight training to other states.
The warning from Seymour Johnson officials is the strongest message yet that the Pantego wind project, whose blade tips would extend nearly 500 feet into the air, is incompatible with surrounding military usage of air space. Relocating near-daily training runs for F-15E Strike Eagle jets would undermine the core mission of the air base and pose a threat to Goldsboro and other local communities that depend on the military for their economic lifeblood.
Seymour Johnson officials this week presented their conclusions to a Department of Defense panel that's reviewing the wind farm proposal's potential interference with military activities. The Pantego wind farm, proposed by Chicago-based Invenergy on 11,000 acres in Beaufort County, must receive clearance from the panel, known as the DOD Siting Clearinghouse, to move forward with construction plans.
"There is no other suitable and available airspace within range of Seymour Johnson AFB that could be used for this training," the air base's officials wrote in a report.
The conclusions of the Air Force base in Wayne County are outlined in an 18-page "Assessment of Wind Turbine Impacts on 4th Fighter Wing F-15E Low-Altitude Training," the basis of this week's presentation to the DOD Siting Clearinghouse.
"An aircraft flying at 500 feet could potentially strike a turbine blade, with the likely loss of two lives and a $31 million irreplaceable combat asset," the report states.
The 49-turbine Pantego project was approved earlier this year by the N.C. Utilities Commission and is now awaiting approvals from other federal and state agencies.
The wind farm would occupy farmland and sit in the direct flight route between the Seymour Johnson base and the Dare County Bombing Range. As part of their training, F-15E jets approach the bombing range at an altitude of 500 feet and at speeds of 500 miles per hour. The bombing runs are conducted in the day and at night.
The F-15E is the only remaining U.S. fighter jet required to maintain a low-altitude combat capability, according to the Seymour Johnson report. And Seymour Johnson is where all U.S. pilots are trained to fly the sophisticated aircraft.
"Every single pilot and weapon systems officer (WSO) destined to fly the F-15E trains at Seymour Johnson AFB," the report states.