By Pfc. Michael SynerApril 29, 2010
FORT DRUM, N.Y. - Afghanistan features high, rugged mountains and elevations of up to 6,000 feet - very important facts to consider for pilots who are preparing for upcoming deployments.
Soldiers with 10th Combat Aviation Brigade have been conducting high-altitude training at Whiteface Mountain, which boasts an elevation of roughly 5,000 feet, in preparation for their deployment to Afghanistan this fall.
"The mountains of Afghanistan are higher than these," said Col. Jim Baker, 10th Combat Aviation Brigade deputy commander, "but this training gives pilots an appreciation of how wind affects the aircraft and how mountain terrain appears."
The training allows pilots to experience for themselves the difference in flying at high altitudes, like what they will encounter in Afghanistan.
"Whiteface Mountain is the closest we can get to Afghanistan terrain with one day of travel," Baker said.
One challenge with the training exercise is the fact that Whiteface is host to a variety of both public and private areas.
"We will be 'flying friendly,'" Baker said. "Environmental concerns have been addressed, and we will be avoiding densely populated areas."
Roughly 20 flights per week are planned, with more than 100 pilots getting an opportunity to fly to Whiteface, which is about a 50-minute, one-way flight. Once there, crews perform different maneuvers that they would perform while deployed, such as quickly landing long enough to load or off-load, then resuming flight.
The biggest draw of Whiteface is its increased elevation, compared to the Fort Drum area.
"I'm really looking forward to this because it's very similar to Afghanistan," said Capt. Sean Gaul, a UH-60 Blackhawk pilot with 3rd General Support Aviation Battalion, 10th CAB. "I haven't done a lot of mountain flying. It'll be good training."
One of the big differences to factor in, Gaul said, is the wind.
"The winds will be much stronger at the height we'll be flying at," he said.
The brigade intends to send OH-58 Kiowas, Blackhawks, CH-47 Chinooks and AH-64 Apaches to Whiteface Mountain through May 15.