News: Colo. Army National Guard opens new $39 million aviation training facility
Story by 2nd Lt. Skye Robinson
GYPSUM, Colo. – Senior Colorado National Guard officials, community leaders and World War II veterans cut the ribbon at a new state-of-the-art aviation training facility at the Eagle County Airport in Gypsum, Colo., April 26.
The $39 million facility is the new home of the High-altitude Army National Guard Aviation Training Site.
HAATS is the only Department of Defense school that conducts power management and environmental training at high altitudes.
"The environment must be mastered to achieve harmony and balance, both for victory on the battlefield and for the way we live and integrate with the community and the environment we fly our aircraft in," said retired Colorado Army National Guard Brig. Gen. Joel Best, former HAATS commander.
HAATS trains military rotary-wing pilots from around the world, giving pilots the knowledge and confidence to safely operate their aircraft at maximum gross weights in any environment, especially at high altitudes. This critical mission provides life-saving combat skills to American and allied pilots serving in mountainous Afghanistan and other challenging environments worldwide. Additionally, as part of their state mission, HAATS pilots and crews conduct numerous search and rescue and occasional wildland firefighting operations in the mountainous regions of Colorado.
"This school makes it possible to ensure the safety of our most precious resources: our nation's sons and daughters," said Assistant Adjutant General of Army Brig. Gen. Dana Capozzella, commander of the Colorado Army National Guard. "The training performed here increases the safety of the aviation missions performed by our brave service members."
The project provided an immense economic benefit to the Vail Valley bringing more than 700 jobs totaling just under $8 million, most of which went to small businesses in the local area, said Mark Schoenrock, chief of contracting for the U.S. Property and Fiscal Office.
According to Eagle County Commissioner Sara Fisher, the missions performed by HAATS, and the soldiers assigned there, impact the community daily.
Fisher noted that in calendar year 2012 alone, HAATS aircrews launched 12 search-and-rescue missions, saving nine lives and recovering three bodies, while providing assistance to seven surrounding counties and rescue organizations.
Gypsum Mayor Pro Tem Dick Mayne noted the importance of the soldiers who live and work in the small community and who, in addition to raising their families, coaching athletic teams, helping in schools, helping their neighbors, and attend churches in the area, also perform search-and-rescue missions, fight wildfires and "save our nation hundreds of millions of dollars and countless lives by training U.S. and allied pilots to fly at high altitudes at maximum safety and efficiency with their crews."
HAATS Commander Army National Guard Maj. Tony Somogyi said the new, 14-acre facility will allow the HAATS staff to more efficiently and effectively conduct operations, expand student capacity from approximately 400 to up to 800 students per year.
Further, the new maintenance hangar is sized to accommodate four CH-47 Chinooks or eight UH-60 Black Hawks, whereas the old hangar could only comfortably accommodate one helicopter - but commonly held a creative arrangement of a few small helicopters at once.
On-site billeting has also increased from 6 rooms to 34 rooms.
HAATS trains aviators from all components of the U.S. military and international military students. With the addition of a full-time Coast Guard instructor pilot in 2011, HAATS is also a joint training school.
Planning for the new facility started in 2005 and was done in close coordination with Eagle County, the Town of Gypsum and the Eagle County Airport. The federal contracting process included project master planning, architectural and engineering firm selection, architectural and engineering design execution, and construction contractor selection.
"Today we have a facility that rivals the world-class training area that we see outside. It's known around the world," said Best. "The time, funding and energy provided have yielded a facility that embodies the rugged courage of our 10th Mountain Division soldiers who training for a special type of mountain warfare and they are the catalyst for what we do today. The same concept and ideal for why they had to create special mountain warfare training for our Soldiers in World War II exists today for the aviation Soldiers we train around the world."
He also noted the Native American elements in the facility that were inspired by Native American sites in Colorado.
Jacobs Engineering of St. Louis was the architectural engineering firm that designed the project and provided construction administrative services.
The construction contractor was Hensel Phelps Construction Company, of Greeley, Colo.
Scope of the project comprised a 101,600-square-foot aviation training facility that included administrative areas, classrooms, a flight operations section, maintenance hangars, allied maintenance shops and lodging rooms. Exterior facades of the facility are a combination of stone, glazing, translucent panels, pre-cast concrete panels, and metal panel systems, and incorporated stone and flora native to Colorado to display the state’s unique aesthetics.
Site improvements include grading, utility services, control gates, a parking lot, access roads, concrete aprons, helicopter tie-down pads, dry-stack stone feature wall and miscellaneous landscaping. The project is projected to achieve at least a Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design Silver rating, fully certified through the U.S. Green Building Council.
Construction commenced in September 2011. The Topping-out ceremony was held in April 2012.
Included in a display near the front entrance is a nod to the 10th Mountain Division, America's original high-altitude soldiers, who were stationed at nearby Camp Hale and fought in World War II.
"This is a crown jewel for training and making sure our (military) aviators can operates safely in difficult conditions," said Adjutant General of Colorado Air National Guard Maj. Gen. H. Michael Edwards, who commands the Colorado National Guard.
The Eagle County Airport, shared with HAATS, is the second busiest airport in Colorado during ski season.