Street Signs and Bomb Runs
Some of us go down to the Outer Banks (OBX) of North Carolina. I go down to Duck, NC, on a narrow sliver of sand about an hour and a half south of Norfolk. The house where I stay is right next to the US Army Corps of Engineers Research Pier built on an a abandoned US Navy Bombing Range closed about 1970 where planes from NAS Oceana, OLF Creeds and OLF Pungo used to do live fire exercises. There are still warning signs that say “Do Not Trespass. Unexploded Ordinance In This Area”. That’s enough to discourage any sightseers, although the Army in 1985 cleared a narrow road that goes to the USACE Research Pier. The main road used to end here until 1970 when the State of North Carolina and the US Navy cleared out enough to open up NC-12 to the north and now it extends north to the Corolla Lighthouse 20 miles north and many award-winning beach homes have now built up that way.
Going beyond Corolla you have to drive on 4-WD vehicles to Corova, NC, a town of well-designed homes built entirely on the sand dunes alongside the wild horses that are still up there. They even have a Fire Dept. and a Police Dept., all with 4-WD apparatus, to protect the Sand-Dwellers up north. When you get to the Virginia Line, you encounter a heavy fence to keep the “Northerners” from VA away and to keep the wild horse herd in North Carolina. If you like airplanes and not the wild horses, you can also take the 80 minute drive up NC-158 to Virginia Beach and see the F/A-18’s landing over the beach and on to the Oceana east-west main runway 50 feet on top of your head or go down to Princess Ann Road, past the abandoned Pungo NAS, (Yes, you can still see the runways from WW2. It’s now a US Navy Radio Tower.), and visit Jerry Yagen’s “Military Air Museum”, previously called “The Fighter Factory”, and see his 70 WW1 and WW2 fighter plane collection that all still fly!!
When you come back to Duck, NC, and sit on your deck and sip your cool drinks, you can hear those F/A-18 Hornets high up heading out to their assigned MOA’s (Military Operating Areas) 15 miles off the coast of OBX, for a little bit of ACM action, (Air Combat Maneuvering). That’s done to keep the pilots sharp in case the Klaxon ever sounds on the Carrier for inbound Bogies needing some Tom Cruise action. However, there is another job description that the Hornet Drivers have to have a talent for; that is, I guess they still call it, “Fast -Ass-CAS” or Close Air Support. And that talent is certainly in high demand these days in our Theaters of Operation in the Middle East. These planes head back to Oceana usually a lot lower at 5,000 feet south to north up Currituck Sound on the west side of OBX usually as singles or 2 or 3 ship flights. These guys are the “Ground Pounders” coming back from “Navy Dare” – the US Navy Dare County Bombing Range.
“Navy Dare” is about about 150 miles south of NAS Oceana, as the Hornet flies. It is smack in the middle of the Alligator River Swamp. If you are in Nags Head in OBX, just drive west across the bridge on US-64/264 through Roanoke Island to Manns Harbor then bear left to the US-264 split towards Stumpy Point. There is literally nothing in the Alligator River Swamp except the poisonous snakes, black bears and, so they say, the occasional alligator. Stumpy Point (pop 50) is the only “town”. There is nothing for over 100 miles until you get to Engelhard.
I used to set up visits with the Navy Dare Control Tower when the F-14’s were practicing “Bomb-Cat” tactics in the late 90’s. That technique for free-fall expanded gravity bombing was flying the F-14 in low off the deck and popping up for a vertical climb-out and releasing the ordinance with a slight angle toward the target, called a “loft” bomb release, kind of how Nucs were intended to be released early in the Cold War. One time on the Tower, the Range Controller said to me “Look to the west, we have a Tomcat coming in low and hot!” Yeah, right! This guy came in from behind me 50 feet on top of the tower and scared the s**t out of me!! The Controller later said “We just wanted to scare you a little!” Now targeting is all Laser-Guided from much higher altitudes. The Range is now actually called “Bomb / Gunnery and Electronic Combat Range”.
Visits, if any, are now highly controlled because of the use of powerful intense laser targeting pods on all inbound aircraft. If you come down US-264, the entrance to Navy Dare is on the right to “Navy Shell Road” where the Navy Dare sign is. You can travel about two miles west on the rutted gravel road but then you hit the fence line with a sign warning of “Active Electronic Laser Targeting. Danger. Do Not Enter”. Access beyond this point is highly controlled. From what I hear from the locals, this is where the SEALs from Little Creek and Dam Neck in Virginia Beach come to practice living on snakes in the wild for a few nights. Hold the Coppertone!!
To the north of the Dare Range is the “Alligator River National Wildlife Refuge” where trails can bring you pretty close to the actual Bombing Range. From the air, the Navy Dare Range is a central primary target around a half mile circular track. There are other targets around the perimeter of the circle, including vehicles, bunkers and aircraft. There is a portion of a runway with three derelict aircraft and what appear to be two mock simulated Middle Eastern villages. I have been told that most of the missions at Navy Dare are now high altitude electronic laser bomb run-in’s. Apparently, there are now few strafing runs and not much use of the 15 pound blue practice bombs some of us remember from visiting the Warren Grove Range (WGR) NJ years ago when it was open to the public. Speaking of the NJ-WGR, I recommend the excellent article in the current April “Combat Aircraft” magazine by Dr. David Porcelli called “Thunder Over Pine Barrens” that describes in detail how practice missions are currently conducted at the Warren Grove Range in New Jersey. That activity is very similar to what happens at the Navy Dare Range, except the Dare layout is totally different; Navy Dare is big circle on the primary target in the center with vehicles, mock villages and mock runways emanating from the circle perimeter.
