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Ok, before you say, "Military Training Routes are used for... uhh... military training," let me elaborate.

I've read about how they work with ATC and speed restrictions etc. What I'm wondering is what they do on them.

Take, for instance, IR-504. It starts in the middle of nowhere about 20 miles south of the BUM vortac in western Missouri, almost 70 miles from the nearest Air Force Base. It takes numerous turns and meanders, seemingly randomly all over northeastern Kansas. It finally ends in an MOA in the middle of the state, but once again, not by a base or anything.

I can't see any rhyme or reason to the routing and can't imagine what it would be used to train for. It's not bombing practice; only a very small section is inside an MOA. It can't be terrain following exercises; its an IFR route and 3 digits means over 1500ft agl. Besides, what terrain could they be following? We're talking about central Kansas here.

What in the world do they use these routes for?

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    $\begingroup$ I think they use them as a source of checkride questions :-) $\endgroup$ – Pondlife Apr 8 '16 at 1:24
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    $\begingroup$ Could we add a map? I have no idea what we are talking about. $\endgroup$ – Federico Apr 8 '16 at 6:25
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    $\begingroup$ @mins very good find! That makes it pretty clear. I have no idea what terrain they could be following on that particular mtr. If one knows only one fact about Kansas they know it is terribly flat. 2/3 of the state was under a prehistoric shallow inland sea. Once you get west of Lawrence there's nothing but endless cornfields $\endgroup$ – TomMcW Apr 8 '16 at 13:30
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    $\begingroup$ @mins To give you an idea, this is what we call a mountain $\endgroup$ – TomMcW Apr 8 '16 at 13:38
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    $\begingroup$ When the highest point in the county is a highway overpass, you know you're in Kansas. $\endgroup$ – FreeMan Apr 9 '16 at 15:56
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There is a description of this route page 1-139 of "Area Planning, MTR".

enter image description here

The scan is not good, you may get the textual content here too.

It says terrain following activities may take place, as well as visual contours (which I assume to be navigating without radar, looking at the outdoor and searching in a catalog the same relief contour to know where you are). As you commented, taking into account the local relief:

  • For terrain following should be for newbies.
  • For visual contours navigation should be for top-guns only.

There are different routes like this, starting from nowhere and ending in the Smoky MOA. They seem to be routes avoiding nearby airfields. On the image below, I've emphasized the area without airfields, including MOAs. It looks like IR-504 is drawn along the centerline.

enter image description here
Based on VFRMAP

Other possible selection criteria:

  • Unpopulated areas (noise from low flying jets)
  • Low radio noise areas.
  • Flat terrain for UAV training.
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MTRs are used for all types of military training at low altitude. Low altitude flying in the military is typically defined as below 5k AGL although certain systems such as terrain following can be defined slightly differently. Flying below 5k AGL with tactical maneuvering (formation, practicing weapons deliveries, or using a system like terrain following) involves a different level of focus and training than above 5k.

In your example when bringing a brand new pilot and teaching him how to trust and when not to trust the terrain following system at night at 500' and 500kts, flat is the perfect training environment. Later on I would take a student in the mountains and further build confidence in the system.

The best thing to know as a GA pilot is that the military is flying fast and often doing high-G maneuvering at low altitude so it's best to stay 5nm either side of one of these routes and fly above it by around 3-5k AGL or the limits of the original route.

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