Hokanson: High Altitude Army National Guard Aviation Training Site ‘Incredible Capacity’ | Article
GYPSUM, Colo. — Look skyward in and around Eagle County and you’ll likely see military helicopters in flight. They can fly as part of a training exercise or a rescue.
Search and rescue missions are so frequent here that at the entrance to the Colorado National Guard High Altitude Army National Guard Aviation Training Site, or HAATS, a sign reads “Welcome to HAATS. Lives saved this year: 16. Lives saved since 1986: 510.”
The Chief of the National Guard Bureau recently visited HAATS to get an overview of the training site and its members’ capabilities.
“It’s an incredible capability that the National Guard provides to the entire joint force,” said Army Gen. Daniel Hokanson.
The primary mission of HAATS is to train military aviators to manage aircraft power to help pilots and crews become more skilled and proficient. Operated by full-time Colorado Guardsmen, it provides advanced training for pilots and aircrew of joint forces of all branches and international airmen.
Kiowas, Chinooks, Black Hawks and Lakotas are the typical airframes flown at HAATS during the week-long course.
Pilots spend a day of classroom training learning the intricacies of power management in mountainous terrain at high altitudes. The other four days they fly in and around the jagged peaks of Colorado’s Rocky Mountains, with elevations ranging from 6,500 feet at the airport to 14,000 feet. A week-long instructor pilot course is also offered.
“They teach lifting operations, how to land in small areas, how to operate at altitude, and how to take advantage of winds and terrain to get more performance out of your helicopter than you normally could,” said Hokanson, who is also a Senior Airman in the Army Guard.
HAATS is located on the northern edge of the White River National Forest, with a Rocky Mountain playground right on its doorstep. It is a stepping stone to create skilled airmen and launch helicopters to help those in need.
“It’s some of the most awesome terrain for hikers to walk on,” said 5th Army Chief Warrant Officer Pat Gates.
At its center stands the imposing Capitol Peak. It’s one of 58 famous mountain peaks soaring above 14,000 feet – known locally as fourteen – that dot the western Colorado landscape.
Touted as one of Colorado’s toughest mountains to climb, Capitol Peak has claimed the lives of many who dared to climb its dangerously exposed “Knife Edge.” This summit and its surroundings attract both experienced mountaineers and amateur adventurers.
This rugged terrain sometimes leaves them injured or stranded in areas accessible only by rotary-wing aircraft.
Gates can talk about this field and the difficulty of flying helicopters in high altitude environments, as he was an instructor pilot at HAATS for more than a decade.
The Colorado Guard works closely with state and local authorities, including civilian rescue technicians, to identify and search for search and rescue operations from Buckley Space Force Base near Denver, or HAATS. Gates estimated that he had been on at least a dozen rescue missions, including several near or on Capitol Peak.
“You identify the landing zone, look at power requirements, monitor winds and fuel levels,” he said. “You look at in and out routes and make decisions in high pressure situations. This is also the mindset we try to instill in our students.
During his visit to the school, Hokanson gave a tour of the facilities and flew over the HAATS training area. He shared his experience as a helicopter pilot in the Oregon National Guard, where he also flew rescue missions and provided his perspective from the cockpit.
“They’re all unique,” Hokanson said of the rescue situations. “It all depends on your ability to handle the power required for the mission and, during a rescue, to maintain the stability of the aircraft.
“But if you don’t have the basic skills to adapt to the environment, you won’t be successful,” he added. “The key is to train pilots in the toughest environments we can find.”
Air Force Lt. Col. Brian Stroud, the first HAATS Air Force liaison instructor pilot, said the environment around the training site is “perfect,” but not just because of the high altitude access.
“The variety of terrain nearby really helps facilitate the training they have here,” Stroud said. “There are large and small valleys, deep streams, cliffs, ridges, cirques, bowls and, yes, mountain peaks.
“Due to a combination of these environmental factors, helicopters are going to be very limited here, power-wise,” he said. “Therefore, the skill and foresight that goes into training approaches requires practice that you can’t necessarily replicate elsewhere.”
The National Guard chief said the training Airmen receive at HAATS benefits the nation and surrounding communities.
“Because we are equipped, trained, and equipped to fight our nation’s wars, we can also do many other things for our states and communities,” Hokanson said.
For more information on the National Guard
National Guard Facebook