Story and photo by Staff Sgt. Craig Cantrell
4th Infantry Division Public Affairs Office
The Rocky Mountains echoed with the sounds of helicopters turning, diving and maneuvering around jagged ridges and craggy summits. The sounds resonated from aircraft manned by aviators of the 101st Airborne Division (Air Assault), Fort Campbell, Ky.
The pilots of 101st Combat Aviation Brigade traveled to Fort Carson to conduct High-Altitude Mountain Environmental Training in the Rocky Mountains west of Fort Carson in preparation for an upcoming deployment to Afghanistan.
HAMET enables Army aviators to experience the rigors of high-altitude and mountainous flying, said Chief Warrant Officer 2 Kevin Bigelow, UH-60M Black Hawk instructor pilot, Company A, 5th Battalion, 101st CAB.
During the high altitude training, pilots of the 101st CAB complete one week of individual pilot training, followed by a week of collective training in their aircraft.
“We train the pilots to fly in high-density altitude and low-power conditions, so when we get into Afghanistan, we don’t have to worry about coming into a landing zone with low power and crashing an aircraft,” Bigelow said.
The aviation unit began arriving at Fort Carson in February to conduct the training specific to the high-altitude setting, learning how elevation and terrain affect the aircraft. The brigade will conduct HAMET through mid-May, rotating battalions through the course.
The high altitudes of the Rocky Mountains restrict the average 2,000 horsepower capability of the UH-60M Black Hawk to approximately 90 percent of the aircraft’s capability, said Capt. Andrew Schwilk, acting operations officer, 1st Battalion.
Accustomed to flying at Fort Campbell, which is close to sea-level in its elevation, the pilots learn to compensate for the variables caused by the environmental differences.
“The training forces the pilots to adjust their techniques; but overall, it forces them to use better planning when selecting landing zones and teaches them to evaluate the effects of winds and how the terrain is going (to) affect their approaches,” said Schwilk.
Throughout the training, pilots accounted for differences in winds, weather patterns, aerodynamics and aircraft maneuverability specific to mountainous terrain.
“Training in a mountainous environment, where wind and turbulence affect your mode of flight, is imperative before you fly in Afghanistan,” said Chief Warrant Officer 2 Robert Landers, pilot, Company A, 5th Battalion.
The wind conditions, altitudes, and hazards of flying in the Rocky Mountains are very similar to flying in Afghanistan, said Bigelow, an Operation Enduring Freedom veteran pilot.
“We don’t want an aviator to experience these conditions for the first time in combat,” said Schwilk. “It helps them to experience these conditions here in a controlled environment.”
Upon completing its two-week training course, the unit will return to Fort Campbell with the experiences taken from HAMET and continue its preparation for deployment.
“Fort Carson and the 4th Infantry Division have been absolutely excellent to us,” said Schwilk. “Our aviators are progressing at a much faster rate than we anticipated, due to the help we’ve gotten from 4th Inf. Div. It’s helped our preparations for deployment be much smoother.”