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Black Hawk crew practices perfect landings at Memorial Hospital helipad

April 18, 2017 Updated: April 18, 2017 at 6:46 am
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photo - A Fort Carson Black Hawk helicpter lands Monday, April 17, 2017 from the landing pad atop UCHealth Memorial Hospital during a training mission. Two of the 15,000 pound choppers landed and took off multiple times Monday to practice landing on the rooftop pad. Photo by Mark Reis, The Gazette
A Fort Carson Black Hawk helicpter lands Monday, April 17, 2017 from the landing pad atop UCHealth Memorial Hospital during a training mission. Two of the 15,000 pound choppers landed and took off multiple times Monday to practice landing on the rooftop pad. Photo by Mark Reis, The Gazette 

Two men poked their heads from the sides of an Army Black Hawk helicopter as the more than 15,000-pound beast lumbered toward a 58-by-58-foot landing pad atop UCHealth Memorial Hospital Central.

They barked instructions to a pilot unable to see anything behind his shoulders.

And with pinpoint precision, the Fort Carson crew Monday made their first run of a new training regimen aimed at preparing soldiers to airlift their own to lifesaving care during real emergencies. More flights may take place Tuesday, weather permitting.

"We don't have anything at Fort Carson, and we don't have anything on the range that can replicate this," said Chief Warrant Officer Kenneth Lett.

To land an Army Black Hawk helicopter atop a hospital is like parallel parking without any mirrors or windows to the side or to the rear. The aircraft's co-pilot, medic and crew chief help guide it to the ground, because the helicopter's design limits the pilot's visibility.

And every run needs to be perfect.

Only once before has a Black Hawk helicopter from the post's 4th Combat Aviation Brigade landed atop the hospital, 1400 E. Boulder St.

In September 2015, Fort Carson soldiers were airlifted to the hospital after their UH-60 Black Hawk helicopter crashed during a training run in Douglas County.

Normally, the post calls civilian helicopters during emergencies, Lett said. But in that case, no landing zones were close enough to help those soldiers, and only Army helicopters were equipped with hoists capable of plucking them from the crash site, Lett said.

Monday's multiple practice landings at UCHealth by two Black Hawks aimed to ensure rescue missions continue going smoothly when civilian helicopters (which are four or five times smaller) can't do the job.

"That's the point - to get us into the habit so that the adrenaline level is a lot lower," Lett said.

He expects a couple training exercises to take place every year. The helicopters always approach from the north or the east - in part, to limit the rotors' 140-decible roar in the nearby Boulder Park neighborhood, he said.

Minutes before noon, the first Black Hawk approached - the aircraft slowing to about 20 or 30 mph as it passed over the hospital's parking garage and toward the hospital's seven-story west tower.

"He's going to bring this in nice and slow," said Lett, an instructor.

The 30-year-old Black Hawk - one of the Army's oldest - hovered about 10 feet off the helipad as each crewmember made sure its 29-foot wheelbase and 64-foot body would fit perfectly atop the building.

After touching down for about a minute, the helicopter lifted off and Lett flashed a smile.

"That," he said, "looked beautiful."

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Contact Jakob Rodgers: 476-1654

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