Military chopper training to continue

Pam Boyd
Vail correspondent
Aspen, CO Colorado
A Colorado Army National Guard helicopter soars over Colorado wilderness. A high-altitude training based at the Eagle County Airport will not increase its operating hours. (Contributed photo)

EAGLE COUNTY – The Colorado Army National Guard’s high-altitude helicopter training operation will likely remain at the Eagle County Regional Aiport for decades to come.

But training hours on federal lands around Gypsum will not double as the National Guard had requested. After completing an environmental study of the training actitives, the U.S. Forest Service decided to limit the guard to its current 3,000 annual training hours.

“Some leaders within the military would have liked to see us do some night vision and formation flying training,” said Major Josh Day of the Colorado Army National Guard . “Most of the (real world) flying we do is at night and in formation.”

The High Altitude Army Aviation Training Site gives pilot experience flying and landing in mountainous, high-altutude regions.

Annual flight-hour averages have hovered in the 2,200 to 2,700 range, which represents 220 to 280 students per year, Day said.

The Eagle airport-based operation, in which National Guard and active-duty troops participate, is the only school of its kind, Day said.

“Pilots from all over the world come here to train,” he said.

International troops from Germany, Denmark, the Netherlands, Norway, Jordan, Tanzania, The Republic of Georgia, Slovenia and Saudi Arabia also train at the Gypsum site, he said.

“Most of the people who come here don’t normally fly at these altitudes. They get a better understanding of how their aircraft will behave,” he said. “It’s better to see it here with one of my instructors than in Afghanistan or Iraq where someone is shooting at you.”

A average of 14 student pilots arrive in Eagle County each week, he said.

The environmental review says pilots should avoid flying over federal wilderness areas and to be cautious around wildlife and livestock.