Evans Hornets go online

IF KEEPING an ear out for the scream of Air Force jets above Evans Head is not how you prefer to stay in touch with the military’s plans in the area, then help is at hand.

The Defence Department has set up a new website to provide information to the public on the future of the Evans Head air weapons range.

In an effort to address public speculation surrounding the Air Force’s intentions for its operations at Evans Head, military brass announced the new website went live late last week.

“With the establishment of the Evans Head web page on the Defence site, Air Force intends to provide objective, timely and factual information on its operations at Evans Head,” Air Combat Group commander, Air Commodore Mel Hupfeld, said.

“The site is in its infancy but over the coming weeks and months it will provide draft maps and news updates.”

Air Commodore Hupfeld said it was a step forward to have the website now available to the public.

“Air Force’s plans for the future use of Evans Head range have been the subject of much conjecture, which has caused confusion for many local people,” he said.

“It is my intention that this web page will be a ready source of factual information for the people of Evans Head, and others who visit the area to use the waterways.”

The website already features a lengthy list of frequently asked questions relating to the Evans Head range, which deal with some of the basics regarding the area.

The question and answer section reveals that the introduction of the F/A-18F Super Hornet to the Royal Australian Air Force means the range will be required for air-to-ground gunnery practice, as well as lasers and practice bombing.

Air to ground gunnery - known as strafing - requires a larger safety zone that extends further out to sea than practice bombing runs to ensure public safety.

However, this safety zone still fits within what is known as the designated Defence practice area, so the Evans range does not need to be expanded to enable Super Hornets to use it.

The range was previously used for air-to-ground gunnery testing for nearly 40 years. However, the range has not been used for this purpose since the late 1980s when the strafing capability of the F-111 was discontinued.

As for the waters off the coast being off-limits, the website states it is the Air Force’s intention that ‘the only time access to the practice area off the coast will be restricted is when the range is activated for strafing’.

This is likely to be for about one hour, twice a day for approximately eight weeks of the year.

The Air Force has stated it will not schedule training that requires the full practice area to be activated during weekends, peak fishing season, and holiday periods.

Meanwhile, the existing no-go boats zone will continue to apply as it has under F-111 operations.

Depending on the outcome of a review into the range’s operations, Super Hornets will commence strafing at Evans Head from March 2011 and bombing runs from October 2011.

However, as part of the range review, the Super Hornets will fly simulated bombing and strafing runs, when no weapons are deployed, over the range and within the Evans Head air space next month.

The Air Force will seek community input to develop a calendar of range activation times.

In the coming weeks the Defence Department will open a public submission period where community members can provide feedback on the ideal times that the range should be activated.

Submissions will be able to be made through the new website.

The Evans Head Air Weapons Range was first designated by the Federal Government as a ‘bombing, air gunnery and rocket firing range’ on July 13, 1949. The Air Force has used it consistently as a primary practice area since that time.

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