HAATS in Gypsum celebrates 30 years of excellence
GYPSUM — The air above is constantly buzzing, but every now and then a massive Chinook helicopter or a Black Hawk cruise through.
Those would be helicopters coming to and from the High Altitude ARNG Aviation Training Site in Gypsum, the only school of its kind teaching target torque management.
Students come from across the globe to learn the highest standard of mountain aviation training, but 30 years ago, it was a non-funded training site of the U.S. Army and National Guard.
Training pilots, mechanics and many of those involved in the transformation of the HAATS operation since 1986 gathered Friday to celebrate 30 years.
“This is a world-class school,” retired Maj. Gen. Bill Westerdahl told the crowd. “They really put together something that saves lives.”
HAATS is operated by the Colorado Army National Guard and in addition to being a training facility, they help fight fires as well as transport equipment and people in need.
Westerdahl was there at the beginning, when it was just a trailer. He remembers, and appreciates, all of the hard work and cooperation with Eagle County, the U.S. Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management as well as the work of George Gillett.
From acquiring land to building an armory on the third level of the jet center, Westerdahl helped push along HAATS with little funding but a big goal.
Many who spoke Friday said that their time spent in Gypsum as part of HAATS were the best years of their lives, from the people to the communities of Eagle and Gypsum.
Thirty years ago, many helicopters and planes were prepared for missions and then would crash upon arrival due to the different altitude, temperature and winds.
Pilots and their crews were pretty much flying into countries such as Afghanistan with half power of their aircraft.
At HAATS, pilots are trained to work in the elements. Pilots from countries such as Denmark, Germany, Switzerland and Norway come here to learn how to fly in conditions similar to where they are coming from.
“This is the place to come,” Westerdahl said. “You can walk across the street and you’re in Afghanistan terrain, and you go higher and you’re in Germany’s.”
As part of the 30th anniversary celebration, members of the public and entities involved with the evolution of HAATS enjoyed a tour of the hangar, which had Chinook, Black Hawk and Lakota helicopters on display.
Kari Pier and Kristi Picore were there exploring the hangar with their little children.
“It’s really cool to see them up close,” Pier said. “We see them flying all of the time, but it’s great to be able to walk in them and see what they’re like.”
HAATS has come so far in 30 years, and there’s no slowing down any time soon. Expansions years away could possibly include a high-altitude infantry training similar to the aviation training, Westerdahl said.
Ironically on the day of their 30th anniversary, the HAATS crew flew their 114th rescue mission.
Reporter Ross Leonhart can be reached at 970-748-2915 and firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Instagram at colorado_livin_on_the_hill.