By Michael StrasserApril 10, 2018
FORT DRUM, N.Y. (April 9, 2018) -- Four UH-60 Black Hawk helicopters touched down Monday on Fort Drum's Range 48 after a tactical flight from Wheeler-Sack Army Airfield.
It was the first day of the 10th Combat Aviation Brigade's training exercise, Falcon's Peak, and emerging from the aircraft were not 10th Mountain Division (LI) Soldiers as would be expected. They were local government officials, members of the media and invited guests.
Col. Clair A. Gill, 10th CAB commander, and Brig. Gen. Patrick Donahoe, 10th Mountain Division (LI) and Fort Drum deputy commanding general for readiness, hosted this distinguished visitors engagement to articulate the importance of the type of training that will span from Camp Ethan Allen, Vermont, to Fort Drum, as 10th CAB aviators train on tactics, techniques and procedures.
"This training is unique to the area, but it's not really unique to the Army," Gill said. "This is how the Army operates. We have to be able to fly in a tactical fashion - we have to fly low and we have to fly at night. We have to use all the things to our advantage that we can."
Gill said that emerging threats and potential adversaries have capable advanced air defense systems, and to address the challenge of defeating these systems, aviators must train to fly tactically - lower to the ground, using the cover of terrain and darkness to protect aircraft and crew.
"It's a very intense mode of flight, and the only way we can get better at it is to train," he said. "The entire crew is looking for hazards at all times - they're on alert all the time at that low level. It's a demanding mode of flight, and it sort of accelerates time ... the intensity and stress it puts on the crews."
During the flight, guests experienced the difference between flying a "neighborly" 1,000 feet above ground and lower, "nap-of-the-earth" altitudes. After, they observed it from the ground as the helicopters dropped as low as 30 to 40 feet. Before each flyover, Gill asked the group what they could see or hear first as the aircraft approached from miles away and to think about how an enemy combatant would react to that information.
"What we're really trying to impress upon everyone here today is the altitude and why it is so critical for us to fly low for our own protection," he said. "What we can't show you today is the advantage we have of flying at night."
Gill explained how night vision goggles are used on night missions, and he noted that on a Black Hawk, there are two crew chiefs to assist the two pilots with calling out threats and hazards. There are only two crew members on an AH-64 Apache helicopter, and both wear a night vision monocle on their flight helmets.
"They can only see a 40-degree field of view in the night vision goggles, so that puts a much higher demand on what they can see, so it really requires a total crew," Gill said. "At night, it probably doubles or triples the workload."
Soldiers also demonstrated the Mast Portable Aircraft Survivability Trainer, which is a laser system used on the ground that can lock onto any type of aircraft. Gill said they use it during training to test their abilities to avoid detection. The system looks like a shoulder-fired rocket launcher.
"They'll get an indication from the cockpit that shows there's a threat coming from a quad," he said. "It will say initially, 'Threat Seeking,' then 'Threat Tracking' and then if it's engaged, they have to put off some countermeasures."
Gill said that the training scenario they will employ over the next 10 days will help prepare them to deter or defeat any future threat anywhere in the world.
"Anywhere in the world has this kind of environment that we're training in," he said. "Of course, some places are much more mountainous, and that's why we're pushing all the way to Burlington (Vermont)."
Gill said that Falcon's Peak will include medical evacuation scenarios, air assault, reconnaissance and attack missions. He said that when they fight their way back into Fort Drum airspace, they will employ unmanned aerial systems for additional tactical-level operations.
In recent weeks, Gill has met with community members and organizations in some of the areas most affected by noise and traffic because of this exercise to address any concerns. Additionally, an exercise operations center will be active until April 18 for further questions during the exercise.