Folks in eastern New Mexico are celebrating Operation Kept Cannon. You'll remember Cannon Air Force Base was in danger of closing, but last month word came that Cannon would remain open, only with a different mission. That new charge requires a change in aircraft at the base. Right now, people living in the area hear the roar of F-16 Fighter Jets, but soon they'll see and hear much larger aircraft. It's all part of training for the War on Terror.
Saturday, members of the media were invited to check out some of the new equipment.
"Cannon Air Force Base is going to be a wonderful opportunity, something that we have been trying to do for years in the Air Force Special Operations Command, to establish a base west of the Mississippi," said Lieutenant General Michael Wooley, Commander of the AFSCO.
Cannon fit the criteria and soon the base will boast new much larger aircraft. The CV-22 Osprey is one of the newest aircraft used by the Air Force. It's not exactly a helicopter. It's not exactly an airplane. Crews say it's a little bit of both.
"So it kind of fills its own niche, takes off like a helicopter, flies like an airplane," said Lieutenant Colonel Michael Hargis.
The CV-22 Osprey can also carry 18 troops and go 600 miles on one tank of fuel.
"Then land vertically when we get there," said Hargis.
The AC-130U Gunship has sophisticated sensors, allowing pin-point accuracy, and the ability to attack two targets at the same time. Similar in size to the AC-130U, the MC-130H Combat Talon II provides different support.
"Our main mission is to infiltrate certain areas with special forces and get them in and out without anybody knowing," said Senior Airman Jeremy Jones.
Soldiers can jump out of the plane and land on the ground ready for battle.
AFSCO is set to assume ownership of Cannon Air Force Base and the Melrose Bombing Range by October 2007 and over the next few years the F-16's will fly out and the new aircraft will land. Up to 100 special operations aircraft will be stationed at Cannon once the transition is finished, but the Air Force must complete an environmental study first. Crews estimate it will take more than a year to do that.
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