Military needs more Eagle chopper flights |

Military needs more Eagle chopper flights

Cliff Thompson

A peaceful hike in the woods this summer could be interrupted by military activity somewhere else on the globe.

Those events, in Afghanistan, Iraq and elsewhere, have created a need for more high altitude helicopter training at the world’s only facility – the Eagle County Regional Airport.

The High Altitude Aviation Training Site operated by the Colorado Air National Guard will be doubling its flights – and the corresponding number of landings – made by the helicopters on U.S. Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management land located within 25 miles of the Eagle County Airport.

The permit application calls for up to 6,000 hours of flight time for all kinds of helicopters, said Jeff Stalter of the Colorado National Guard.

“There are lots of events happening in Afghanistan and other places with pilots not being familiar with high altitude flying,” he said. “The only place in the world to train is Eagle County.”

The issue for helicopter pilots flying in the thin air of high altitudes is how to properly manage power to the craft’s rotary wings, Stalter said. Landing and taking off is the time when most helicopter crashes occur. For the Forest Service the issue boils down to expectations and environmental effects from the noisy aircraft.

“The biggest thing we’ve heard is people in remote places feel they are losing their sense of remoteness,” said Jim Thinnes, acting district ranger in Eagle. “We’re going to work to try and minimize conflicts.”

Pilots rotating in and out of the airport spend a week training with an experienced National Guard pilot. Eagle County has plenty of high altitude terrain for the pilots. Many of the landings will be made along the edge of the Flat Tops west of the airport and along Hardscrabble Mountain south of Eagle, Thinnes said.

Cliff Thompson can be reached via e-mail at: or by calling 949-0555 ext. 450.

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