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When it comes to training military pilots, simulations offer only so much practical experience. That is why the new training facility Hensel Phelps will deliver for the Colorado Army National Guard (COARNG) in Gypsum, Colo., is so imperative for the U.S. military and pilots around the world. 

Hensel Phelps is building the new High-altitude Army Aviation Training Site (HAATS), a 101,600-square-foot training facility that will teach pilots about power management in high-altitude situations. This process requires the power management of pilots flying in all flight regimes and, according to the COARNG – which operates the training program – produces insight to every situations, which includes multi-ship operations. 

Power management is knowing how much power a pilot has available and not exceeding that available power to accomplish a mission. The challenges that high-altitude flying presents to the pilot are the same challenges when flying in hot conditions or when flying with heavy payloads.

According to Brian Mayard, planning and programming branch manager for the COARNG, similar rotary wing training facilities exist in other parts of the United States, but only Colorado’s mountainous terrain offers actual environments pilots will face when attempting these types of maneuvers at high altitudes. Located at Eagle County Regional Airport in Gypsum, pilots are trained at the facility to land at sites between 6,500 to 14,000 feet above sea level. 

“There are ARNG Aviation Training Sites [AATS] in Arizona and Pennsylvania, but they don’t specialize in the high-altitude aspects of flying,” Mayard explains. “We’re very fortunate to have this type of aviation training site here in Colorado. 

“You can simulate certain things at sea level; you can still pull in power and even easily manage the power management piece, but at 10,000 feet, the power may not be there,” Mayard adds. “This is a big flight safety issue, and will continue to save lives and prevent crashes by having extraordinary training and an outstanding facility for those coming here from around the world.”

The scope of work for the new HAATS involves construction of three functional areas devoted to administration and instruction, aircraft maintenance and “billeting,” or housing for military personnel. Hensel Phelps – the general contractor on the project – broke ground in September 2011 and is expected to deliver the project in May 2013. The project will cost $42.5 million to complete, according to Mayard. 

All-Star Team

Along with Hensel Phelps as general contractor, the COARNG has tapped Jacobs Engineering as its architect for the HAATS project. Jacobs added the local Vail architect, Ned Gwathmey, to its team. Gwathmey was critical in instilling a Colorado Mountain sensibility to the facility.  It was bid as a design/bid/build contract, with the U.S. government selecting its team based on best value as determined through a combination of price, project teammates, previous experience and technical capability, according to Mayard. 

Selection criteria was based on the contractor’s mountain construction experience. With its strong reputation, Hensel Phelps was able to bring many local craftsmen onto its team.  

The biggest boost the HAATS will give the COARNG is an upgraded maintenance facility. Mayard says the guard currently operates out of a small maintenance facility that is well beneath modern-day standards.

The new billeting facility will increase the number of crewmembers HAATS can train at any given time, which currently is limited to seven student-pilots. The new residential component will house 34 students for one- or two-week training courses. COARNG hopes to double annual capacity to 760 crewmembers. 

In the Works

With the current state of the economy, funding for this project has been slow to arrive. At this point, the COARNG is studying the potential for a photovoltaic field to utilize solar energy as a power source for HAATS. One challenge is reflectivity issues for the FAA and pilots.  A second challenge is funding in the current constrained fiscal environment.     

The vast experience of the construction team – led by industry leaders Hensel Phelps and Jacobs Engineering – have eased the funding hiccups, according to Mayard. He says the construction team’s experience has allowed construction to continue even as the project’s owners sought additional financing.

“We have been lucky to have a well-known designer like Jacobs as well as Hensel Phelps,” Mayard says. “This will be a great project when it’s done. We have had minimal challenges up to this point because this one has been so thoroughly planned.”

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