Bombs away: Pilots practice hitting targets on post's Cannon Range
September 9, 2013
Chances are you've seen one of the Air Force's A-10 aircrafts flying above Fort Leonard Wood. But, did you know they come here to bomb the installation?
Tucked away in the southwest corner of post is one Missouri's top resources for military aviators, Cannon Range -- an aerial gunnery and bombing range where pilots hone their skills in simulated air-to-ground combat.
"Pilots can sit in a simulator all day, but it's different when sending rounds down range," said Tech. Sgt. Michael Cooper, Down Range Maintenance supervisor.
The 4,800 acre range is run by the Missouri Air National Guard's 131st Bomb Wing Detachment One based at Whiteman Air Force Base, Mo. The unit includes two officers and nine enlisted active Guard/Reserve personnel, three traditional Guard positions and a state employee under the command of Air Guard Lt. Col. Michael Sadler.
The facility originally opened in 1944 as an artillery range. In 1978, it re-opened as a facility for bombing training and was named Cannon Air to Ground Bombing Range posthumously for Air Force Col. William Wallace Cannon, who died in 1977 after he retired as the 131st Fighter Wing's commander.
Pilots from all branches of the military use the range. The aircraft that typically can be seen there are A-10 Thunderbolts, F-16 Fighting Falcon, AH64 Apaches, UH60 Black Hawk, C-130 Hercules, C-17 Globemaster and B-2 Stealth Bomber. These aircraft usually fly to Fort Leonard Wood from Whiteman Air Force Base, Mo., Fort Smith, Ark., Tulsa, Okla., Des Moines, Iowa, St. Joseph, Mo., and Little Rock, Ark.
The range includes 40 target arrays with over 700 distinct objects, 14 of which can be used to score a pilot's precision with camera towers and an advanced computer system.
"We tailor our targets to what they have seen in the past and what they think would help them in the future. We work hand-in-hand with our pilots to re-build the targets for the different types of aircraft, as well. We want them to get the training they need," Cooper said.
Aircraft fire training missiles and drop cast-iron, cement-filled, 25, 500 and 2,000 pound training bombs. Using cameras and computers, the scorekeeper charts how close the bomb was to the target.
"We are able to tell them, over the radio, within feet of how close they came to the center of the target," Cooper said. "They are qualifying just like a Soldier with an M16 -- except with a jet. The pilots are flying at different altitudes when they are dropping different ammunitions and the wind changes. They have to adjust for each individual target."
For the heavier 500-pound-plus bombs, parachutes are attached to slow their descent to allow the airplane to get out of the way, just as it is in combat, he said.
"When it comes time for the pilots to drop the real thing they will know exactly how the aircraft will react and what it will do," Cooper said.
Some of the range's most important training takes place on the ground.
Airmen that integrate with other deploying services to provide close air support as needed -- known as Joint Terminal Attack Controllers or Special Operations Terminal Attack Controllers -- also receive training at the range, with and without the aircrafts in the sky.
The biennial open house has been cancelled for 2013.
"Due to issues beyond our control we must cancel the 2013 Cannon Range Open House scheduled for Sept 7. Our personnel have put a lot of time and effort into coordinating this event, and hundreds of people look forward to it every other year," said Lt. Col. Michael Sadler. "Outreach to the public is a major concern of range leadership given the nature of our business. I would like to remind people that we are open to the public with prior coordination. Call 314.527.7297 to coordinate a good time to visit."