Navy Dare is reserved only for Navy Air Operations out of NAS Oceana. Surprisingly, there is a similar circular bombing range just to the south of Navy Dare owned by the Air Force. Air Force players here fly the F-15E Strike Eagle out of Seymore-Johnson AFB to the south. USMC players from MCAS Cherry Point with AV-8B Harriers and F/A-18C-D aircraft use both ranges depending on availability.
Entry to the Air Force Range is from Stomper Road on US-264 10 miles before Engelhard, NC. There are few trees on the south range and you can see the Control Tower from the fence line. In both Target Ranges, scoring is now computer / radar generated and uses an electronic system similar to that described in the Porcelli article on WGR-NJ. No human binocular smoke grading from the Tower is needed any longer. Also, off the coast in Pimlico Sound not far from Navy Dare near Stumpy Point is an old Navy ship used for strafing and practice bombing. There are Warning Signs at Stumpy Point warning local fishermen that if they see low inbound jet aircraft to leave the area immediately (see photo). I don’t believe the target ship is used much any longer.
Navy Dare County Range is an instrumented all-weather range located in FAA Warning Area R-5314 south of Manteo, NC, about 70 NMI south of the NAS Oceana TACAN, Channel 113. Dare County Range is defined as a Joint US Navy / USAF weapons range and is divided into nine sub-areas. Floor to Ceiling of the Primary Areas officially are as follows:
R-5314A,D,E – Surface to FL205;
R-5314B, C, F – 500-feet AGL to FL205;
R-5314G- 200-feet AGL to 15,000-feet;
R-5314H -500-feet AGL to 10,000-feet;
R-5314J – 1,000-feet AGL to 6,000-feet
Air-to-ground exercises, including loft deliveries are authorized. Due to a fire hazard, ordinance is restricted to inert ordinance and ordinance which uses smoke marking charges only. Strafing is restricted to ball ammunition only.
The following targets are available-
1) Navy Loft: This target consists of a pile of scrap metal surrounded by two concentric rings of 500-feet and 1500-feet radius. The target is augmented by radar reflectors and is scored by a WISS (NAVAIR Weapons Impact Scoring System) or a WANG (targeting vector scoring system) calculator for manual rake scoring. The target is used for practice special weapons deliveries. The target has distance-to-go markers every 6,000 feet from 30,000-feet to 6,000-feet on the run-in-line.
2) Short Bull: The target is a 40-foot by 12-foot armored personnel carrier, The Short-Bull is scored by the WISS or the WANG calculator.
3) Navy East Conventional Bull: This target consists of a armored personnel carrier shell centered in a circle of 250-foot radius. This target is augmented with lights for night bombing / rocket exercises. The Navy East Conventional Bull is scored by the WISS or the WANG calculator.
4) Minimum Altitude / Lay-Down Target: This target consists of metal locker and tires, painted international orange, arranged in the shape of a horseshoe. This target is visually scored using distance markers located every five meters.
5) Strafing Target: This target consists of three strafing panels which are scored by a DA-3H Strafe Scoring System.
6) Laser Target: This target is a 50-foot by 50-foot billboard with a painted crosshairs. This target is 180 degrees magnetic, 6000-feet from nuclear bull. A laser sensor is positioned in the center of the crosshairs. Continuous automatic scoring is available on frequency 359.5 MHz. Cassette tape scoring results are available with a 15-second advanced notice. This target provides no-drop Laser Guided Bomb (LGB) training.
7) Large Area Targets (LAT): This target configuration consists of multiple targets or buildings over a large area as representative of the Combat Village. The LAT is located approximately 10,500-feet south of the Center Tower. The Large Scale Target Sensor System (LSTSS) provides the capability to monitor this large target area for simulated delivery of laser guided ordinance without-back and debrief capability. The LAT is for no-drop LGB training.
8) Three Instrumented Multispectral Cues (IMC): These IMC are replicas of T-72 Tanks. Each Replica contains heat generators and radar reflectors to realistically simulate both the IR and Radar signatures of the T-72.
9) Runway Simulation: A concrete runway strip with three actual derelict aircraft has been added.
10) A City Target: A City Target with hardened roadways and buildings has been added.
11) A Moving Land Target (MLT) with moving vehicles has been added. MLT’s are unmanned half-ton pickup trucks that operate remotely using GPS mobile positioning technology to traverse a predetermined route. Turn-arounds are at the ends of the 3500-foot road to allow for self-turning. The MLT’s can also tow targets.
12) Long Shoal Naval Ordinance Area (LSNOA): LSNOA is an overflow target utilized by the Navy and the Marine Corps aircraft when the nearby Navy Dare Range is experiencing heavy use and is used to conduct seamless littoral-to-land battle scenarios. The target (an old Navy ship) is located entirely in the waters of the Pamlico Sound off of Stumpy Point off of Navy Dare. It does not offer the flexibility of the main Navy Dare Range.
13) Actual free-fall inert ordinance can range from the standard blue 25 pound practice smoke bombs to 2,000 pound dummy bombs.
14) The most common sights at the Navy Dare Range are the F/A-18 Hornets out of MCAS Cherry Point and NAS Oceana, T-34 Mentor with Nav and Check Flights and UH-60 Black Hawks. The UH-60s will on occasion do live fire exercises with the 60 cal. guns and rockets.
15) The R-5314 Range at Navy Dare is available Monday through Thursday from 0800 to 2300 and Friday from 0800 to 1600. No ordinance may be released unless the Range is manned. The last Public Open House at Navy Dare was in 2012.
16) Finally the most common thing heard on the Range Control Tower is “CLEARED HOT, CLEARED HOT, INBOUND” ! Black Bears please keep out!!!