Flight Operations - FAQs

Sailplane in flight at the Academy

Why can't you take all departures farther north, instead of turning some of them east over our neighborhood?
When aircraft depart the U.S. Air Force Academy they are going out to various training areas located out east, as far north as Elbert; as far south as Yoder. Routings are coordinated with several other airspace users and their respective requirements and procedures. Changes to our procedures have significant ripple effects on others. These routings are standardized in order to ensure all flight operations in the region are safely de-conflicted and to provide predictability to our pilots in training. Additionally, the local traffic pattern requires a "cross wind" turn to the east to reach the outside downwind pattern.

Why can't the southern departures depart to the south and not over our homes? Or maybe the southern departures can bank east to fly over Interquest?
Air Force regulations require aircraft to reach certain altitudes (height above the ground) before making turns out of the area. Turning earlier than we currently do would not allow our aircraft to achieve that safe altitude before maneuvering east. It's important to realize that there are far more users of the local airspace than the U.S. Air Force Academy. Consequently, our procedures must ensure our safety as well as the safety or our surrounding community and also account for the responsible and safe shared use of the airspace with other users (e.g. commercial airline traffic, general aviation, medivac helicopters, U.S. Army helicopters, etc.).

I have small children at home and their routines are being disrupted by your flying activity. Is it possible to begin your flying later in the day?
We are limited by extreme heat conditions in the summer months. Because aircraft performance decreases as the temperatures outside increase, the earlier we can depart, the more likely we are to get required flying training accomplished. The cadets are engaged in a rigorous academic and extracurricular schedule, in addition to the Airmanship program. We have taken measures, such as altering some departure flights, to mitigate the noise over neighborhoods between 6 a.m. and 7 a.m.

When you fly over Baptist Road, your pilots do not stick to that ground track. Is there anything you can do to ensure pilots are flying the planned route to reduce overflight over homes?
Winds and other factors may contribute to minor deviations. Likewise, there is a part of Baptist Road that weaves a bit approaching Rollercoaster Road. The aircraft will most likely not follow that weave in the road and instead, will stay slightly to the east (within a half mile of Baptist Road). We typically use major thoroughfares to provide geographic references for our pilots who are conducting Visual Flight Rules (VFR) flying operations and must rely on such references for proper, consistent, standardized, and safe navigation in the area. The references are chosen due to the geographic and visual significance and in line with our efforts to minimize direct overflight of residential areas. Moving our routes to areas not currently inhabited does not ensure we will have similar deconfliction from residential development in the future. Today, it is virtually impossible to depart the Academy Airfield without overflying portions of residential or commercial development. By anchoring our routes over major thoroughfares like Baptist Road, we ensure our routes remain de-conflicted over the long term from other airspace users and minimize overflight of residential areas regardless of the future nature of residential development in the region.

What is the safety record of the Academy's flying training program?
Overall, the 306th Flying Training Group mishap rates are substantially lower in comparison to the rest of the Air Force. We pride ourselves in accomplishing our mission while being proactive about safety. The 306th FTG Flight Safety Team routinely meets with local military and civilian pilots and briefs key safety focus areas to our own pilots.

What type of training do the cadets receive to equip them to handle in-flight emergencies to avoid any major accidents?
The cadets receive 17 flying related academic hours, including how to handle the aircraft and knowledge of the systems. They also complete nine flights with experienced Instructor Pilots from various aircraft in the U.S. Air Force. Additionally, the cadet syllabus requires extensive review of how to handle multiple emergency scenarios, which cadets must accomplish correctly prior to being authorized to fly solo in the pattern. The training received by the cadets exceeds that required by the FAA for civilian pilots to solo. If the cadets don't meet the stringent requirements of the syllabus, they will not solo.

Why can't you use the airspace over the Academy or to the west for this training activity?
The U.S. Air Force Academy Airmanship programs consist of more than powered flight. The jump and soaring programs also use the airspace over the Academy.  Approximately half of the total flight operations occur on the west side of the airfield. The Class D airspace (the space that surrounds airports that have an operating air traffic control tower, but don't have radar services (or at least the airport is not required to have radar) is saturated, the mountainous terrain is challenging for cadets newly training as pilots, and we will not put our neighbors, Instructor Pilots, or cadets at risk.

You eliminated flying over Larkspur due to noise complaints. Why won't you stop flying over our homes?
The elimination of flying over Larkspur was entirely due to the FAA taking away our training area in the north. It is merely coincidental that there were noise complaints in that area.

How low do you fly over our homes to the east of the Academy?
Under normal circumstances and based on the pattern layout and predicted aircraft performance, aircraft will usually fly higher than 500 feet above those houses. Every effort is made to reach pattern altitude (7,300 feet Mean Sea Level [MSL] for the inside pattern or 7,900 feet MSL for the outside pattern) as quickly and safely as possible. On very rare occasions aircraft might be lower than 500 feet; however, flight operations will exceed FAA safety standards for aircraft in the takeoff phase of flight.

I've seen your airplanes rock their wings and have heard them rev the engine over my house. Why would they do that?
There are many reasons that an airplane would rock its wings. A wing rock can be used to help other aircraft in the pattern, or the tower, see the plane. Additionally, the pilot might use a wing rock to clear airspace before a turn or to check ground reference points. Throttle adjustments are a routine part of operating in the traffic pattern.

You've previously claimed that arrivals into Centennial airport in Denver have affected your operations. It seems like that airport is pretty far north and shouldn't have an impact on you. How is it an issue?
Though Centennial seems pretty far away in driving distance, it's only 36 miles north of the Academy Airfield. In 2013, the FAA created two new arrivals into Centennial airport that cut through the Academy’s northern training area. One arrival in particular, the "SCARF 3" brought airplanes directly through our training area at 9,000 feet MSL, which is an altitude we routinely operate at.