National Guard celebrates new training center in Gypsum |

National Guard celebrates new training center in Gypsum

Justin McCartyAn OH-6 helicopter sits on a pedestal in front of the new High-altitude Army Aviation Training Site which is near completion and schuduled for a grand opening Friday in Gypsum.

Choppers in Gypsum get better home

High Altitude Aviation Training Site opens new, improved maintainence/classroom building

After decades of operations from an obviously inadequate facility, the Colorado Army National Guard High Altitude Aviation Training Site – HAATS – has a new, custom-designed building that matches its internationally acclaimed training program.

The new HAATS building, at the Eagle County Regional Airport in Gypsum, will celebrate a public ribbon-cutting today by inviting the public to inspect the new 101,600 square-foot facility. The event promises to be quite an eye opener, as the public gets its first glance of the building specifically designed to accommodate the HAATS mission.

Construction on the $39 million building began back in August 2011. The Colorado Army National Guard awarded the construction contract to Hensel Phelps Construction Co., of Greeley, and the company estimated the project would take approximately 790 days to complete – making good on its April 2013 completion date.

As he conducted an informal tour through the new space, HAATS Commander Major Tony Somogyi proudly points out features such as the expansive maintenance bay that can house up to four giant, dual-rotor Chinooks or eight single-rotor Blackhawks as well as student barracks and training rooms. Somogyi said the new facility is five times larger than the existing HAATS building.

Former HAATS Commander Lt. Col. Josh Day characterized the new building as a plan that would match up with the top-notch HAATS instructional program. Helicopters and pilots from around the globe travel to HAATS for instruction in high altitude maneuvers.

The curriculum

HAATS trains military helicopter pilots from around the world in “power management” and teaches pilots the skills necessary to operate their aircraft routinely and safely at maximum gross weights in any environment – especially at high altitude. This mission provides life-saving combat skills to American and allied pilots serving in mountainous Afghanistan and other challenging environments worldwide.

HAATS is the only Department of Defense-approved facility that conducts high-altitude/power management/environmental training. HAATS trains all branches and components of the military, and currently has a full-time Coast Guard instructor assigned to the staff, making HAATS a unique joint training site. The new facility will enable all mission sets and training to be conducted to standard well into the future.

“The new building has five classrooms. Our current facility has one,” said Somogyi. He noted that the new classroom space doesn’t necessarily mean more students will be visiting HAATS, but it does mean that the students who come will receive more specialized training.

Somogyi said that crew chiefs now don’t have their own training program through HAATS, but with the new space, the facility can develop special courses for their needs. All in all, the program anticipates attracting around 420 students per year, and that’s about the load that the 28-member on site staff can handle.

Additionally there is a OH-6 scout helicopter decorating the outdoor main entrance to the new building. The OH-6 was the first aircraft flown out of the HAATS facility, which later transitioned to Hueys, Blackhawks, Chinooks and other more modern helicopters. Inside the facility, memorabilia from the 10th Mountain Division will decorate the main entry and lodge-inspired main lounge.

Attractive and smart

“This new building is pretty smart,” Somogyi added. “We are settling in at a solid LEED silver rating and that’s pretty impressive for a facility like we have. With all the maintenance we do and the hours we keep, its pretty hard to be energy efficient.”

From special card reader functions in the student lodging areas that allow visitors to determine the inside temperature to automatic lighting features to its large hangar ventilation system, the facility reflects the best technology currently available, said Somogyi.

Now all that’s left is to give it a test run. Local crews and incoming students will have to wait a few weeks for that to happen. For now, though, it’s time to celebrate. Hopes are high that Somogyi will be joined at the ribbon cutting by the three other men who served as HAATS Commander – Jim Owens, Joel Best and Josh Day – for the ceremonial opening. The actual opening will take a bit longer with crews moving into the new space during May and June. Operations are slated to begin full time at the new facility beginning July 1.

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