The Marines will be landing in Colorado Springs soon.
A squadron of Marines and their hulking CH-53 Super Stallion helicopters will train this month in Colorado as the North Carolina-based unit hones its skills in cold weather and high-altitude flying.
More than 100 Marines and several of their 17-ton helicopters with Marine Heavy Helicopter Squadron 461 will head to Peterson Air Force Base for a training exercise that will see them take on the Rockies and military training areas across the Pikes Peak region.
“The environment in Colorado is ideal for training,” said 2nd Lt. Michael Curtis, a spokesman for the 2nd Marine Air Wing, which includes the squadron. “Training in a variety of austere environments is critical to ensure total readiness.”
During the 17 years of fighting in the frigid highlands of Afghanistan, Colorado has become a popular place for military helicopter training. Rotary wing aircraft are best equipped to operate in the thick air found at low altitudes.
In Colorado’s thin air, the aircraft are more likely to stall out, which instantly turns a helicopter into a brick.
The CH-53E, the largest helicopter used by American forces, is well-equipped to handle the heights, with more than 13,000 horsepower pumped from three turbine engines to a seven-bladed rotor.
“The CH-53E Super Stallion is one of the most used aircraft in the Marine Corps for those reasons and also because of its ability to carry a 26,000-pound Light Armored Vehicle, 16 tons of cargo, and enough combat-loaded Marines to lead an assault or humanitarian operation,” Curtis said.
The squadron’s training is not tied to deployment orders.
“This is a routine training exercise, not specific to any future operation,” he said.
While Marines have traditionally trained to use their helicopters to head from ships to combat ashore, the 2nd Marine Air Wing has found itself on duty far inland in recent years.
In the past decade, the squadron heading to Colorado Springs has twice been assigned to Afghanistan, where the Super Stallion has proven its ability to operate in mountains.
“In general, aircraft capabilities somewhat degrade the higher you climb in altitude, but the CH-53E is able to push that threshold further than other aircraft,” Curtis said.
Contact Tom Roeder: 636-0240 Twitter: @xroederx