HUREVAC Rehearsal
Aviators participate in a hurricane preparedness exercise on Fort Rucker, Alabama, September 21, 2022. (U.S. Army photo by WO1 Coralin McDaniel) (Photo Credit: Kelly Morris) VIEW ORIGINAL

With the final hurricane evacuation rehearsal in the books for the season, Company A, 1st Battalion, 11th Aviation Regiment is better postured to support preparedness operations in the event of an actual emergency.

The Atlantic Hurricane Season runs from June 1 through November 30, and Fort Rucker’s planning begins early in the spring each year, including multiple planned rehearsals during the season.

“We plan all the way through November and at all times we’re ready to support a contingency operation,” said Capt. Houston J. Engelke, battalion operations officer for 1-11th Aviation Regiment.

Throughout the season, the regiment’s three companies rotate to be on standby to provide air traffic control at a mobile tower as needed to direct air traffic that may be relocated to a safer area in the event of a major storm.

“This is the handover from Charlie to Alpha Company. Approximately 20 controllers were familiarized with the (airfield) today, so that went really well,” he said.

In the event of an actual storm, post officials must make decisions based on weather predictions about how to best protect their people and the Aviation equipment that supports the training mission.

“All of our air traffic control facilities will support the departure of our aircraft so they can fly away to safe airfields, then a small amount of aircraft will be staged here at (Fort Rucker) so our air traffic controllers today were practicing receiving all of those aircraft. The idea is if we store them here we can quickly return to training,” he said.

For the rehearsal a mobile tower was set up, which is typically used during any major tower maintenance on Fort Rucker’s airfields. The exercise not only provided an opportunity to iterate through the process, but also for valuable discussion among the entities involved--between pilots and air traffic controllers and other personnel, including the addition of fire department personnel this time.

“Pilots were able to give them a quick brief of the aircraft—‘hey, this is how you shut down the engines, this is where you shut of the fuel, this is where you extract pilots’. In case there was an emergency during a HUREVAC, now (they are) more familiar with the Lakota,” Engelke said.

The busy airspace on and around Fort Rucker sees hundreds of aircraft launches per day. The 1-11th provides air traffic control to 22 facilities, including a civilian airport, an aerial gunnery range, five base fields and multiple stage fields around lower Alabama, explained Engelke.

His job is to ensure the proper amount of air traffic controllers at each facility to support flight training needs.

“I think that’s the thing that impressed me most about coming into this job is as an aviator you like to think you can handle your aircraft--I’m the pilot, I got this. Then you go inside the tower and you see these privates and specialists handling multiple aircraft at a time, and it does give you a lot of confidence,” he said.

A theme of the HUREVAC rehearsals is building trust in advance of any potential storm, Engelke said.

“When a hurricane is bearing down on Fort Rucker, it’s nice for everyone to have that warm and fuzzy feeling of I’ve already worked with this controller…the fire crew I know has been there… and (the contractor) was there and they know how to fold the blades. It’s going to allow us to execute that much quicker and safer and return to training that much faster,” he said.