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Four months of rocket motor detonations begin at the Utah Test and Training Range

By Mitch Shaw standard-Examiner - | Jun 21, 2021

HILL AIR FORCE BASE — The Air Force’s detonation season has started out at the Utah Test and Training Range, which means residents of Northern Utah might hear a sporadic sonic boom or two over the next four months.

Officials from Hill Air Force Base say its schedule of large detonation operations began on Monday, and according to a press release from Hill, the operation this year will involve more than 10,000 pounds of net explosive weight. The detonations involve destroying rocket motors and solid propellant from Air Force and Navy ballistic missiles and will occur regularly now through the middle of September, according to the release.

Environmental Branch Chief for the 75th Civil Engineer Group Michelle Cottle said the detonations are the Air Force’s best environmental method for disposing the rocket motors and fuel. The warhead portion of the missile isn’t detonated at the UTTR and no nuclear materials are involved in the process. Since 2012, more than 300 rocket motors have been destroyed at the UTTR, according to the release.

Before each large detonation, the Air Force takes atmospheric readings of wind speed, direction and other factors to determine if conditions are right for a large detonation. That data is also entered into a sound prediction model and if the model predicts that noise is going to be louder than permitted levels at locations along the Wasatch Front, the detonation is delayed.

“We do everything possible to do this work without adversely affecting our neighbors and the environment,” Cottle said. “We are always learning and with technology improvements, we continue to update and upgrade our sound monitoring.”

Cottle said the UTTR is the only facility in the United States capable of destroying the missile motors.

Every year, the range host hundreds of training and testing missions for the U.S. Air Force, Army and Marine Corps. The facility is used for everything from the disposal of explosive ordnance, to the testing of experimental military equipment. The range also serves as a training ground for a host of military exercises. A 2016 expansion of the range, which required an act of Congress, facilitated the testing of “next generation” weapons, like the F-35 Lightning II fighter jet, the F-22 and long-range strike bombers.

The nation’s missile motor inventory has been disposed of at the range for more than 20 years — with crews destroying more than 1 million pounds of rocket motor propellant to date.

Though Hill tests weather conditions before the detonations, the explosions are still often heard and felt throughout the Wasatch Front. The Hill release said the detonations will occur on Mondays and Tuesdays, with Wednesday as a backup day each week.

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